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Yankees 2019 Roster Report Card: Tommy John pitchers

These two pitchers returned late, but they could have an impact next season.

MLB: SEP 24 Yankees at Rays Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

September saw plenty of Yankees pitchers return to the fold. Some contributed during the postseason, while others laid the ground work for a 2020 campaign. Two of those pitchers were Jordan Montgomery and Ben Heller, both returning from long stints on the injured list because of Tommy John surgery.

Montgomery’s return generated more anticipation, considering he put together a strong rookie season and had Yankees brass “pounding the table for him” as a spring training invitee when he surpassed expectations. Ben Heller, on the other hand, has pitched fewer than 30 innings for the Yankees since coming over in the Andrew Miller trade.

Jordan Montgomery

Grade: I
2019 Statistics: 4 IP, 6.75 ERA, 3.96 FIP, 11.25 K/9, 0.00 BB/9, 2.25 HR/9, 0.1 fWAR
2020 Contract Status: Arbitration eligible for the first time

As things currently stand, Montgomery won’t encounter much competition securing a spot on the rotation. Even if the Yankees do add another pitcher, J.A. Happ’s vesting option could work against him if he doesn’t have a strong spring training. Additionally, Domingo German appears in line for a suspension to start the season. Four innings isn’t much to believe he will outperform his colleagues, but it tells us one important thing: Montgomery is once again healthy enough to pitch on a big-league mound.

When looking into what Montgomery can do next season, it’s good to take into account what he was able to show for his brief moment in 2019. Since the left-hander hasn’t demonstrated elite velocity on the professional stage, watching him average just over 91 mph on his heaters is on par with his rookie year.

During 2017, Montgomery’s most used pitch and most effective was his curveball, and once he returned from Tommy John there was no difference. The curveball continued to fool hitters with a 36.4 whiff rate, while generating a .200 batting average and .400 slugging against. The Yankees like their arms to throw plenty of breaking and offspeed pitches, Montgomery will surely be another.

Ben Heller

Grade: I
2019 Statistics: 7.1 IP, 1.23 ERA, 3.76 FIP, 11.05 K/9, 3.68 BB/9, 1.23 HR/9, 0.1 fWAR
2020 Contract Status: Pre-arbitration eligible

There isn’t a whole lot we know about Heller, considering he has just 25.1 big-league innings to his name. We did learn this September that he now possesses a slider, not previously a part of his arsenal according to Statcast. He threw it 43 times this season and generated an impressive whiff rate of 55.6%, using it to complete six of his nine strikeouts this season.

Unlike Montgomery, Heller did not display similar fastball velocity this season as he did before his injury. Using his fourseam fastball in 2016 and 2017, Heller’s average velocity was 96.2 mph and 94.8 mph, respectively. This season he shelved the fourseamer and threw a sinking fastball 50 times, averaging 93.1 mph per Statcast.

The statistics against the sinker are encouraging, generating a .200 batting average and slugging percentage, meaning no more than singles were allowed using the pitch. Seeing a gradual drop in velocity, however, is concerning.

Both pitchers receive an incomplete because of their short seasons, but they do show plenty of potential heading into 2020. Montgomery could add depth to the rotation, sparing middle relievers from bullpen games. Heller will have to prove he belongs in the Yankees’ bullpen, but it’s safe to say the Bombers think much of his skill set. With Tommy John surgery in the rearview, it’ll be interesting to see their impact on the club as two of the younger arms on the staff.