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Why the Yankees can count on Jordan Montgomery in 2021

The ingredients are there for the talented and steady lefty to take the next step and turn into a mid-rotation stalwart

American League Division Series Game 4: New York Yankees v. Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

When looking at the Yankees’ leaders in ERA, one won’t see Jordan Montgomery near the top of the list. His 5.11 ERA was only better than James Paxton’s 6.64 mark, but the latter only made five starts before a left flexor strain ended his campaign.

Hear me out, though, because I’m betting on Montgomery to make a leap next year and deliver a solid, mid-rotation kind of performance in 2021.

When evaluating a pitcher, it helps to look beyond ERA. In Montgomery’s case, he finished second on the Yankees in fWAR, with 0.9, behind only Gerrit Cole. How can he be that high when he had a 5.00+ ERA? Well, FanGraphs’ version of WAR takes fielding independent pitching, of FIP, into account, and Monty had a 3.87 FIP. It was even better than Cole’s 3.89 FIP!

That doesn’t mean that Montgomery was better, or more dominant, than Cole. But it gives us an idea of how good the left-hander was in 2020, even if he didn’t always have luck on his side and finished with an ugly ERA.

Overall, Montgomery started ten games in 2020, pitched 44 innings. He had a 9.61 K/9 and a 1.84 BB/9, which means that he was quite good at limiting walks and generating whiffs. K/BB ratio is a very good indicator of future success, and Montgomery’s 5.22 mark was excellent.

We say that Monty was a tad unlucky because his .320 BABIP was considerably higher than his career mark of .289, and his 65% strand rate was also lower than the 72.7% he has put in his big league tenure so far.

Statcast really likes Montgomery

Montgomery’s Statcast data also points out at potential positive regression in 2021. His wOBA was .316, but his expected wOBA (xwOBA) was .292, a -.24 differential.

The talented southpaw was in the top five percent of the league with an average exit velocity of 84.6 mph. That’s an incredible and encouraging number, coupled with his prowess at limiting hard contact (29.9% hard-hit rate, better than 88% of his peers).

Why do I have so much faith in Montgomery? Because he limited hard contact and missed bats, that’s why. That’s a great good combination, and if you add the fact that his control took a step forward, then there is a lot to like about his future performance.

Of course, ten starts across 44 frames shouldn’t have much weight at the time of making an analysis, but it is what we have, and it’s not completely insignificant.

Additionally, he throws five different pitches, which presents a challenge for opposing hitters and gives him more weapons to navigate a big-league lineup. And he uses them all with relative frequency: sinker (26.6%) changeup (25.6%) curve (22.1%) four seamer (19%) and cutter (6.7%).

The Yankees have plenty of question marks in the rotation for 2021 and beyond. Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ will all hit the free agent market when the World Series ends. Only Cole, Deivi Garcia, Domingo German and Montgomery are sure things for next season, with Luis Severino eventually making a return from Tommy John surgery. However, Monty should provide some stability to the group, with some upside.