The format of the 2020 playoffs and its lack of off-days changes how teams approach their five-game series. It is almost certain that the Yankees, and perhaps every other team, will turn back to their Game One starter if faced with a winner-take-all game. This frees up the team’s fifth starter for work out of the bullpen, and each team will have to make a decision on how best to employ that player. In the case of the Yankees, that player is Jordan Montgomery, and he is a strong fit as a situational lefty.
With the announcement that Deivi García will be pitching Game Two of the American League Division Series, there is now little debate over who the Yankees’ four starters will be as they play five days straight in the 2020 playoff format. Gerrit Cole is likely to take the ball in a potential Game Five, and Montgomery will be available from the bullpen. The Yankees should be aggressive in how they use him.
Baseball has taken steps to neutralize the value of a lefty specialist this season by forcing pitchers to face three batters. The Yankees saw this play out with Luis Avilan earlier this season as the lefty pitcher held lefty hitters to a .399 OPS, while at the same time watching righties rake to the tune of 1.241 OPS in a small sample size.
The current Yankee bullpen reflects the move away from situational lefty pitchers. Zach Britton and Aroldis Chapman are the Yankees’ late-game combination and are also their only left-handed pitchers. Both players are adept at neutralizing right-handed hitters as well as lefties.
Without a dedicated lefty in the bullpen, the Yankees should turn to Jordan Montgomery to be their specialist. On the season, he held left-handed hitters to a .614 OPS, which is lower than other bullpen options like Adam Ottavino, Luis Cessa, Jonathan Holder and Jonathan Loaisiga. Montgomery also did that while having to work through the lineup multiple times. Against lefties, he features his sinker and his curveball at a higher rate, the latter of which is statistically his most potent offering. In a shorter role, he could be even more aggressive and trim down his arsenal to focus on his best pitches.
Unlike the traditional lefty specialist who may not have the weapons to neutralize a right-handed batter, Montgomery has the tools and experience to work through the scenarios that are pushing some lefties out. Working as a starter for his career makes Montgomery more than capable of negotiating a pinch-hitter or a pair of righties that follow left-handed batters. Opponents’ 84.7 mph exit velocity against Montgomery put him in the top 5-percent of the league for all pitchers on the season.
The Yankees could be planning on holding Montgomery in reserve for the scenario where either a starter is knocked out early, or a game heads deep into extra innings. Both situations are possible, but the more likely scenario is that Montgomery can help bridge a gap by shutting down a strong left handed hitter in a key spot.
Jordan Montgomery is unlikely to see action as a starting pitcher in the American League Division Series, but he still has value to offer the Yankees. With Britton and Chapman likely committed to the last few innings of the game, Montgomery is the lefty who can be used in a matchup scenario. The likelihood of him providing a big out in that spot is much better than holding him back and waiting for the long relief appearance.