Innings limits for young pitchers is a topic that has stirred debates in recent years as teams have searched for ways to protect their best young arms. That issue will be off the table in a 60-game season. This could potentially benefit Yankees pitchers Jordan Montgomery, Deivi Garcia, Clarke Schmidt, and Mike King who can pitch without limitations.
Jordan Montgomery is no stranger to the innings limit discussion. After using a strong minor league track record and spring training to force his way into the Yankees rotation at the beginning of 2017, he became a consistent piece of the Yankees rotation that season.
Nearing his career high of innings pitched by early-August, the Yankees sent Montgomery down to Triple-A with reports at the time stating that they were looking to control his innings. Injured List stints by C.C. Sabathia, and Masahiro Tanaka limited Montgomery’s time in Triple-A to just two starts, and eight innings pitched. He finished the season with 163.1 IP between the majors and minors.
Montgomery came out of the gates strong in 2018, but succumbed to Tommy John surgery after just six starts. Montgomery did not return to the majors until very late in the 2019, season throwing just four innings.
Pitchers coming off Tommy John surgery are routinely limited in their workload the following season. Famously, Stephen Strasburg and Matt Harvey have had very public debates over the amount of innings they can throw coming off of surgery.
Entering camp in February, Montgomery was likely just on the outside looking in for a spot in the Yankees rotation. Luis Severino’s season ending Tommy John surgery makes Monty the favorite to work as the Yankees fifth starter. With the Yankees expected to make a run deep into October, it was a legitimate question to wonder how heavily they would lean on Montgomery this season. The shortened nature of the season takes those questions off the table.
Montgomery is not the only pitcher who would have faced questions regarding his workload. Two of the Yankees’ top prospects, Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt, have put themselves on the major league radar heading into 2020.
Garcia, who turned 21-years-old in May, has only pitched one full minor league season maxing out at 111.1 innings pitched. If asked to work through another full season as a starter, he would easily have been pushing through that innings level. It is unlikely that the Yankees would have wanted him pitching more than 135-140 innings in 2020.
With an elite ability to strikeout hitters, Garcia could be called upon as either a starter or reliever during the year. He can now work with the Yankees Taxi squad in a very controlled environment and be in position to contribute in either role depending on the needs of the franchise.
Schmidt was drafted by the Yankees shortly after having Tommy John surgery in 2017. He battled through rehab and several stints on the injured list to position himself as one of the Yankees’ top prospects by the end of 2019. He has peaked at just 90.2 innings in a season as a professional.
Still not a member of the 40-man roster, Schmidt was going to have to force his way onto the roster. In a culture that protects talented young arms, he was likely to run out of innings before he could make an impact in the majors this season. Now, with fewer games to worry about, Schmidt will certainly be one of the Yankees included on the taxi squad and ready to make his big league debut when called upon.
In 2018, Mike King entered the Yankees organization with limited expectations but rose through the system and posted the second-best ERA in the entire minor leagues. King checked all the boxes with his precision and control, and his ability to work late into games, finishing with 161.1 innings in just 25 games.
King was a dark horse to crack the Yankees roster in 2019 but suffered a stress reaction in his elbow that cost him most of his season. Returning late in the year, he logged just 46 innings on the season. Two of those were in his major league debut late in the season. Coming off an arm injury, it is likely that the Yankees would have controlled his work rate, but now he should be free to pitch without limitations.
The Yankees have multiple pitchers that could benefit from the shortened season. The low number of games will take the innings limit conversation off the table and allow these players and the organization to focus on putting the best pitcher on the field at any given moment.