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Evaluating Jordan Montgomery’s first start of 2021

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The lefty turned in six innings of near-flawless pitching.

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

After an opening three games where the Yankees had to lean on their bullpen more than they would have preferred, the team needed a strong outing from Jordan Montgomery Monday night. Boy did he deliver, twirling a six-inning, seven-strikeout, no-walk gem to give the ‘pen a rest in the team’s 7-0 victory. Obvious caveat of facing a lowly Orioles squad aside, let’s dive into the aspects of his outing that made him so successful, and project well for future starts.

Command of the strike zone

Let’s start with the basics. Montgomery was peppering the zone with strikes, allowing him to stay economical through the outing. It only took 73 pitches to make it across six frames, and one has to imagine he will be afforded a longer leash as the season progresses. Receiving six, seven, or even eight innings from a starter is a rare commodity in today’s game, and if Montgomery keeps up his strike-throwing ways, the bullpen will be that much more fresh down the stretch.

Of the 73 pitches Montgomery threw, 56 were strikes. That alone is a recipe for success. It’s also a large factor in the zero free passes issued by Montgomery. That might’ve been the most impressive stat of the game, if not for the following figure.

Swing-and-miss stuff

Montgomery generated an eye-popping 16 whiffs on 47 swings, good for a 34 percent whiff rate, a number seven points higher than his career mark. Even more impressive is that fact that he got at least one whiff on each of his five different pitches. The changeup got the most with nine, and it is encouraging that Montgomery can miss bats with every weapon in his arsenal, making him that much more unpredictable on the mound.

Speaking of the changeup

The change was far and away Montgomery’s most effective pitch of the night. Those nine whiffs on 21 swings translates to a 43 percent whiff rate, well in advance of his career numbers. The fading and sinking action on the change is what makes it such a useful weapon against right-handed batters, which when paired with his pinpoint ability to locate it on the outside corner makes it a near-unhittable pitch.

Courtesy of Statcast

What also impressed me was his willingness to throw it in almost any count. He used it just as frequently if not more so as a strike-stealer in 1-0 and 2-0 counts as he did as a wipeout offering in two-strike counts. This democratic deployment of the offspeed means hitters cannot eliminate the pitch regardless if they are ahead or behind in the count. This allows his fastball - which only averaged 92.5 mph between the four-seamer and sinker - to play up that much more.

Continued progress with the cutter

Not to toot my own horn, but last month I investigated Montgomery’s recent incorporation of the cutter into his repertoire, and concluded that it could turn into a secret weapon for the lefty. Well, it turns out he reads the site (I’m only kidding). 14 of his 73 pitchers were the cutter, a 19-percent deployment that is roughly triple its usage rate last season. He really managed to bury it in on right-handers, and though it did not generate many whiffs, it set up the cutter beautifully due to the pitches’ divergent movement profiles.

I love watching Jordan Montgomery pitch. He is, as the cliché goes, a pitcher instead of a thrower. Without overpowering velocity, he has to ply his craft in a more precise manner, much like the Yankees lefties who went before him. Therefore it is no surprise that Montgomery counts Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia as two of his biggest mentors. Considering the combined success of that pair of Yankee greats, I cannot wait to see how much more Montgomery grows under their tutelage.