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Jordan Montgomery’s injury might not be a short-term problem

The Yankees hopefully shouldn’t miss their young lefty much in the short term, but their long-term rotation just got a little bit cloudier.

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

This week, the Yankees suffered the most severe injury to their pitching staff yet when Jordan Montgomery went down. The young lefty lasted just an inning against the Astros before being removed with an apparent elbow injury.

The ailment has been called a flexor strain in his throwing elbow, and could result in him missing up to two months. Montgomery has been productive with the Yankees since last year, and losing him for a significant amount of time feels like a blow. In 35 starts in the big leagues, he has a strong 119 ERA+, along with an 8.2 K/9 rate and a 3.1 BB/9 rate. So far, Montgomery has been a very solid mid-rotation starter.

Losing that kind of arm sounds like a big deal, but in reality, the Yankees’ short-term outlook shouldn’t really be impacted all that much. Even if we take the pessimistic view and assume Montgomery won’t hit the front end of his injury timetable and will indeed be out for the full two months, the downgrade from Montgomery to his replacements shouldn’t be dire.

Josh took a look at those potential replacements earlier this week. It’s unlikely the Yankees will immediately consider a pricey external option, such as big names like Chris Archer or Michael Fulmer. They will probably turn inward, and Domingo German, who filled in quite capably after Montgomery was removed prematurely in Houston, will get the first look. Chance Adams, who is struggling in the minors currently, and hot prospect Justus Sheffield, who was just promoted to Triple-A, also could merit consideration in the coming weeks.

Since German is the next player up, let’s compare him to Montgomery. German has only recorded 28 innings in the majors, but he has at least looked fine so far, with a 3.40 ERA and a K/9 rate of over 11. German was also impressive in Triple-A last year, striking out 81 batters in 76.1 innings with a 2.83 ERA.

Montgomery certainly has a better track record thanks to the larger sample of success he’s had at the highest level, but how much could that track record be worth over the next couple months? We can glance at the projections to get a feel. Here’s what FanGraphs’ projections have to say:

FanGraphs Projections

Player ERA FIP K/9 BB/9
Player ERA FIP K/9 BB/9
Montgomery 4.42 4.44 8.2 3.3
German 4.58 4.60 8.9 3.5

At first blush, there really doesn’t seem to be much difference in the expectations for Montgomery and German going forward. We can turn to Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections for a second opinion, but the results are the same: PECOTA expects Montgomery to post a 4.60 ERA with an 8.6 K/9 rate, and pegs German for a 4.55 ERA and a 9.2 K/9 rate.

If we take these projections at face value, the Yankees should lose very little by transitioning from Montgomery to German over the next couple months. There are complicating factors, of course. Another injury elsewhere in the rotation in the next few weeks would have a more significant impact, as the Yankees would be forced to turn to someone with a lesser pedigree than German. German also has yet to start a game at the MLB level, isn’t fully stretched out, and will likely place a little more strain on the bullpen than Montgomery.

That aside, German would have to hugely underperform what’s expected of him to have a large impact on the Yankees’ chances. The good news, to the extent that injuries come with good news, seems to be that the Yankees should survive Montgomery’s ailment in the short term.

It’s in the long term that the Yankees should perhaps be more worried. Montgomery’s injury has in the past been a precusor to Tommy John for some pitchers. Sometimes, a pitcher whose flexor tendon has been strained tries to heal up, only to come back some time down the line and discover that his UCL too has been impacted. The Yankees know this firsthand: former top pitching prospect James Kaprelian, since traded to the Athletics, dealt with a flexor strain before eventually going under the knife for Tommy John surgery.

This is by no means a death sentence for Montgomery. There is certainly every chance that he emerges from this in late June without further complication. Yet Montgomery is still a pitcher, and he is now a pitcher that has had elbow trouble. It clouds his future, and the Yankees’ future, just a bit more.

Now, the Yankees’ only true big leauge starter whose future in pinstripes isn’t particularly clouded by injury concerns is Luis Severino. Masahiro Tanaka still has a partially torn UCL, and while he has survived that ailment for years now, it hasn’t simply gone away. CC Sabathia is 37 and a free agent after 2018, and Sonny Gray is a free agent after 2019. When looking to the Yankees’ future rotation, the picture really is quite murky beyond Severino.

Montgomery’s potential concerns going forward make that future just a little more uncertain, and continue to highlight the likelihood that the Yankees will splurge for a starter in the free agent market next year. There’s already been plenty of talk about Patrick Corbin. Clayton Kershaw could opt out of his contract. Interesting names like Dallas Keuchel, Drew Pomeranz, JA Happ, Gio Gonzalez, Charlie Morton, and others will litter the market.

After a restrained (read: cheap) offseason, the Yankees will probably need to break the bank for a starting pitcher. Montgomery’s injury only further highlights that need. The Yankees should be alright in the short term in Montgomery’s absence, provided German plays to his abilities. It’s in the future where things start to look a little shaky.