Pitcher Spotlight: Jordan Montgomery’s September Surge

The season is coming to a close and we’re looking for that one extra start to put us over the edge. Jordan Montgomery is fresh off two 6.0 IP outings with just 1 ER total between them, slated to make the final start of the regular season on Sunday. With his 26.0% ownership rate in ESPN Leagues, he’s a possible late add that could save your season and you may be wondering if you should pull the trigger. Let’s dive into Montgomery’s latest start – 6.0 IP, 1 ER, 6 Hits, 1 BB, 5 Ks against the Rays – to see if he really deserved the impressive results.

Curveball

Entering this outing, Montgomery turned to his Curveball 25.8% of the time across his 28 starts in the majors. It’s a good pitch, holds the highest pVal in his repertoire (8.7), and is hard for batters to handle with its big break starting at one of the highest release points in the majors:

There’s a reason why I’m leading with a secondary pitch instead of a Fastball and it can be expressed by watching this at-bat against Evan Longoria in the first inning. I’ve separated the eight-pitch at-bat into three GIFs below:

He started him off with a Curveball for a swinging strike, then fell behind with his Changeup and Fastball making it 2-1.

He snuck a Curveball in for a strike in a hitter’s count, then Longoria wised up and smacked a deuce down the line hard, but foul. At 2-2, Montgomery tried to get the strikeout with a Slider but missed too far off the plate.

At 3-2, Longoria fouled off another Curveball and easily resisted a Changeup well up and out of the strike zone.

If you didn’t pick it up, every pitch in this at-bat that was a strike or foul, was a Curveball. Everything else – Fastball, Slider, Changeup – accounted for the walk. Montgomery leaned heavily on his Curveball in this battle with Longoria…and the entire game, really. We’ll get into the other pitches in a moment, but to amplify this point a little further, check out the four pitches that struck out Logan Morrison in the very next at-bat:

The one pitch that wasn’t a Curveball – a 1-1 Fastball inside – was ripped down the line foul. Sure, getting it far enough inside (it was supposed to be outside!) and throwing heat after the slow breaker induced this rocketed strike, but with the bases loaded and fresh off the Longoria at-bat, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Montgomery turned to his deuce for the final blow.

I’m not sure what the narrative should be from this. His Curveball is a great pitch and I am glad that he recognized its effectiveness and turned to it more often when he was back was against the wall. At the same time, it’s far from ideal that he was out of options in the first place as the lack of polish just wasn’t there.

Fastball

I think I need to convince you a little more about that “lack of polish.” After all, I’ve only shown off the pitch that was good and a few scattered pitches from a laboring first inning.

His heater comes in two varieties (like most starters) with Montgomery nearly exclusively separating by handedness – right-handers were fed Two-Seamers away and left-handers had to deal with Four-Seamers away. In other words, Montgomery doesn’t like jamming batters with Fastballs intentionally.

There are two things I want to display with his Fastball: his command and their outcomes.

His Two-Seam command was close but far from precise. Here’s a supercut that should explain the meaning of that vague sentence:

Now, Montgomery did have a good handful of Two-Seamers that did hit their spots low in the zone like intended, but you can see in this GIF how his Two-Seamer just wasn’t a solid pitch for Montgomery. It floated up in the zone, tailed too far away, or was choked below the zone and felt like Montgomery just couldn’t consistently find the plate with the pitch. To his credit, he rarely missed over the plate as he was barely punished – if at all – in this outing, though the feel for his Two-Seamer just wasn’t there.

And what about his Four-Seamer? Here are the first two pitches of Montgomery’s evening that represents exactly how it looked through the game:

Montgomery really struggled to place his Four-Seamer effectively. Across the entire outing, I counted two – just two – of the 13 thrown that were well executed:

And even when it went well, say when he struck out Kevin KiermaierI don’t think anyone would argue that this was a “good” pitch:

It was a rough day for his Fastball, but you may be wondering how Montgomery possibly made it through six frames with such a good stat line. Great question! Here’s another massive GIF, this time showing off a collection of Fastballs thrown that generated outs in play:

That’s five outs all on Fastballs that missed their location. Every pitcher is going to get outs on pitches they threw poorly, without question. Some are a little luckier than others, some have extra deception that can make up for poor location. It’s possible Montgomery’s lanky trebuchet delivery does that and makes it tougher for batters to get solid contact on pitches well inside the zone. It’s also possible that Montgomery got a bit lucky here on a day where he was laboring, and that should concern you.

Slider + Changeup

The final two pitches in Montgomery’s repertoire didn’t see much action on Tuesday as neither pitch was all too sharp. His Changeup – a popular pitch to feature against right-handers off the outside corner – wasn’t all too effective and was inches away from allowing a first-inning grand-slam:

I can see the numbers telling me that Montgomery’s Changeup has been a better pitch than what I saw in this game and there were hints of that here. For example, here he is just missing the pitch during the third inning:

I’m willing to cough this one up to “he just didn’t have it today.” That’s fine when you’re looking at a whole season of starts, but when you’re looking at this outing in the context of determining if Montgomery should get the add for his Sunday matchup, there’s a bit more worry.

Then there’s his slide piece. Across the season, his Slider holds an impressive 18.2% whiff rate and has allowed a .183 batting average across the 314 thrown, but it’s prone to mistakes and the longball, which was displayed on this pitch to Steven Souza Jr.

Alright, maybe not the longball here, but this Slider wildly missed its spot, elevating a tinge and over the heart of the plate. Souza hit a grounder that squeaked through the infield, but this could have been plenty worse.

Among all 16 of his Changeups and Sliders, he tallied just one whiff and one called strike with six balls in play (two hits and a “sac fly”). These were far from the strong supporting cast Montgomery needed and while he left Tuesday’s outing unscathed, he may not be so lucky if he labors again.

Conclusion

I want to love Montgomery more. His overall whiff rate is 12.3% on the season and his future outlook could hint at growth across a sophomore year in the bigs. His Curveball is a great pitch that he can rely on and his Changeup has been a fantastic offering to keep right-handers off balance through the year. At the same time, his command is shifty and his heater – while deceptive – isn’t overpowering, his Slider is hit-or-miss, and his lack of refined command in his Tuesday start suggests that there is more work to be done than the numbers suggest. He did prove in this outing that he can still be successful despite not having his best stuff, but that is a tough argument to get behind if you’re looking to build confidence for a Sunday add.

For the long-term, seeing this much room for improvement can actually be a positive here. Considering that Montgomery is slated to be a late-round option in a standard 12-teamer draft, he could be a bit of sleeper, with a solid foundation that he can grow into with more starts in the big leagues in 2018. In the short term he may be a liability, but long term there are plenty of reasons to be intrigued.

Jordan Montgomery is expected to start on Sunday against the Blue Jays with Brett Anderson on the other side. With the season coming down to one day of baseball, Montgomery looks at first glance to be a prime option to steal one last start. While I still think he is an above average option, there should be a bit of hesitation adding Montgomery after his lackluster repertoire from Tuesday.



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Nick Pollack is the founder of PitcherList.com and has written for Washington Post, Fantasy Pros, and CBS Sports. He can be found making an excessive amount of GIFs on twitter at @PitcherList.

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I’ve downloaded this piece four times at two different computers and the video is still not there. Anybody else having this problem?