Why couldn’t the Yankees unlock this version of Jordan Montgomery?

When the Yankees traded Jordan Montgomery to the Cardinals for Harrison Bader on deadline day, the Yankees Universe collectively raised its eyebrows. Not solely had been they depleting their already-ailing beginning rotation of a succesful arm, however the participant they had been getting again was in a strolling boot with a best-case state of affairs return date of mid-September. It was tough to conceptualize an angle from which this commerce made sense, and that is much more the case six weeks later.

Montgomery was a superbly serviceable starter for the Yankees, pitching to a sub-4 ERA in nearly 400 innings previous to this season whereas his 3.2 fWAR in 2021 positioned him in the top-30 of starters with no less than 150 innings pitched. He started his 2022 marketing campaign in a equally stable trend, pitching to an analogous ERA (3.69) and FIP (3.91) as his profession averages whereas doing a greater job limiting the lengthy ball, albeit with the worst strikeout price of his profession. In different phrases, precisely the stage of manufacturing you would be thrilled to obtain out of your third or fourth starter.

These numbers pale compared to what he is achieved since arriving in St. Louis. In eight video games with the Cardinals, Montgomery is 5-1 with a 2.05 ERA (190 ERA+), 2.45 FIP, and 44 strikeouts in 48.1 innings, doubling his season fWAR complete in a 3rd of the time. This stellar starting to his Cardinals profession vaulted him to the top-10 of beginning pitchers throughout that eight-game span in most metrics, together with FIP and fWAR.

So what had been the Yankees lacking? How had been the Cardinals capable of unlock this abruptly dominant version of Montgomery? Erin recognized an uptick in four-seam fastball utilization as a major driver of Montgomery’s newfound success. Today, I’d like to take a look at some of the different adjustments in pitching method which have allowed the former Yankees southpaw to thrive in crimson and white.

Even although Montgomery credit the four-seamer for his uptick in outcomes, there may be cause to consider that the efficiency of the pitch itself noticed no enchancment, however reasonably its elevated presence exerted a synergistic impact on the relaxation of his arsenal. As Matt Blake identified, the four-seamer is definitely Montgomery’s worst pitch. And transferring from a division that crushes four-seamers to the light-hitting NL Central definitely helped. But pure and easy, the effectiveness of one’s secondary pitches (in Montgomery’s case, the curveball and changeup) relies upon upon one’s capacity to ascertain the fastball in the zone.

Courtesy of FanGraphs

The largest change for Montgomery has seen a basic shift in philosophy away from aiming to be a high-strikeout pitcher to a groundball pitcher pitching to contact. Rather than nibble round the edges and fall behind in counts, Montgomery is coming proper after hitters, attempting to get a batted ball as rapidly as attainable. Since transferring to St. Louis, he is seen his zone swing price improve from 70.4 p.c to 74.2 p.c, his contact price leap from 72.1 p.c to 79 p.c, and his chase contact price skyrocket from 59.4 p.c to 74.8 p.c.

But wait, is not the objective to overlook bats, rack up whiffs, and normally keep away from contact? For pitchers with wipeout stuff, sure completely; nonetheless, not all pitchers can nor must be shoehorned into this idealized version of a starter. Not all pitchers possess the instruments to run 30-plus p.c strikeout charges and twenty-plus whiffs per sport. Sometimes, a pitcher has to play to his strengths, and for Montgomery that is limiting arduous contact and inducing weak contact.

With the Cardinals, the lefty has elevated his groundball price from 46.4 p.c to 53.4 p.c whereas seeing his barrel price drop with every successive begin. This shift to pitching to contact highlights the significance of infield protection to a pitching employees’s success. St. Louis fields one of the greatest defenses in baseball — first in UZR (37.8), fourth in FanGraphs’ defensive runs metric (26.2) — but it surely’s the infield the place they actually shine.

The Cardinals’ infield paces the league in infield Outs Above Average (+23) and boasts two of the top-five infield defenders this season — Tommy Edman putting second with +18 OAA, Nolan Arenado putting fifth with +14 OAA. Pitching with the confidence that the defenders behind you will hoover up any and all groundballs that come their method frees up a pitcher to assault the zone and confidently pitch to contact.

I don’t write this to belabor the mistake of buying and selling Jordan Montgomery to the Cardinals. There’s even a case to be made that the Yankees could be no higher or worse off had they saved him. No, I write this to highlight two necessary factors that I really feel don’t get sufficient consideration. First is clearly the worth of robust infield protection, each for its impression on the sport but additionally for the psychological impact it might have on pitchers. Second, I proceed to warning towards pigeonholing pitchers into predefined templates. Let Montgomery function a cautionary story for permitting pitchers to thrive inside their given skillset, and taking the correct steps to maximise outcomes as soon as you have recognized these strengths.

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