Analysis

The Yankees’ Forgotten Starting Pitcher

While looking at the Yankees rotation for 2019, many people may forget about their injured piece, left-hander Jordan Montgomery.

If you ask ten different Yankees fans about how they feel about the team’s starting rotation going into 2019, you’ll likely find a range of takes. There’s those who feel that by trading for James Paxton and resigning J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia, the Yankees have more than addressed their rotation.

There’s those who are satisfied with the rotation as it sits right now but wouldn’t mind another piece. And there’s those who feel that the rotation is wildly incomplete and needs a guy like Corey Kluber to push it over the top. While I believe that Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Paxton, Happ, and Sabathia form quite the formidable rotation, I can definitely understand why some fans would want more depth, especially given the injury concerns surrounding a number of these starters.

While pitchers like Jonathan Loaisiga, Domingo German and Luis Cessa all have the potential so be serviceable spot starters or fill in for a brief stretch if there’s an injury, there’s one name that lots of people seem to forget the Yankees will be getting back midseason.

Allow me to reintroduce you all to Jordan Montgomery. The Yankees drafted the University of South Carolina product in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, but most fans (myself included) had heard little to nothing about him until 2017 Spring Training. Montgomery impressed the team with a number of stellar Grapefruit League outings that Spring and made his MLB Debut on April 12, 2017, allowing three runs (two earned) over 4.2 innings while striking out seven batters en route to an 8-4 Yankees victory.

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In a year where the team had its fair share of rotation woes, including a miserable first half from the usually reliable Tanaka, Montgomery put together a solid rookie season, going 9-7 in 29 starts while pitching to a 3.88 ERA and striking out 144 batters. He also only allowed 21 home runs, a 1.2 HR/9 rate, which ranked second lowest of the team’s starting pitchers behind only Severino, the rotation’s breakout ace. He finished 6th in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, the only pitcher to receive votes.

After his impressive rookie season, Montgomery entered 2018 as a very respectable #5 starter behind Severino, Tanaka, Sonny Gray (remember him?) and Sabathia. Unfortunately, his 2018 season ended way sooner than expected. In just his sixth start of the year, he exited his May 1st start in Houston after just one inning, grabbing at his elbow.

Although Gary Sanchez’s ninth-inning go-ahead three-run home run that night gave Yankees fans the everlasting image of Ken Giles punching himself in the face, Yankees fans were the ones who felt like punching themselves a month later when the team announced that Montgomery would undergo Tommy John surgery.

The average rehab time for a pitcher recovering from Tommy John surgery is usually around 12-15 months, meaning that Montgomery would miss the rest of the season as well as the start of the 2019 season.

While no definite timetable has been given, Montgomery is expected to return sometime around July this season. With Paxton, Sabathia and Tanaka all known to be injury prone (and we’ve all heard the rumors about Severino being hurt in the second half of last year), it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Montgomery fill the rotation spot of an injured pitcher when he returns. If not, the team would certainly benefit from a six-man rotation, which would allow an extra day of rest for pitchers between starts.

Tanaka especially has been known to pitch better on five days of rest instead of the usual four, likely because he began his career pitching in his native country Japan, where teams employ six-man rotations. Although there’s often uncertainty surrounding whether players will “return to form” after Tommy John surgery, Montgomery is young enough that he should be able to rebound well from the surgery. Regardless of when he returns to the team in 2019, expect Montgomery to play a significant role in helping the rotation, even if he’s not the first or flashiest name that comes to mind.

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