Jordan Montgomery’s Fastball
Jordan Montgomery Throwing 4 Perfect Innings in Spring Training – Photo Courtesy of Charles Wenzelberg, NY Post
Much has been written about the extra oomph that Jordan Montgomery has shown on his fastball thus far during Spring Training. Many of us have speculated about just what it would mean if Jordan Montgomery really added extra velocity on his fastball. I mean, I can’t really dream of a scenario in which extra velocity on a fastball is a bad thing, but it is certainly hard to quantify just how much added velocity can help Monty given that we do not have tools like Statcast to evaluate average velocity during Spring Training. However, it is widely accepted that the radar gun readings shown on the scoreboard at the Yankees’ Spring Training complex, Steinbrenner Field, are accurate relative to the Trackman readings used to generate the statistics compiled for Statcast. Based on that, we do know that Monty has been throwing a much higher concentration of fastballs that provide readings of 93 and 94 MPH than we had seen during his outstanding rookie campaign in 2017 or in his few Major League appearances since that time. I think it is important to understand just what Monty’s fastball was in quantifiable terms, and then try to speculate what a modest bump in fastball velocity would mean for a pitcher like Montgomery in 2020.
First, let’s get a general picture of how Monty ranked in 2017 in some standard Statcast rankings compared to other pitchers:
Jordan Montgomery 2017 Statcast Rankings, Courtesy of Baseball Savant
With regards to results, Montgomery was pretty average with regards to average Exit Velocity allowed, but he proved to be slightly above-average at limiting hard contact. Based on that nuance, Montgomery ranked positively compared to his peers with regards to expected results by opposing hitters with regards to batting average, slugging percentage, and weighted On Base Average.
We can also see that Montgomery did not have anything stand out with regards to his stuff. The spin rates on both his fastball and breaking ball were slightly below average, and Montgomery paired that with a fastball that came in below the league’s average velocity. Despite this, Monty’s strikeout rate was slightly above-average, likely due to his ability to mix pitches and move the ball around the zone. When talking about pitchers, I talk about the difference between throwers and pitchers. Throwers are able to blow the ball by hitters on pure stuff, so mixing pitches and commanding the ball inside and outside the zone is less important. Pitchers are guys who utilize a mix of pitches to keep hitters off-balance, and rely on command to get hitters out. The fact that Monty achieved an above-average strikeout rate despite middling stuff proves what the scouting reports have always said about Monty: he is a pitcher, not a thrower. Based on the stuff we saw from Monty in 2017 (and frankly, in 2018 and 2019 in small sample sizes), pitching with craft and command was by necessity, because Monty didn’t have the stuff to give him any margin for error.
Statcast also gives us the ability to look with greater granularity at Monty’s rankings. To quantify Monty’s fastball velocity ranking, Montgomery ranked just 388/557 pitchers on his four-seamer (91.9 MPH) and 303/485 pitchers on his sinker (91.7 MPH) among pitchers who threw at least 250 pitches during the season. Given Monty’s middling spin rates on the four-seam fastball and sinker, Monty’s fastballs were genuinely underwhelming offerings in 2017, despite the fact that he was a good pitcher.
When we consider Monty’s positive contributions in 2017 despite his underwhelming fastballs, it is very exciting to ponder what Monty could be in 2020 with added velocity. If the cluster of 93 and 94 MPH fastballs on the radar readings during Spring Training are to be believed, I think it is realistic to consider the possibility that Monty has gained as much as 1 MPH on his average fastball. That would give Monty average velocities of 92.9 MPH on his four-seam fastball and 92.7 MPH on his sinker. Here’s what that would mean from a rankings perspective, based on the 2019 average velocity leaderboard:
92.9 MPH Four-Seam Fastball: 335/587 pitchers (minimum 250 pitches)
92.7 MPH Sinker: 218/432 pitchers (minimum 250 pitches)
While the boost in rankings does not seem that dramatic, it is the sinker that could be huge for Monty in 2020. If Monty were to gain as much as 1 MPH on his average sinker velocity, he would be almost exactly average, far better than his ranking during his solid 2017 campaign. Monty throws his sinker just shy of 44% of his pitches according to Statcast, so pushing that pitch closer to average with regards to velocity should have very positive impacts on all of the underlying performance figures we discussed earlier in this post. I would expect to see significant impact to Monty’s hard hit rate, exit velocity allowed, and strikeout rate with significant velocity gains, particularly given Monty’s proven ability to mix speeds and pitches while commanding the baseball.
Obviously, we have no idea whether Monty has gained as much as 1 MPH on his fastball right now. However, I strongly believe that a velocity gain is real based on the fact that Aaron Boone has been willing to admit to the velocity gain publicly. Given that fact, the gain in velocity could be less than 1 MPH, but it could also be more than that. We have no idea what effect added velocity would have on Monty’s spin rates on his fastballs or his breaking balls either. Generally, spin rates improve the harder the ball is thrown, so it is possible those numbers have improved alongside a spike in velocity. All of this bodes quite well for a pitcher that has suddenly become a main cog in the Yankee rotation. I was excited for Monty’s return prior to the reported velocity spike, but analyzing the numbers associated with a spike in velocity makes me that much more excited. We’ll have to check back to evaluate what the numbers look like once Monty pitches in games with publicly available Trackman data, but I am cautiously excited about what those numbers will show. Added velocity could take Jordan Montgomery from a back-of-the-rotation arm to a dependable mid-rotation cog.