The Evolution of Jordan Montgomery

When Jordan Montgomery was an unknown quantity as a prospect hurler in the Yankees’ organization, we wondered if his new slider was good enough to make him a back-end starter. Then he showed us the slider, and we wondered how good he could be going forward. But then the league scouted the pitch, and something changed. The good news is that Montgomery has adjusted again, and it all has to do with the batter’s decision to swing.

In order to get a swing and a miss, you first need to get a swing. That’s tough enough in the big leagues, where one of the separating factors is that hitters are less aggressive. “Minors, it was a completely different beast,” Montgomery admitted before a game against the Athletics. “They were all out there aggressive and attacking. These guys are better, they’ve been doing it longer.”

Take a look at the swing rate against Montgomery by year, and you can see this effect in stark contrast. In 2016, he hit Triple-A, and in 2017, he’s mostly been in the major leagues.

Jordan Montgomery Swing Rates by Year
Year Swing%
2014 64.1%
2015 66.3%
2016 46.9%
2017 48.7%

This same pattern can be seen in the history of his breaking ball usage. The slider was definitely the reason for his quick progression to the big leagues, at least according to the lefty. “I was being stubborn, didn’t really trust it in Trenton,” Montgomery said. “Threw it for two weeks in Trenton and was called up to Triple-A. They were just waiting on me to trust it.”

Then he got to the big leagues and it worked at first, sort of. He saw that they were taking pitches they used to. “Guys are spitting on pitches right on the corners,” he pointed out. And then it spread to the slider. “I’ll throw that slider and they’ll spit on it. Other guys say sometimes that they just get fooled and they tense up and don’t swing.”

Or maybe it’s that they know it’s the slider, maybe that’s why they’ve stopped swinging at it. It is the only pitch that has even average side-to-side movement that Montgomery throws, which is notable because he’s a high-arm slot pitcher that often works more north to south with the riding four-seam and dropping curve. In any case, they’ve stopped swinging at the slider.

“The curveball’s just been good right now,” Montgomery shrugged. “Just guys aren’t hitting it, it’s a pitch I can throw that’s not in the zone that they’re still swinging at it. When they stop swinging at it, I’ll go back to the slider.”

It’s a matter of fact response, and it’s a window into the constant adjustments a pitcher has to make, but recently it’s also the opposite of what other pitchers deal with. Check out league swing and whiff rates on curveballs and sliders compared to Montgomery’s this year. Then look at June.

Jordan Montgomery Swing & Whiff Rates in Context
League Montgomery Montgomery in June
Slider Swing% 48.4% 59.0% 42.0%
Slider Whiff% 14.7% 23.1% 15.8%
Curve Swing% 40.1% 42.0% 59.6%
Curve Whiff% 11.4% 17.3% 23.6%

Over the last month, batters have laid off his slider and swung like crazy at the curveball. Whatever works. As he described, it’s hard in and up with the four-seam, soft down with the curve, hard in and down with the two-seam and slider, and soft out with the change. Every pitch has its place, and every pitch is designed to get a swing.

So they’re not swinging on the slider right now. They will again. Though he calls his slider his fourth-best pitch, Montgomery has not given up on it: “It’s a good pitch, I’m going to keep throwing it.”

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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5 years ago

Why does Montgomery have only a 23% K rate despite a 13% Swstr? Is he struggling to finish off hitters in 2 strike counts?

Aaron Judge's Gavel
5 years ago
Reply to  ArmadilloFury

His foul ball % (as a percentage of all his strikes) is below avg (84th of 129 qualifiers on B-Ref). Splits leaderboard with min 30 IP and all 2 strike counts has his 42% K rate as 40th out of 116 qualifiers.

Pineda and Tanaka both have similar SwStrk rates and also seem to have lower K rates than you’d expect (24% and 22%). The other guys in the league with a similar SwStr% seem to have K rates in the 28-30% range. I don’t know?

5 years ago

Maybe you need a good fastball to strike out hitters consistently. A common denominator between Montgomery, Pineda and Tanaka is that they all have negative value fastballs and whiffs are coming from the offspeed stuff. All others in that swstr% range who have higher K rates have plus fastballs.