The Yankees raised a lot of eyebrows with a trade they filed under the wire at the deadline on Aug. 2, in which centerfielder Harrison Bader was sent from the Cardinals to the Yankees for southpaw starter Jordan Montgomery.
With Bader on IL at the time and yet to play a game in the Bronx, Montgomery has thrived. The Cardinals have won all seven of his starts with St. Louis and he’s posted a 5-0 record with a 1.45 ERA, and a FIP of 2.29. His first start after the trade came against the Yankees, against whom he posted five scoreless innings and. gave up two hits and a walk.
On CC Sabathia and Ryan Ruocco’s podcast “RCD2,” Montgomery explained the difference between pitching in New York and pitching in St. Louis.
“I didn’t really have much faith in my heater at the Yankees,” Montgomery said on the podcast. “I had been told that it wasn’t that good compared to my other pitches and if I was gonna get hit, it was gonna be on a curveball or changeup, which isn’t how you can pitch.”
He continued to explain how it affected his style.
“So if I got two strikes on a guy, he was probably auto-taking because I was gonna throw a curveball or a changeup. He was trying to just foul a changeup off or see a curveball down. I’m throwing my fastball in two-strike counts, I’m throwing anything in any count now, so it’s definitely opened up.”
It takes some digging to bear those numbers out, but they do bear out. Here’s the math:
|STL Fastballs:102||STL Fastball %:14.57|
|STL Fastball Ks: 21||STL Fastball K %: 55|
|NYY Fastballs: 267||NYY Fastball %: 12.71|
|NYY Fastball Ks: 40||NYY Fastball K%: 41|
Where Montgomery has seen dramatic improvement is in the strikeout column, just as he alludes to on the podcast. By throwing four-seam-cutter-sinker in the zone in two-strike counts, he feels he’s become more effective.
Montgomery isn’t the only person to bemoan the Yankees’ hyper-analytical approach to the game. Eric Chavez was slated to join the Yankees bench this year, but he ended up across town with the Mets instead.
“Over the last 5-7 years … the strikeouts and the .190 batting averages kind of seem to be acceptable and the norm,” he said back in February, per Steve Gelbs. “And I just don’t think that’s how you build winning teams.”
Montgomery also spoke on the effect playing for a team with the profile of the Yankees can have on a player.
“The pinstripes are heavy,” he said.
Not everyone can handle it. I feel like I handled it OK. I could’ve been better, but there was a lot of things going into that I guess. But here, I’m just being myself and pitching the way I want to. I guess the fans have kind of embraced me so far.
Montgomery was known as a solid back-end rotational guy in New York, but he has exceeded that reputation so far. The Yankees rotation, meanwhile, has dealt with injuries throughout the second half. That rotation mind you, is still pitching extremely well. But having an every-fifth-day arm with the consistency Montgomery brings has a lot of late-season importance.
The Yankees still hold a commanding 5.5 game lead over the Rays heading into Tuesday’s games, and they’ve slowed down the brutal skid they were in in August. However, if they want to find postseason success, they may need to start listening to their players and letting them be themselves. It’s working for Montgomery.