Written by: Estee Rivera (@esteerivera42)
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Jordan Montgomery has always been a good pitcher. When he debuted in 2017, I was immediately impressed. I really had little-to-no knowledge of who he was or how he pitched. The Yankees always have very good pitching depth. So, when guys like Montgomery get called up you expect them to be solid innings eaters who know how to compete.
Then you watch him pitch. I have never been a fan of saying, “that guy is a pitcher and not a thrower,” but in this case, the cliche really hits the nail on the head. The thing about being a good “pitcher” is that you need to know your arsenal and its capabilities. Know how you get ground balls, swing and misses, etc. That also means knowing what you can add to your arsenal to make your other pitches play well off one another. Montgomery seems to understand the art of pitching. By no means do I ever think he will be an “ace.” His future is most likely as a solid 3-4, but that has great value on any rotation. Now let’s get to that arsenal I was talking about.
No Trouble With The Curve
First, let’s focus on the sexiest pitch Montgomery possesses, a classic 12-6 curve that falls off the face of the Earth. The spin rate is nothing crazy, but the pitch still has above average tumble thanks to the 27-year-old’s over-the-top arm slot. In his first start of 2020, it spun at 2241 RPMs on average. But what really matters about this pitch is the visual action. Metrics are nice, and often very important, but for this pitch it is all about the eye test.
Jordan Montgomery, Filthy Breaking Balls. 😷 pic.twitter.com/uEbHET5SqV
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 19, 2020
In 2017 (his only full season), the pitch had an Expected Batting Average of .175. Simply put, Montgomery’s hook is dirty. He is 6’6. The ball is dropping from the heavens. Good luck to anybody who has to face that while worrying about the rest of his pitch mix. This is a knee buckler/sword inducing type of pitch. It has always been the key component to his bag of tricks.
Fastball Velocity Uptick Post-Tommy John
Tommy John surgery is no joke. Yeah, guys come back from it all the time, but you need proper guidance to ensure the inefficiency that led to the tear is remedied with the proper mechanical adjustment(s). Somewhere along Montgomery’s kinetic chain, there was something adding increased stress to his elbow.
While I can’t tell you exactly what he was thinking during his rehab, I can tell you the differences I see in his mechanics at some crucial points. Whatever these changes are, you should know they resulted in a spike in the average velocity of his 4-seamer from 90.5 in 2018 (year of ligament tear) to 93.4 in 2020. His 4-seamer is not his primary pitch by any means. His primary pitch is the sinker and that also had a significant uptick in velocity since 2018 from 89.9 to 92.2. Both the 4-seamer and Sinker have increased by at least 2 MPH. I don’t need to tell you why that is a great thing. He’s even topping out at 95 with his sinker (and I am quite positive he hit 96 in Spring Training), which is remarkable if you remember the days of him slightly sniffing 92. In 2018, he maxed out at 92.1, and now that is just around his floor. There is a Pitching Ninja GIF for everything.
Jordan Montgomery, 95mph Fastball and 82mph breaking ball, Overlay (synced at release) pic.twitter.com/G56dVb3jCF
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 19, 2020
He added a cutter to his arsenal this year too. This adds an additional look for hitters. With a traditional 12-6 breaker and a Sinker/Changeup combo, the Cutter is an extremely beneficial addition. In his first start he threw it 12 times (out of 79 pitches) with an average velocity of 89.4 MPH and average vertical movement of 21.9 inches. That’s 14% above league average. Not too shabby for a brand-new pitch. I would not be surprised if he started throwing it a little more if the command is there. That’s a lot of surface improvements for a guy less than two years out from Tommy John. Now let’s find out how he was able to do this.
Okay so this is what we call maximum external rotation or as the traditionalists say, layback. It is the point where you reach approximately 90 degrees of elbow flexion. All pitchers want to make sure that their elbow is in line with the direction of their shoulders at this position. Ben Brewster gives an excellent summary of some ideal cues to look for in pitchers when they reach Max ER.
One easy thing to see is that Montgomery’s glove hand has changed positions. In 2018, it was tucked into his armpit and closer to his chest. In 2020, it is pointing slightly towards the third base side. It is definitely more relaxed and guiding his direction better (albeit not perfect). Throwing with too stiff of a front-side is not fun. Imagine you wanted to throw a ball as far as you can but could not use your lead arm to guide the whip of your body. It simply would not go as far.
Check out the position of Montgomery’s torso. In 2018, he was significantly falling off to the third base side. The 7 on his jersey is almost rotated 90 degrees, while in 2020 it is much more upright. He is rotating around his spine, rather than his shoulder plane. The elbow shouldn’t fall behind or leak forward relative to the line of the shoulders. The shadow created on Monty’s back in the 2018 photo shows us that he created a sub-optimal angle with the upper half of his torso. His elbow/forearm is lagging behind his shoulder line. I want you to face your palm away from your body and pull your hand by the fingers to create a stretch in your wrist. Imagine doing this as fast as you can over and over. The tension is bound to create a snap if the forearm is working too hard relative to the rest of his body.
Monty has really cleaned up the timing of his elbow with his shoulders. In the 2020 photo, you see how everything is rotating together and connected with one another. There is no excess pull of the forearm as a result of the fall off/sub-optimal position at max ER.
Even at release point he is doing a way better job at using his lead leg block to resist his rotation. One way I like to think about this/something that helped me as a player was the strength of my lead leg in an overhead medicine ball throw. If you fall off to the side, then you have less body control to throw that medicine ball straight and FAST. For a long and lanky pitcher, Montgomery had poor Release Extension before Tommy John. He has improved it from 5.86 feet from the mound, to 6.35 feet from the mound thanks to his adjustments. That makes it even more difficult for hitters.
His release point drastically changed since 2018. My guess is he is able to pronate his hand more naturally with these mechanical changes. What happens in the end is all a result of what happened before. His Release Point X (ft) went from .93 to 1.52 from 2018 to 2020. That’s about half a foot shifted towards first base. Again, with less fall off and torso rotation, things are going to change. His arm slot shifted down and to the left a tick, and that is certainly for the better, especially with the increased usage of the Sinker and Cutter.
Lastly, I want to point out the difference in the finish. The hypothesis of rotating around the spine/over-rotation of the torso adds up when we see that his left leg ends up crossing over in the end of his delivery. There is no such thing as absolutes. Some guys can throw very hard even when flinging that leg around (like twitch god Mike Clevinger). But for many, holding that position into release is a sign of excellent lead leg stabilization. The lead leg works as a block for the rest of the body to fire.
Like I said, I don’t think Montgomery will ever hoist a Cy Young or claim the title of ace. But when any pitcher with plus-command suddenly adds velocity and a new pitch to his repertoire, he is going to have sustained success. Realizing a pitcher is throwing harder and has added a pitch is important. I think finding out how he did it is really interesting, and I hope you did too.
Follow P365 MLB Analyst Estee Rivera on Twitter! @esteerivera42
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365
Featured image courtesy of photographer Michael Reaves and Getty Images