Mike Montgomery was absolutely brilliant in his start on August 10 for the Kansas City Royals. We dove into the numbers why he was so good.
Nearly three years to the day after he was traded to the Chicago Cubs, Mike Montgomery found himself traded again. This time to the team that originally drafted him in the Kansas City Royals. Montgomery, 30, had been expressing the desire to become a starter again. He had several spot starts for the Cubs in the 2018 season and will forever be remembered as recording the final out in the 2016 World Series.
The Cubs, who needed a catcher while Willson Contreras nursed a foot injury, quickly made a move to acquire Martin Maldonado from the Royals in exchange for Montgomery and suddenly, he was granted his wish. Montgomery was immediately plugged into the Royals rotation that badly needed an upgrade. His first four starts were fairly pedestrian tossing 16.1 innings while allowing 12 earned runs and 4 home runs.
It was far from the start (no pun intended) that Montgomery was hoping for as he allowed opponents to bat 0.357 off him, but it could have simply been him getting stretched out again after primarily serving as a bullpen guy this year for the Cubs.
What came next was something nobody could have predicted. On August 10, the Royals were set to the face the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park with both teams donning their Negro League uniforms. Montgomery was on the bump and his counterpart was Spencer Turnbull, who had pitched well for the Tigers up to this point. With a 3.72 ERA in 101.2 innings, Turnbull was looking to keep developing on a bad Tigers team.
However, it was Montgomery who stole the show that day. He immediately set the tone for the day in the bottom half of the first inning, striking out the side and needed just 16 pitches to do so. Perhaps his best sequence came against Nike Goodrum for the second out of the inning, via StatCast.
A closer look at his pitches shows that Montgomery was able to use deception of his secondary pitches without ever needing to throw a ball in the strike zone. Montgomery started off the sequence with a 77-mph curveball and an 85-mph changeup that just barely missed the zone and Goodrum laid off both of them. Now with a 2-0 count, Montgomery threw another changeup, this time an 86-mph changeup that fell off well below the zone and Goodrum swung right over the top of it. His next pitch was a 94-mph sinker that Goodrum managed to foul off and Montgomery, again, delivered a perfect 85-mph changeup just below the zone to get Goodrum out swinging on strikes.
Looking at the other at-bats in this inning, Montgomery got Victor Reyes out on called strikes in seven pitches. He had a healthy mix of sinkers and fastballs for Reyes who had an average exit velocity of just 86.4 mph on the year and connected with the barrel of the bat less than 2 percent of the time. So any chance that Reyes would put a ball in play would likely result in weak contact, which is a true testament to the Royals scouting department to get Reyes retired as the first out of the game.
Miguel Cabrera was the final batter of the inning and while he’s no longer the player he used to be, any mistake can still be costly. Montgomery approached this sequence beautifully, displaying a nice mix of speed and secondary pitches to get Cabrera out on just four pitches. He started off the at-bat with a 92-mph fastball that was in the upper half of the strike zone, which Cabrera fouled off. The next pitch was a 93-mph sinker that missed the outside of the strike zone. With a 1-1 count, Montgomery delivered an 86-mph changeup that Cabrera was able to foul off. Now he really had Cabrera guessing what was coming next as Montgomery delivered an 87-mph cutter that was well below the strike zone and Cabrera swung right over the top of it.
The scouting report and Montgomery’s execution were flawless that day as the Royals would go onto win 7-0. In the figure above (via StatCast), Montgomery used mostly his secondary pitches and mixed in his fastballs, which differs from the norm. Establishing the command with your fastball and keeping batters guessing with your secondary pitches is how most pitchers approach pitching sequences.
Montgomery saw just three batters with an exit velocity of 99 mph or greater all day, with Brandon Dixon‘s 101.4 mph, 331-foot flyout coming in Montgomery’s final inning of the day. He did a tremendous job of inducing weak contact for the 12 balls that were put in play. Of the 100 pitches needed to complete 7.0 innings, 18 of his 20 swinging strikes came via his changeup and cutter and 15 of his 17 called strikes came via the sinker, fastball, and curveball.
Consistency was a problem for Montgomery in the second half of the season but he was in a word, dominant, that day against the Detroit Tigers. With Cal Eldred likely on the outs, I look forward to seeing Montgomery take the next step in 2020 with a new pitching coach.