Well, he did it again.
Mike Montgomery tossed yet another gem for the Chicago Cubs, as he fills out the rotation with Yu Darvish on the shelf, and we all owe him a big slice of apple pie. Ah, you know what? He can have the whole pie.
Against the Brewers yesterday, Montgomery lasted six full innings for the third straight start, allowing just one earned run on two hits and one walk against four strikeouts. Here are the highlights:
On top of the modest, but effective K/BB numbers yesterday, Montgomery was doing what he does best: generating a ton of weak contact on the ground.
Although his soft contact rate was right around/just slightly better than league average yesterday, he allowed far less hard contact than the rest of the league, and forced the ball to the ground 56.3% of the time. When you combine that with a tiny 12.5% line drive rate, middling strikeout rates won’t hurt you. Indeed, in today’s fly ball/home run era, guys who can induce weak contact and keep the ball on the ground are exactly the type you’ll want to gobble up (that is, if they don’t also walk a ton of batters *cough* Chatwood *cough*).
But let’s not sell Montgomery short. Working with a 93 MPH fastball, a changeup, curveball, and cutter, the Cubs fill-in ace generated a really solid 11 whiffs yesterday, and really labored through only one inning (21 pitches in the second). That, by the way, is the inning he actually recorded four outs thanks to Chris Gimenez sailing one into right field.
But this is nothing new, right?
“I’ve got a lot of confidence,” Montgomery told Cubs.com. “I know if I go out there and execute the game plan and stay within myself, good things happen. I’ve always known that. I have a good feel for my pitches right now. It’s about just going out there and trying to get the job done. I’ve been around and I know what it takes to be good, and it’s just about going out there and doing it.”
Montgomery is very confident, but he’s also very right. That start was his fourth for the Cubs this season, and, in the last three, he’s lasted at least 6.0 innings allowing no more than one earned run. While he fell one out shy of 6.0 innings in his first start, that one was scoreless, so it was just as good.
As a starter this season, Montgomery has a 1.14 ERA with 14 strikeouts against just 3 walks over 4 starts (23.2 IP). Mostly because of the low strikeout total, his first-level peripherals (3.52 FIP) are a fair bit behind his results, but 1) that’s still a very good number (if he had enough innings to qualify, he’d rank 31st, between Jake Arrieta and Stephen Strasburg) and 2) that’s only half the story.
Not unlike Kyle Hendricks or even Arrieta, Montgomery is an excellent contact manager. As a starter, his 60.9% ground ball would rank as the best in baseball, while his 20.3% soft-hit rate would rank among the top 30 and his 27.5% hard-hit rate would rank 8th, just behind Justin Verlander. Those are the sort of numbers that are only partially reflected in stats like FIP (the lack of homers), but are great, repeatable, sustainable reasons for consistently outperforming your peripherals.
Since joining the Cubs back in July of 2016, Montgomery has made 23 total starts, holding batters to a tiny .203/.277/.338 slash line (.270 wOBA) throughout. He’s got a 3.38 ERA in those appearances with a 4.08 FIP, 19.9 K% and 7.6 BB%. And while those numbers might not be as eye-popping as his last four starts, they’re still very good. And, of course, he’s been bouncing back and forth between the rotation and bullpen during that time, which isn’t easy. Who’s to say he wouldn’t improve (like he has) with a more traditional starting role?
Speaking of which … yeah, it’s probably time to consider what happens when Yu Darvish is ready to come back from the disabled list (which might happen before the All-Star break). I tend to think that, if things continue to look the way they do now, there’s no way you can send Montgomery back to the bullpen. So that might mean a six-man rotation (which Joe Maddon has previously suggested won’t happen at this time), Tyler Chatwood works out of the bullpen for a while, or perhaps even comes down with a chronic case of Theo Epstein says your ankle hurts-itis:
Wow. A behind-the-scenes look at Theo Epstein talking to Tyler Chatwood after another great start by Mike Montgomery. pic.twitter.com/zAuvGFhJH3
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) June 14, 2018
Either way, there’s no way the Cubs can cut Montgomery’s fun short if he has another couple starts like this; he’s simply been too good. With that said, this decision isn’t happening right now. Both guys will see multiple turns in the rotation before Darvish comes back, so a lot can change.
After all, it’s not like we don’t know Tyler Chatwood’s got the stuff to be a very good starter. It’s just that Mike Montgomery currently is one.