For the third straight fill-in start, Mike Montgomery gave the Cubs the kind of start that wins games. The big lefty went six innings and only the first inning run that came in on a sac fly crossed the plate on him. In terms of results, that’s simply fantastic.
Behind the results, it’s a little more complicated than six innings and one run. Montgomery allowed seven hits and only one walk, so that stuff is good, too. He struck out only one, though, which means there were a ton of balls in play. And unlike his usually milieu, he wasn’t really getting a lot of soft contact that held the hits down:
Really interesting outing for Montgomery yesterday, with an absurd volume of balls in play (just 1 strikeout). Tons of just-barely-hard contact, almost no super hard contact and almost no soft contact. Lotta hit probabilities right around 50%. No conclusion. Just interesting. pic.twitter.com/UuJ15i3ZK7
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) June 9, 2018
Montgomery isn’t a huge strikeout guy anyway, so you’re gonna have a lot of balls in play. And it’s good that he wasn’t giving up a ton of *blistering* shots or perfectly barreled hits. I’d say there’s probably a bit more pretty-hard contact there than you’d want to see – and if Ian Happ doesn’t make a couple incredible catches while Montgomery is in there, his day might’ve been a lot shorter.
All in all, though, there’s a lot to like about the performance, including how much he stayed in the strike zone, and how he netted a whopping 59.1% groundball rate.
That said, I do have to register one thing I noticed: Montgomery’s velocity was down in the start. Maybe it was the relatively chilly conditions. Maybe he was taking it a bit easier to try to go deeper in the game. Maybe it was just one of those days when the arm wasn’t entirely there.
But, in his first two starts, Montgomery was sitting right around 93 mph with his fastballs, down about 1 mph from where he was in the bullpen (which is actually probably better than you’d expect in a transition to the rotation). Yesterday, however, he was at 91 mph. In terms of start-to-start variance, that’s a lot. It’s noticeable. And, given the way the start played out, it could be the difference between a couple extra Ks or balls in play.
Moreover, all of Montgomery’s pitches were down about that same amount, and, since he’s transitioning into the rotation, it makes me wonder about how his arm is handling that transition.
The good news is that we don’t immediately need to think “oh no, injury!”, because he did have this kind of variance last year, too. He was doing a lot more bouncing around between roles last year, but still, maybe he’s just a guy who shows a lot of variance in his velocity, intentionally or not.
Moreover, a guy who is 94 mph in the bullpen, I would absolutely not expect to sit at 93 mph in a 90+ pitch start. So, Montgomery being 91-92 mph wouldn’t really surprise or concern me.
Anyway, much like with the contact data yesterday, I don’t really have a “conclusion.” It was just something that stood out, and I thought worth noting for posterity, since Montgomery is going to get multiple additional starts.
The biggest thing I like right now is that Montgomery wanted this chance to start, got it because of circumstances outside of his control, and he’s not messing around with it. He’s clearly very prepared, very focused, and he’s pounding the strike zone. I really like that.