Though they made an odd decision to subtract from their pitching depth and trade Jordan Montgomery, the New York Yankees managed to bring in two starting-caliber outfielders in Andrew Benintendi and Harrison Bader, two potentially solid relievers in Scott Effross and Lou Trivino, and the crown jewel: starting pitcher Frankie Montas.
The Yanks had been coveting Montas for a while, as they wanted a notable rotation upgrade. They got one with the former Oakland Athletics right-hander, who will make his debut in pinstripes on Sunday against the St. Louis Cardinals.
New York hopes he can boost a starting staff that ranks sixth in the majors in roster-adjusted raw value- and bring some balance to a roster that leads all of baseball with a 123.5 raw value+ offensively.
Most metrics and stats focus on the outcome of each at-bat, but raw value evaluates players, in this case pitchers (RV-), on a per-pitch basis. You can find a much broader explanation here: it considers the pitcher’s ability to coerce hitters into making weak contact, swinging and missing, and other elements of the craft. For hurlers, the lower the better when it comes to RV- (100 is considered average).
Montas was able to overcome a bout of shoulder inflammation in early July and is currently healthy. In 2022, he has a 3.18 ERA with a 3.25 FIP in 104.2 innings, striking out 109 hitters against just 28 walks.
It’s almost an exact replica of his 2021 performance, in which he showed off all of his traits: stamina and durability (he pitched 187 innings), considerable run-prevention skills (3.37 ERA and a 3.41 FIP) and bat-missing talent (207 punchouts).
What are the Yankees getting in Montas? Can he live up to expectations and be that “1A” starter behind Gerrit Cole in the rotation? Let’s go to the data to examine what has he done so far, and what he could do moving forward.
Montas’ RV- this year is 79, which ranks 24th among pitchers with a minimum of 100 innings. That’s borderline elite, and very much in the same tier as rotation mates Gerrit Cole (78) and Néstor Cortés Jr. (69).
The art of pitching can be dissected in three parts: whether a pitcher is good at getting strikes, whether he can earn swings and misses, and whether or not he has good command. Montas is average or above-average in all of these.
Strike+ allows us to determine the rate at which a pitcher gets strikes, whiff+ examines how good he is at generating swings and misses, and command+ examines whether a pitcher can execute what he’s trying to do by looking at several factors and situations. Every pitch is analyzed to determine the actual intent.
For all three metrics, 100 is considered average, but this time, any value over 100 is better. Montas has a 100 strike+, a 108 in command+, and a 121 in whiff+. You could say he’s average at earning strikes, has above-average command, and is excellent at generating swings and misses.
The righty is 12th in MLB in whiff+, and he has good command for his stuff at 108. That ranks 24th overall but fourth among pitchers with a 115 or higher whiff+, behind Zack Wheeler, Julio Urías and Kevin Gausman.
That’s pretty good company.
Speaking of his stuff, the reason he misses so many bats is because he has a pitch to attack lefties (his marvelous split-finger), one to attack righties (his slider), and his four-seam fastball is very tough to hit, too.
Let’s start with his fastball. Its velocity is excellent for a starter – at 96.2 mph on average – and it generates a lot of swings and misses: He has a 167 whiff+ with the pitch, which is elite considering it’s not a breaking ball. He also has great command of the pitch (108 command+).
He uses his four-seamer 27.1% of the time. Why isn’t that percentage higher? Because both his splitter and slider are also well above-average in terms of missing bats. The slider, which he uses 17.0% of the time, is right there as an average bat-missing offering (100 whiff+), but has a .191 wOBA and a 15 (!) RV-.
The splitter doesn’t have such a high command+ at 96, but its movement and bat-missing ability is impressive (123 whiff+):
The splitter is Montas’ second pitch (26.0% usage). The most impressive thing of all is that the offering has enormous potential considering it had a 170 whiff+ last year. Perhaps Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake can help him refine the pitch and return it to being an absolutely elite one, just as it was in 2021.
Montas’ arsenal is completed with a two-seamer and a cutter. The former has a 100 RV- and he uses it 22.0% of the time. And with three elite pitches, one has to wonder if the Yankees will have him reduce his two-seamer usage while throwing the four-seamer, splitter and slider more.
Montas doesn’t have any glaring splits. He can get major leaguers out in any stadium or league, and neutralizes both righties and lefties.
When he has left-handed hitters at two strikes, his main put away pitches are either a splitter down and away (51.7%) or a high fastball (31.3%). This split is to be expected because the split-finger’s natural break goes away from the lefty batter.
Naturally, he throws a lot more sliders to right-handed hitters, but curiously, he uses it more often when he is behind in the count (35.9%) than as a put away pitch (26.1%). The Yankees like good sliders, so perhaps they will encourage him to use it more with two strikes against right-handers.
Montas does have the small red flag associated with his shoulder injury in July, but all recent reports indicate he’s healthy – he allowed two runs in eight innings after returning – and ready to take the ball on Sunday.
The Yankees have been after him for quite some time now, as they like the fact he can get both lefties and righties out, has been highly successful in three of the last four seasons, is still relatively young at 29, and is controllable through next season. As a nice bonus, Montas has a solid 3.40 ERA in 76.2 career frames against the toughest AL opponent for the Yankees – the Houston Astros.
Montas has all the tools to be a successful starter for the Yankees. Can he handle the pressure cooker that is New York? We are about to find out.