Game 52, Yankees at Mariners
Mike Montgomery vs. CC Sabathia, 7:10pm
Welcome to the big leagues, Mike Montgomery. It’s been a long, long road for the lefty. He was drafted with the 36th overall pick in 2008, and cracked the Royals top 10 prospect list back in 2009, placing him around guys like Dan Cortes, Kila Ka’aihue and Danny Duffy. The following year, Montgomery topped pretty much everyone’s KC list, and was in the top 5 for 2011, the famously hyped best system in the history of systems. He had good size, above average velocity, a solid change, and the makings of a solid curve. The only question seemed to be when he’d debut – late 2011? Certainly 2012. Instead, though, Montgomery had a terrible introduction to the high minors in 2011, and the promotions just didn’t come. Instead of a temporary setback, Montgomery struggled again in 2012. His walk rate – always on the high side -was a red flag, and was no longer balanced by strikeouts. In a few years, Montgomery had gone from prize of the system to a potential bust.
Before the 2013 system, the Royals and Rays pulled off probably the most widely debated and discussed trade of the past decade. Wil Myers, the new star of the Royals system, headed to Tampa in exchange for SP James Shields and RP Wade Miley. The Rays also grabbed some prospects to help balance things out – SP Jake Odorizzi, who seemed like a 5th starter, OF lottery ticket Patrick Leonard, and Montgomery, a classic buy-low candidate. The Rays were able to help Odorizzi turn into something much better than anyone thought, but Montgomery proved a tougher nut to crack. He had a better ERA in the Rays system (the IL isn’t the same as the PCL, because nothing is), but seemed just as stalled out – averagey K rates, too-high walk rate, no ability to strand runners. Montgomery had blown two chances to develop, and nice fastball aside, time was running out. The Rays dumped him for Erasmo Ramirez at the end of spring training, and everyone (including me) though the M’s might move him to the bullpen and see if his velo would play up in short stints. Instead, he’s quietly having his best high-minors season in the rotation.
This isn’t a dramatic transformation the way it was with Danny Farquhar. Instead, pretty much every metric is just a bit better than it’s been. For example, Montgomery’s previous career high for the percentage of his pitches that have gone for strikes was 60.7%, set in Omaha and tied in Durham. This year, it’s 62.5%. His best whiff rate had been 9.7%. It’s at 12% now, matched be his lowest contact%. His HR rate’s as low as it was when he was the darling of the Royals’ system, but this year’s mark has come in the PCL. Now, all of this is nice, and shows that he’s been pitching better than he did last year, but there’s some luck here, too. His HR/FB rate seems absurdly low, and the sample size makes it hard to say that he’s turned a corner. But he’s pitched well enough to earn a shot, and I’m excited to see what he does with it.
CC Sabathia was remarkably durable and consistent for over a decade, but the red flags are themselves worn and tattered now. After losing both weight and velocity last season, Sabathia struggled and then lost most of the year to injury. I think expectations were low this season, but Sabathia’s managed to prove the pessimists right in the early going. His FIP actually isn’t too bad, as Sabathia maintains very low walk rates. But with his FB at 90mph, he’s giving up lots of hard-hit balls, and that’s pushed his BABIP to .350, and his HR rate has been high since 2013. Sabathia was famous for dominating righties and lefties alike, thanks to a solid change-up and a slider that was effective against anyone with a bat in their hands. But since 2013, his ability to deal with righties has declined, and he’s now running extreme platoon splits. Since the start of last season, Sabathia’s pitched 106+ IP and given up 20 HRs to righties, who are hitting .365 off his four-seamer and .325 off his sinker. He knows how to pitch, and can get whiffs with his change-up against over-aggressive hitters, so that’s something Weeks/Ruggiano should be aware of. But this is a match-up that needs a righty-stocked line-up.
1: Jackson, CF
2: Bloomquist, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Weeks, DH
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Ruggiano, LF
9: Zunino, C
Tacoma welcomes New Orleans to Cheney tonight at 6:05. Sounds like Danny Farquhar will make the start tonight and then stay in the rotation for a while. Interesting move.
Jackson’s got Scott DeCecco on the mound against Mississippi in the first game of a double-header. Moises Hernandez gets the ball in game 2.
Bakersfield faces Rancho Cucamonga tonight. No word on the Blaze starter, but Zack Bird starts for the Quakes – this’ll be the 3rd time this year Bakersfield have faced him.