Typically, the Villar Village focuses on players on bad teams because a sleeper often cannot find the playing time on a good team or such a player becomes overexposed as a quality option and becomes overvalued for being on a good team. Mike Montgomery is the exception to that rule. With uncertainty on his role, the Cubs swingman, who got the last out of last year’s World Series, is going post-pick 300 at 312.15 in NFBC ADP.
Despite this suppressed price, Montgomery appears to be a strong favorite for the 5th starter role in Chicago. His only apparently competition is Brett Anderson, who is notoriously injury-prone and offers little conceivable upside at this point in his career. Montgomery, a former top prospect, has a good deal of unrecognized upside as a starting pitcher.
On its face, the numbers are mildly impressive. In 100 innings, including 7 starts, Montgomery struck out 8.28 per 9 innings and posted a strong 2.52 ERA. The peripherals were less promising, but still productive with a 3.79 FIP and 3.60 xFIP. He saw the ERA jump a bit – up to 3.28 – as a starter, but everything else was fairly stable aside from the HR/9, which rocketed to 1.51 on an unsustainable 30% HR/FB rate. This hints at a second and third time through the order problem. However, the problem might not be as severe as one would think because Montgomery has a starter’s arsenal even though he spent most of the year in relief.
Montgomery’s groundball rate was 58.7% – if he had qualified, this would have ranked as second best in all of baseball among starters behind Marcus Stroman. When you combine an 8+ K/9 rate with a 50% GB rate, the company looks pretty nice: Carlos Martinez, Jake Arrieta, Francisco Liriano, Noah Syndergaard and Johnny Cueto. This is not just reliever noise – his K rate was actually higher as a starter (8.58 K/9 compared to 8.11 K/9 as a reliever) and the groundball rate remained in elite territory at 57.4%. It could be small sample size, but the results are supported by the quality of his pitches.
In a very useful piece, FanGraphs writer Eno Sarris explained that Mike Montgomery actually had two of the top 25 pitches in baseball last year – his cutter and changeup. They were both well above average in generating whiffs and grounders. The curveball also generates a ton of groundballs.
Montgomery also saw a year-long velocity bump, some of which is certainly from being in the bullpen. However, we have seen recent pitchers go into the bullpen and keep velocity as a starting pitcher – Carlos Carrasco and Danny Duffy immediately come to mind. Montgomery did lose a tick – throwing 93 instead of 94, but that is still above average from the left side and more than enough when you factor in elite breaking and off-speed pitches.
Perhaps the most unsung part of Montgomery’s upside is that his groundball rate works well for him in two ways: 1) he is able to avoid the home run, which could be an issue based upon his starting sample, and 2) he is able to take advantage of the elite defense behind him.
I think the fact that Cubs were not seeking an imminent and legitimate replacement for Montgomery indicates that they want to see what he can do in a prolonged starting run. The Cubs flirted with Tyson Ross, who is unlikely to return until May or June and ended up singing Anderson, who can provide some competition and maybe even seize the job out of camp, but is unlikely to hold up for any length of time. I view Montgomery as a major value on draft day and a pitcher, who could be a sneaky top 40 SP at the cost of SP 85.
We welcome Mike Montgomery to the Villar Village!
My Projection for Montgomery: 165 IP, 3.45 ERA, 150 Ks, 1.19 WHIP.