Mike Montgomery’s inability to generate whiffs this season has been a focal point for commentary by fans, media, and even Montgomery himself. Recently, however, we’ve been seeing the Cubs lefty gradually whiff more and more batters.
About nine percent of Montgomery’s pitches have been swung at and missed during his starts this season. There were even some July starts in which he was only making batters whiff against 1-4 percent of his pitches. Giving up so much contact is simply not a sustainable formula for success. Monty knew it, too.
“I’m a ground ball pitcher, but I think in today’s game you’re going to need swings and misses,” Montgomery told The Athletic early in August.
In his most recent start against the Braves, Montgomery threw 66 pitches, 15 of which were swung at and missed. That’s a 23 percent whiff rate, folks, 7.7 points (roughly 50 percent) better than his previous best rate of 15.3 percent
And it just so happened to come after he said he was “going to look for ways to get more swing and misses.”
Starts like the one against the Braves are a friendly reminder that Monty has a basket of pitches that were previously rated as top-tier by FanGraphs (by grounder and whiff rate). And when the Cubs lefty is on — and I mean really on — he can mix and match using his deep arsenal to create whiffs.
Just look at the distribution of pitches and whiffs from his start against the Braves.
Monty also mentioned he has been working on a sharper cutter/slider, and it sure seems to be working. Batters whiffed against four of the 10 cutters he threw Thursday night in Atlanta. Granted, Montgomery wasn’t able to go deep in that start, but he was fresh off the disabled list. Pure run prevention and stamina aside for a second, you have to be encouraged about his increasing ability to generate so many whiffs.
Remember, finding power lefties with five pitches is a rarity in baseball. The Cubs just so happened to stumble upon one in Cole Hamels, who coincidentally throws many of the same pitches as Montgomery (but with more ferocity, obviously).
Even though Montgomery is still perfecting his craft as a starting pitcher, I’m happy his multi-pitch arsenal finally seems to be translating to lots of swings and misses.