I hope you had a pleasant New Year’s Weekend. It’s back to work for me, and I’m good with that because I enjoy what I do for a living.
Today I resume my look at individual Cardinal players, how they performed in 2022, and what it may tell us about what to expect in 2023.
NEXT UP: Left-handed starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery.
OVERVIEW: Montgomery was a big part of the day that changed the 2022 season for St. Louis. On trade-deadline day, Aug. 2, the Cardinals made a trade with the Pirates to add lefty Jose Quintana to the rotation. In an ensuing move, the front office acquired Montgomery from the Yankees in exchange for then-injured center fielder Harrison Bader.
Both trades were an instant success and had a profound impact on the NL Central race. The Cardinals went 17-6 in the 23 combined starts made by Montgomery and Quintana, and the two smooth lefties had a combined ERA of 2.56 in 126 and ⅓ innings. Just terrific.
On Aug. 2 the Cardinals were 55-48 and trailed the first-place Brewers by two games in the NL Central. But from the time Quintana and Montgomery entered the rotation (Aug. 4), the Cardinals went 38–21 to take control of the division. Monty and “Q” were huge factors in the STL swing, with the Cardinals going 13-1 in their first 14 starts from Aug. 4 through Sept. 7. At the completion of that stretch on Sept. 7, the Cardinals were 81-56 and had a season-high division lead of 9 and ½ games.
The Cardinals needed at least one effective left–handed starter to sub in for the injured Steven Matz. Instead, the front office went to the trade mart and brought in two really good lefties to fortify a vulnerable rotation. Well done, John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch.
A MOST PLEASANT SURPRISE: Considering that he’d been pitching for the Yankees since 2017, it sounds goofy for me to say the Cardinals acquired a largely unfamiliar starter who had a nondescript presence in New York. But there’s a lot of truth to that. The Yankees clearly thought Montgomery was expendable. In his eight starts before the trade, Monty was 0-2 with a 5.36 ERA, and the NY didn’t plan to include him in the postseason rotation. The decision was made to flip Montgomery for Bader – even though Bader was on the IL with a thorny case of plantar fasciitis in his right foot, and hadn’t played since June 26. Bader didn’t make his debut for the Yankees until Sept. 20, but he’d eventually pay off by drilling five home runs in nine postseason games.
As Montgomery arrived in St. Louis it was difficult to set expectations. What would he do? What was his upside? Why were the Yankees so willing to move an established rotation member who had pitched to a 3.94 ERA in 97 career starts? The hitter-happy Yankee Stadium can be a brutal setting for pitchers, but Montgomery had a 3.66 ERA there in 48 starts as a Yankee … and allowed an average of one home run per nine innings in the Bronx. What were we missing?
Montgomery faced the Yankees in his first start for the Cardinals on Aug. 6. He made a statement – to the Yankees and the Cardinals – by pitching five shutout innings and allowing only three of 17 Yankee batters to reach base in STL’s 1-0 victory. That wasn’t a one-off performance; Montgomery kept rolling.
Montgomery finished the season with a 3.11 ERA in his 11 starts as a Cardinal. He struck out 24 percent of batters faced and limited his walks to an average of 1.8 per nine innings. He did a good job of handling RH batters, holding them to a .238 average, .283 OBP and .395 slugging percentage. And with his excellent 49.7 percent ground–ball rate Montgomery was an obvious match for the superb defense supplied by St. Louis infielders. That helped him a lot.
STREAKING: In Montgomery’s first seven starts for the Cards he gave up only seven earned runs in 43 and ⅓ innings for a 1.45 ERA and yielded one home run to 164 batters faced. The Cardinals went 7-0 in his first seven assignments. Montgomery leveled off late in the season; I’ll get into that later in this piece.
CHANGE IN APPROACH: One big reason for Montgomery’s improvement after making the switch from NY to STL was the important adjustment in his pitch arsenal. Pitching coach Mike Maddux, catcher Yadier Molina and the analytics staff persuaded Montgomery to throw more four-seam fastballs. In New York, the Yankees had told him to discard the pitch – presumably to reduce opponents’ power – but the Cardinals liked the liveliness of four-seam and thought it was silly to abandon it.
Let’s take a look at Montgomery’s four-seamer with each team:
Yankees: Used it on only 7.76 percent of his pitches. In 36 at-bats that ended with the four-seam fastball, opponents hit three homers, batted .361, rocked a .639 slugging percentage and struck out only six times.
Cardinals: There was a dramatic rise in using the four-seamer as a Redbird – he threw it on 31.4 percent of his pitches. In 72 at-bats that ended with the Monty four-seam, opponents batted .236 with two homers, a .236 batting average, .403 slug and 16 strikeouts. But even the .403 slug was misleading because much of the damage came during a poor three-start stretch in September.
BUSCH STADIUM, A FANTASTIC FIT: In nine home starts for the Cardinals, Montgomery had a 2.84 ERA in 50.2 innings and was struck for only three homers – a rate of only 0.5 homers per nine IP. In addition, he had an above-average strikeout rate at Busch (24.6%) and limited slugging to a .366 ratte. The Cards were 7-2 in Montgomery’s starts at Busch.
Montgomery made only two road starts for the Cardinals. One was his best start of the year at any location; on Aug. 22 Montgomery pitched a one-hit, nine-inning shutout of the Cubs at Wrigley Field. In the complete-game win, he didn’t walk a Cub and struck out seven. But in a 6-2 loss on Sept. 24 at Dodger Stadium, Montgomery was torched by the Dodgers for three home runs and six earned runs in four innings.
LATE-SEASON SLUMP: From Sept. 13 through Sept. 24, Montgomery was pelted for for 21 hits and 13 earned runs (8.16 ERA) in 14.1 innings during a three-start stretch that included five homers launched against him Part of this was awful batted-ball luck; the average against him in balls in play over the three starts was .390. Despite the poor ERA in the three starts, Montgomery turned in a 26.4% strikeout rate and kept the walks down. But an uncharacteristic drop in ground-ball rate (34.8%) during the three-game slump was a factor in his troubles.
I wanted to note his worst stretch as a Cardinal because it’s important to provide a comprehensive view. But in fairness to Montgomery, if we put aside the three-start blowup, and look at his eighth other starts as a Cardinal, this is what we come up with: a 1.64 ERA and one home run allowed in 49.1 innings pitched. And though the Cardinals lost all three of his worst starts it didn’t cause any damage to the team. The Cardinals had a large lead in the division and clinched the Central on Sept. 28.
FUN FACT, PART ONE: Montgomery’s 3.11 as a Cardinal ranked 33rd among 76 MLB starting pitchers from Aug. 6 through the end of the regular season. Not only was Montgomery an above-average starter over the final two months, his ERA over that time was better than that of Sandy Alcantara, Corbin Burnes, Gerritt Cole, Aaron Nola, Kevin Gausman, Marcus Stroman, Lucas Giolito, Miles Mikolas and Adam Wainwright.
FUN FACT, PART TWO: Quality Starts percentage used to be my go-to, but with starters in MLB pitching fewer and fewer innings each year, I’ve been using Game Score more often as a way to measure the consistency of starting-pitching performance. Innings are important, but we have to account for quality – even if a starter doesn’t work the requisite six-inning minimum that’s standard in the quality-start formula. Game Score, devised by Bill James, assesses the quality of a starter’s performance without requiring a six-inning minimum. An average Game Score is a solid 50; anything above that is what you’re looking for.
Here’s the average Game Score among Cardinals that made at least 10 starts in 2022:
— Jose Quintana, 56.5
— Jordan Montgomery, 56.5
— Miles Mikolas, 56.4
— Adam Wainwright, 52.6
— Andre Pallante, 49.5
— Steven Matz, 48.2
— Dakota Hudson, 47.3
Other notables: Jack Flaherty 48.6 average Game Score in eight starts, Jordan Hicks 47.6 average in six starts, Matthew Liberatore 44.3 average in seven starts.
Teams have a much higher winning percentage in games in which their starting pitcher has an average game score of 50 or higher.
LAST TWO SEASONS: Montgomery has pitched well over the last two seasons for the Yankees and Cardinals. Since the start of the 2021 season he’s made 62 starts, worked 336 innings, and pitched to a 3.65 ERA. And over that time he’s averaged 8.6 strikeouts and 2.3 walks per nine innings pitched. Point is, he’s established himself as a fine MLB starter.
THE STEAMER PROJECTION FOR 2023: 31 starts, 176 innings, 3.67 ERA, and 2.5 WAR (FanGraphs version.)
CONCLUSION: In the final two months of 2022, Montgomery added consistency, strikeout punch, ground-ball dependability and an immediate boost to a sagging rotation that needed help. Except for a brief three-start downturn that was distorted by a bad-break batting average on balls in play, Montgomery was everything that Cardinals hoped for – and then some. The ugly three-start stretch shouldn’t define him; his fantastic 1.64 ERA in his other eight starts was more typical of his first showing as a Cardinal. Going forward there are three questions:
A) Can he build on, or at least sustain, his strong debut with the Cardinals? It’s important given the potential flimsiness of the 2023 rotation.
B) Will the Cardinals make a serious attempt to extend Montgomery’s contract? Montgomery, 30, can become a free agent at the end of 2023. That coincides with a likely shortage of established starters in the STL rotation; only two are under contract past 2023. (Steven Matz, Dakota Hudson.) Given the massive sums of money that have been spent on MLB starters this offseason, Montgomery’s price will almost certainly rise by a substantial amount as long as he’s healthy and effective in 2023. Lowball him at your own risk.
C) Montgomery benefited from working with Molina and Maddux; if this mattered as much as I think it did, can he successfully transition to catcher Willson Contreras and new head pitching coach Dusty Blake?
MONTY’S GRADE: I’ll go with an A minus but if you disagree and go with an “A,” I’m good with it. Either grade works for me.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.