Mike Montgomery filled a key role for the Chicago Cubs in 2017, serving as both a reliever and starter
Chicago Cubs’ left-hander Mike Montgomery broke into the major leagues in 2015 as a member of the Seattle Mariners. At the age of 25, Montgomery started 16 games for the M’s, pitching to a 4-6 record and 4.60 ERA. Even though Montgomery tossed two shutouts that year, he still recorded a below average ERA+ of 83.
The following season, 2016, Montgomery was assigned more of a bullpen role. The 26-year-old southpaw made just two starts in 32 appearances for the Mariners. Montgomery thrived in that position, recording an ERA of 2.34 and an ERA+ of 174.
With the Cubs needing left-handed bullpen help at the 2016 trade deadline, Chicago and Seattle paired up. The Mariners shipped Montgomery and Jordan Pries to the Cubs in exchange for Dan Vogelbach and Paul Blackburn.
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As a member of the Cubs in 2016, Montgomery appeared in 17 games (five starts) and logged an ERA of 2.82. In addition to that, Montgomery notched 38 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings pitched. That resulted in an ERA+ of 149.
After proving to be a valuable swingman in the bullpen, Montgomery set himself up to have a key role on the North Side in 2018.
Montgomery filled an important role in 2017
Going into the 2017 season, the Cubs had five guys to fill out their starting rotation. However, over the course of a 162-game schedule, injuries tend to occur. That is where Montgomery comes in. When a starter went down with an injury in 2017, Montgomery was often first in line to make the transition from the bullpen and start. While that was the whole idea of acquiring Montgomery, the Cubs had to use the lefty in a starting capacity more often than they had anticipated.
Montgomery made a total of 44 appearances in 2017, 30 as a reliever and 14 as a starter. Looking at the numbers, it is easy to tell that Montgomery was better as a reliever in 2017. In that role, the 27-year-old posted a 2.49 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 61 1/3 innings pitched. Along with that, Montgomery allowed just three home runs as a reliever compared to the seven he allowed as a starter.
Speaking of starting, Montgomery posted a 4.15 ERA in 69 1/3 innings pitched. Also, the lefty struck out 56 batters and walked just 21.
As a reliever, Montgomery allowed men to get on-base much more than as a starter. The .331 OBP that Montgomery allowed as a reliever is almost 40 points higher than the .292 mark allowed as a starter.
Despite Montgomery’s shaky season as a starter, the left-hander still posted a solid season. Over 130 2/3 innings pitched, Montgomery posted a 7-8 record and an ERA of 3.38. Montgomery also struck out 100 batters on the season and logged an ERA+ of 129.
Montgomery will be entering his age 28 season in 2018. Still, he is not slated to hit the open market until 2022, making him a key cog in the Cubs’ pitching plans moving forward.
With that being said, Baseball-reference.com’s projection has the left-hander posting another solid season for the Cubs. Their projections suggest that Montgomery will go 6-6 with a 3.68 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 110 innings pitched. While that does not state how many starts Montgomery will make, the 110 innings projection suggests 8-10.
The projection also has Montgomery lowering his walks per nine innings and increasing his strikeouts per nine innings from 2017.
Montgomery’s role moving forward
As the 2018 Cubs take shape, it seems likely that the front office will add another starting pitcher. The team already signed starter Tyler Chatwood, filling one of the two holes left by the departure of Jake Arrieta and John Lackey.
Right now, it seems like Tampa Bay Rays starter Alex Cobb is the favorite to fill the final spot in the rotation. If/when that happens, Montgomery would be relegated to the bullpen.
In the pen, Montgomery will be able to provide multiple innings of relief at a time, giving manager Joe Maddon a nice left-handed option out of the pen. Along with that, Montgomery will likely still be able to make spot-starts when needed.
Reason for the grade
With solid relief help coming at a premium in today’s game, the Cubs are lucky to have a guy like Mike Montgomery. Someone who can bounce back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen and be successful at it is hard to find. However, the Cubs have found their man, and they have him under control for a long time.
Naturally, when a long-reliever like Montgomery makes a spot-start, a manager is not expecting a complete game gem. Instead, five or six innings of three-run baseball will be good enough as long as the team is still in it. That is why Montgomery’s ERA as a starter is not much concern for me. I am more pleased with his sub-3.00 ERA as a reliever and his ability to keep the ball in the park in the late innings. Plus, let’s not forget who recorded the last out of the 2016 World Series.