Drawing closer, I said. Closer! Not there yet. Read what you’re clicking.
After a few years on the shelf following his impressively composed debut season with the New York Yankees, it’s finally worth examining Jordan Montgomery’s link to his left-handed mentor, Andy Pettitte, now that he’s officially over two years removed from surgery.
Right off the bat, we all know the key differences in their portfolios; Montgomery should be your fourth or fifth starter, if the rotation is properly filled out, while Pettitte was always more like a No. 3. Pettitte could be trusted to provide the type of length that Monty cannot give you with regularity.
And, yes, Andy had already had a postseason breakout at age 24 back in 1996.
By age 28, though, both men were on a more similar regular season trajectory than you probably realized at first blush.
The dynastic Pettitte had already compiled a number of moments by then, sure … but … using the data, there’s no reason to believe Montgomery can’t author similar signature moments over the next few years. His greatness in 2021 has largely gone under the radar. In reality, he’s been a top-10 pitcher in the American League by some metrics.
Yankees lefty Jordan Montgomery embraces the Andy Pettitte comparisons.
Now, let’s smooth this out a bit. I love Andy Pettitte as much as anyone I’ve ever followed. He means more to me than Jordan Montgomery by quite a wide margin. Pettitte was an amazing pressure pitcher who plied his trade in an era of heightened offense, which also left his surface numbers a bit higher than desirable. You remember him because he made himself memorable.
This is a two-way street, though. If Pettitte’s teams didn’t finish the job and secure five World Series, sure, we’d think less of him. He also played a massive role in securing all five, and it would be disingenuous to act like the title-winning simply happened around him. The lefty was an above-average regular season pitcher who didn’t change one iota when he reached the playoffs, and thrived to an additional degree.
All of this is to say, you don’t think of Pettitte and the 28-year-old Montgomery similarly because Montgomery’s playoff experience doesn’t stack up — though he’s been great when given the chance — and because you mentally inflate Pettitte’s regular seasons because they often ended with a trophy.
At the age of 28, Pettitte was wrapping the 2000 season with a fourth-place Cy Young finish and a 111 ERA+, indicating his 4.35 ERA (again, steroid era) was 11% above league average. The seasons prior, Pettitte posted ERA+ marks of 104 and 100 in 1998 and 1999, following unreasonable heights of 129 in 1996 and 156 in 1997, arguably his greatest season. Montgomery has not come close to those heights.
But prime regular-season Pettitte, the one you remember from the pennant chases? Montgomery’s been better relative to his competition in 2021, throwing up a 121 ERA+ of his own, which pairs nicely with a 116 mark from his rookie year.
Pettitte is a Yankees legend; Montgomery isn’t in that ballpark yet.
However, if you were to place 2021 28-year-old Jordan Montgomery in the ALDS, could he provide 11.1 innings, 15 hits, and five earned runs across two starts? Could he allow two runs on nine hits in 6.2 in the ALCS? What about 16 hits in 13.2 innings in the World Series?
Last year, an inferior version of Montgomery saved the Yankees’ season in his first career postseason start in Game 4 of the ALDS against Tampa Bay, bending but not breaking for four innings of one-run baseball. This season, his command has improved and his stuff has ticked up.
We still need to find out if Montgomery possesses anything close to the postseason gear Pettitte did, but Andy’s 2000 postseason numbers certainly feel like the baseline of expectations if Monty were to get thrown in the fire now too, right? Only one way to find out. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting closer every day, and Montgomery’s exceptional season, where he’s minimized the damage almost nightly, deserves far more discussion.