Mike Check: Is The Use Of Mike Montgomery To Blame?

We knew coming into this season that Mike Montgomery was going to be something of a Swiss Army knife. Especially when some of us had a pretty strong feeling that Brett Anderson was going to be a backyard fireworks show and low hopes for Eddie Butler. It was obvious that Montgomery was going to get some starts, even if everything worked out, because the Cubs and Joe Maddon have shown in the past they love going to a six-man rotation every so often.

So Montgomery has bounced between ‘pen and rotation. As a reliever, he’s been good, with a 2.57 ERA, though a 4.24 FIP. And his K/BB rate is better as a starter, where he’s been far unluckier with runners on base (67% left-on-base). He’s gotten better fortune out of the pen, to be sure.

The last two starts, though, haven’t been pretty. He only managed five innings against the Braves and then was pretty much lit up by the Brewers last Saturday. These followed what was probably his best outing as a starter this year, seven innings of one-run ball against the Pirates. So to declare something is wrong might be premature. But looking at his use and others who have been used this way… well, it’s not promising.

Only four guys last year made 12+ starts and 20+ appearances out of the pen, as Monty has done this year. They were Dylan Bundy, Juan Nicasio, Chris Young (the tall one), and Logan Verrett. Now, the isn’t the most fair discussion, as you can make a case that these are all worse pitchers than Monty, save Bundy. But all of them suffered a late-season dip. Bundy’s August ERA was 4.09 and his September one was 5.11. His FIPs were 4.60 and 5.54, though none of these varied too much from his overall season numbers. Nicasio survived ok, with a 0.98 FIP in August and 3.49 FIP in September, but he didn’t make a start after May. Chris Young put up a 5.49 FIP in September of last year. Verrett had a 8.97 FIP in August of last year and 4.48 in September, though he was in deep all year.

In ’15, six guys met those thresholds. They were Josh Collmenter, Alex Colome, Brad Hand, Trevor May, Tanner Roark, and Adam Warren. Colome never made a start past May, so we’ll throw him out. Same thing with May. Again, some of these guys are either holding squeegees somewhere now or soon will be. But Collmenter saw his FIP go from 3.56 to 4.07 from August to September. Hand had a 10.47 FIP in September of ’15. Roark had a FIP of 5.19 in September of that year after being in the threes the previous two months. Warren was able to duck all this, which will probably shock some Cubs fans, with a 2.84 FIP in September two years ago.

In 2014, four guys did it. Chris Capuano, Yusimero Petit, Carlos Carrasco, and Marco Estrada. Capuano was on his way out of the league and only started in the second half of the season. Petit was fantastic in August of ’14, with a 0.20 FIP. That rose to 3.33 in September, but you’d take that. Carrasco lowered his FIP from August to September in that year, from 2.46 to 1.53. But Montgomery is not Carlos Carrasco. Estrada is an interesting comparison, as you could sort of see a similar arc with Monty and they could become full-time starters around the same age. But Estrada moved into the rotation full-time in the second half of ’14, so it’s not the best comparison. Estrada dropped his FIP to 1.30 in September, but was full-time in the rotation.

So for the pitchers the past three years that have yo-yoed from rotation to ‘pen and back all year, a late season fade is hardly unheard of. There is something that could be off with the difference in preparation and routine, and the varying use of the arm. Going once through a lineup and then two or three times and back again. While it’s nice to have someone who can do it, it might not be the best use. If Monty is a multi-inning reliever, then maybe that’s what he should be. If he’s a starter, then maybe that’s what he should be. Let’s see how he does as a reliever the rest of the season… that is if the rest of the rotation can stay healthy.

Lead photo courtesy Dennis Wierzbicki—USA Today Sports

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