The 2017 Chicago Cubs, unlike last year’s team, have struggled with consistency throughout the season.
Several batters have gone through prolonged slumps, a couple relievers have had spotty stretches and the starting pitching has clearly taken a step back from last season’s combined performance.
For any team that battles inconsistency, it’s important to have a player who you can rely on to accomplish his job successfully time in and time out, regardless of what he’s asked to do.
For the Cubs, that’s Mike Montgomery.
Traded from Seattle to Chicago at last year’s trade deadline for former highly-touted prospect Dan Vogelbach, Montgomery became an instant contributor for the Cubs. His 2.82 ERA in 17 games proved to Joe Maddon that he’s a reliable arm out of the bullpen, a thought validated again by his opportunity to close out Game 7 of the World Series.
He was bailed out by the Cubs league-best defense a decent amount last season (shown by his 4.74 FIP compared to his ERA), but the production was there regardless.
This season, Montgomery’s role has expanded and his success has become even more pronounced. He’s knocked his ERA down to 2.26 in 21 games (through June 22) and his FIP has dropped as well, by nearly a full point.
His W/9 is slightly elevated above his career average (4.5 compared to 3.8), but he also is allowing the fewest H/9 and second-lowest WHIP of his career, limiting baserunners and putting less pressure on the defense.
You can argue that Montgomery’s versatility is the most important part of his game and brings the most value to the Cubs. His ability to enter a game at any point is vital for a starting pitching staff that has struggled all season long.
His most notable game of the season was a four-inning save versus San Francisco on May 25, but he’s filled a long relief role numerous times in 2017. More specifically, 11 of his 18 relief appearances so far lasted two or more innings, and four lasted at least three innings.
He’s not just a long reliever though, because he’s fully capable of starting too, and has been forced into that role recently due to necessity.
Unsurprisingly, he’s stepped in and performed at a high level as a starter, too.
In games he started, Montgomery has an ERA of just 2.40 and is holding opponents to a .218 batting average.
He’s not going deep into games, pitching just 15 total innings across three starts, but that’s clearly less important than just getting outs and limiting runs, even in shorter stints.
With Kyle Hendricks out injured and the fifth spot in the rotation already an area of concern, Montgomery is a great option to fill in and produce.
Joe Maddon loves versatility on his roster, and he’s getting great production out of his most versatile pitcher this season.
There are over three months left in the season and the roster could change a great deal in that time, but regardless of whether or not Montgomery continues to start or is moved back to the bullpen full time, he’s going to get vital outs throughout the Cubs’ quest to return to the playoffs.