brian cashman yankees
Kim Klement | USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to general manager Brian Cashman, analytics are a big part of how the Yankees operate.

A prime example is the surprising Jordan Montgomery trade last month. The long lefty was 3-3 with a 3.69 ERA in 21 starts for New York and was a strong control pitcher. Yet, with Nestor Cortes’ emergence and the Frankie Montas trade, there was no clear role for him. So the Yankees traded Montgomery to the Cardinals for outfielder Harrison Bader. It is currently Sept. 9, and Bader is only just starting to rehab a foot injury suffered in June.

Meanwhile, in St. Louis, Montgomery is 5-0 with a 1.45 ERA in seven Cardinals starts. He looks like a completely different pitcher, one never seen in the Bronx. Appearing on the R2C2 podcast, Montgomery had a perfect explanation as to what changed his game.

“I didn’t really have much faith in my heater at the Yankees,” he said. “I mean, I’d been told it wasn’t that good compared to my other pitches. And if I was gonna get hit, it was gonna be on a curveball or a changeup, which isn’t how you can pitch. So if I got two strikes on a guy, he was probably auto-taking because I was gonna throw a curveball or a changeup. I’m throwing my fastball in two-strike counts. I’m throwing anything in any count now, so it’s definitely opened up.”

In the same episode, Montgomery noted the Yankees’ insistence on his not throwing a fastball negatively affected his velocity, which he’s since rediscovered with the Cardinals.

First of all, Cashman trading Jordan Montgomery was inevitable. His price tag was rising and the state of the Yankees’ pitching left him the odd man out. Furthermore, the AL East is a powerful division where fastballs are a delicacy. Unless a pitcher throws the four-seam fastball exceptionally well, a la Gerrit Cole, it shouldn’t necessarily be a primary or putaway pitch.

But here’s the problem. Listening to Montgomery, it sounds like the Yankees didn’t even try to properly develop his velocity. It didn’t matter that he got it from the high-80s in college to the mid-90s in the minors. Somewhere along the way, a Yankees analytics staffer watched him and said, “Curveball and changeup.”

This wouldn’t be such a problem if the Yankees didn’t already have a long history of trying to fit square-peg pitchers in round holes. Just ask Sonny Gray. He posted a 4.51 ERA in a year and a half with the Yankees and has a 3.40 mark since with Minnesota and Cincinnati. Why? Per Gray, the Yankees insisted he start throwing a slider because “they love sliders.”

Granted, Gray has since said (on R2C2, no less) that he and then-pitching coach Larry Rothschild just weren’t a good match. Except the same practices seem to be in place under Matt Blake. In a bizarre turn events, Montas is actually throwing his fastball more despite having a strong splitter and other breaking pitches.

This all goes back to the analytics team, and who hired them? Cashman.

Who along with manager Aaron Boone sets the goals and plan for a season? That would be Cashman.

Who puts together the rosters that draw either the praise or ire of #YankeesTwitter? All roads lead back to Cashman and his iron embrace of analytics. Don’t dare challenge his vision. He’s the Mandalorian and analytics are the way.

But look at how dominant Jordan Montgomery’s been with the Cardinals, and just from being more aggressive with his fastball. Hard-hitting as the AL East is, did the Yankees cheat themselves by insisting Montgomery not throw it?

There’s certainly utility to analytics, but this disparity reeks of borderline mismanagement on New York’s end. It doesn’t matter that the NL Central is a lighter-hitting division where pitchers can afford to be more aggressive. There’s just no way the Yankees front office didn’t see Montgomery’s fastball’s potential, and his rebirth in St. Louis raises serious questions about their approach.

That all being said, Cashman will all but certainly sign a new contract with the Yankees this offseason. On the whole, his decisions aren’t objectively bad and he always has the Yankees in contention.

But if Steinbrenner doesn’t look at Gray, Montgomery and all the other pitchers who have left New York and succeeded? Perhaps he’s a true absentee owner and Cashman’s analytics squad really runs the show.

Follow ESNY on Twitter @elitesportsny

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.