Snell and Monty: Pros and Cons for the Arms Leading Free Agency

The two top left-handed free agent starting pitchers are set to cash in on big contracts this winter. Who is the better long-term investment?

ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 04: Jordan Montgomery #52 of the Texas Rangers celebrates a strikeout during Game One of the Wild Card Series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on October 03, 2023 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Bailey Orr/Texas Rangers/Getty Images)

This time of year, teams are finalizing their free agent evaluations and deciding which players will be the best investments for their team next season and in the years to come.

Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery are regarded as two of the best available free agent pitchers, and both will be hotly pursued by the losers of the Yoshinobu Yamamoto sweepstakes. In a relatively thin starting pitching free agency class, Snell and Montgomery figure to be two of the biggest prizes this offseason, but are two very different pitchers.

Let’s dive in and take a look at who will be leading the market as free agency begins to ramp up:

Blake Snell Coming Off a Cy Young

Blake Snell, fresh off of his second Cy Young Award, could not be hitting free agency at a better time. In terms of ceiling, he has shown time and again that he has that stuff to be one of the best pitchers in baseball. He had a remarkable 2023, leading all of baseball in ERA, ERA+, and H/9.

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Snell’s underlying metrics back up this success. His breaking pitch run value and off speed pitch run value both tops in baseball. With a whiff percentage in the 98th percentile and a K% in the 94th percentile, Snell was able to consistently miss bats. Opponents hit a measly .079 against his curveball, which was his second-most featured pitch.  

It is also important to note that while this year was certainly extraordinary it is not necessarily an outlier when looking at Snell’s career. In fact, you could make a strong case that he was actually better in 2018, which should give teams confidence that there will be similarly dominant performances in the future. His career ERA of 3.20 and FIP of 3.44 over an eight-year span show that Snell really is a true ace.

All of that said, Snell is far from a sure-fire bet, and may not be the best investment for certain teams this offseason for a couple of reasons. First, it is often said that availability is the best ability, and Snell has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career.

He has only hit the 180 inning mark twice, and in both cases he just barely got there, throwing 180.2 innings in 2018 and exactly 180 this past season. For a team lacking starting pitching depth, this could be a real concern, and whoever signs Snell would be wise to expect closer to 130 innings and take anything else as a bonus. 

Snell also figures to be quite expensive given that he has a qualifying offer attached, meaning that he expects to make more than the average salary of MLB’s 125 highest paid players. Also for a team that signs Snell, outside of the Padres, they will be forced to forfeit draft capital to get him.

This, too, could scare some teams away, especially when combined with the questions about Snell’s durability.

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While he is a great strikeout and escape artist, constantly finding his way in and out of jams, Snell’s propensity to walk batters could be a frightening proposition when you consider how that could haunt him when his stuff diminishes towards the back-half of his next contract.

Snell walked nearly five batters per nine innings and has a career BB/9 over 4.00. Part of that is by design, as Snell often works around the strike zone to avoid getting hit hard, trusting his great stuff to force hitters to get themselves out. His career 0.92 HR/9 is just as impressive as his walk rate is concerning.

Teams who sign Snell should have a pretty good idea what they are getting at this point. An imperfect ace who can be dominant, but might not last as long in games or be the typical workhorse that teams really love headlining their rotations.

Jordan Montgomery Off a World Series Run

Jordan Montgomery, on the other hand, had largely flown under the radar as a solid, mid-rotation option until his coming out party this past postseason. A string of dominant starts that likely earned millions more than he was expected to make coming into the offseason.

That said, those that have followed Monty’s career closely, especially Yankees fans, have been very high on the left-hander for years.

While Monty does not have dominant seasons like Snell’s 2018 and 2023, he has been the model of consistency his entire career. He has never posted an ERA over 4.00 in a full season, and has made 30 or more starts in each of his last three seasons. For teams looking to add pitching, the value of Monty’s ability to take the ball on every fifth day cannot be understated.

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Monty is much more than just an innings eater, though, as all three of his most-used pitches had an opponent batting average under .260 this past season. His overall run value and his pitching run value are both in the 93rd percentile, and his xERA, average exit velocity, chase percentage, and walk percentage are all better than league average.

Still, like Snell, Monty comes with a concern, specifically that recency bias that will inflate his price tag beyond his actual value.

While this is certainly a valid concern, given that Monty just had the best stretch of his career on the biggest stage in baseball immediately before his free agency, that does not tell the whole story.

Monty has simply shown the baseball world exactly the type of pitcher his is for his entire career. He is a dependable starter who will give his team a chance to win almost every time he takes the ball.

It is also important to note that, unlike Snell, Monty does not have a qualifying offer attached, and will likely be earning about $6 million less per year than Snell. 

When looking at these two pitchers, it is less of a question of which one is a better investment, and more of a question of who fits a particular team’s needs better. As rumors continue to heat up about Blake Snell to his hometown Mariners, the fit is clear.

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That is a team with a ton of pitching talent that could use a Cy Young caliber pitcher to push them over the edge, but would be able to survive without him. Monty, on the other hand, is a “safer” investment (particularly at a lower price tag) who will make 30 starts to the tune of a mid-3 ERA, the type of pitcher that would make every team better.

Both of these pitchers are about to get paid, with nine-figure long-term deal likely in their near-futures. The question of who will be better across these contracts is one that can only be answered over time.