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40 in 40: Mike Montgomery

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Mike Montgomery led the AL with two shutouts last year, and that probably isn't going to happen again (or come anywhere close).

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

I have a confession to make: I have never played baseball.

Not in the sense that I have never put on a mitt and thrown the ball around. That, I have done. What I haven't done is play any sort of baseball more competitive than my intramural team in college. Even that hardly counts, because we were playing softball.

So with that out of the way, take this with a grain of salt because I have no real basis to stand on in the following statement:

Being a rookie in MLB is probably a pretty confusing time of life.

There is the rookie hazing. There is the long season. And instead of facing an army of mediocre minor league batters, you are suddenly pitching to people who have "future hall of famer" attached to their name. You go from being one of the best players on your minor league team to one of the worst players on a major league squad. It's like being the cream of the crop in 8th grade before transitioning to high school and plummeting back to the very bottom.

Montgomery felt all of that in 2015, plus a little bit more.

Let's take a quick trip down memory lane.

Montgomery was traded for Erasmo Ramirez last spring, a swap that inspired about as much excitement as a loose quarter on the ground. Brendan described the move as "nifty" with the following explanation:

"Montgomery has an option left and can help the M's in 2015. With Ramirez destined for the waiver wire, the Mariners couldn't expect to get much more in return."

Baseball is exciting.

The stage was set for Montgomery to demonstrate that he was better than Ramirez. He was recalled to replace an injured James Paxton in early June, and was moderately effective initially. But then, on June 23, 2015, Jake wrote a piece entitled "Mike Montgomery, Useful Pitcher." On the morning of June 23, 2015, Montgomery read Jake's piece and said, "Jake, you are right, I am a useful pitcher. "

Montgomery then tossed a shutout against the impending world champion Kansas City Royals. It was an amazing game for many reasons, but also simply because there is something so satisfying about seeing a former first-round draft pick remind you that he was, in fact, a first-round draft pick. Especially when doing so against Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.

Montgomery, not content with having just one fantastic start on his ledger, threw another shutout in his next start, this time against the San Diego Padres. He walked four batters, but allowed only one hit, taking a no-hitter into the seventh.

Suddenly, old Mr. Mediocre himself was in rare Mariners territory. It was the seventh time a Mariner had thrown consecutive shutouts, and he was just the 12th major league rookie to accomplish the feat since 1980. That put him in solid company with guys like Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser, Fernando Valenzuela, and Hideo Nomo.

But then, like reality encourages and baseball facilitates, came regression to the mean. After two consecutive shutouts, things went downhill for poor ‘ol Montgomery, which isn't surprising since they couldn't really have gone up hill. The bar was just set too god damn high.

Montgomery had pulled the classic fast one, performing beyond expectations so fantastically that for a hot second, many of us thought we had an unexpected gem in our hands. We didn't. What we had, was a perfectly serviceable backend rotation guy. We were holding the most normal rock possible.

Montgomery finished the year with a 4-6 record, eating up 90 innings with a 4.67 FIP and an fWAR of 0.3. As of right now, Montgomery is projected to do even less in 2016, because he will have to somehow squeeze himself into a rotation that appears to consist of five pitchers not named Mike Montgomery. Those odds aren't stacked in his favor.

Montgomery is out of options, and there is that Vidal Nuno guy in the way even if someone banjaxes their arm this March. It isn't too realistic to think that Montgomery opens the season as a starter, but he isn't a lost cause. He might have a bit of value as a reliever, and, considering he throws with his left arm, the Mariners should give that a whirl. It isn't a sure-fire bet that Montgomery has what it takes the thrive in the bullpen. If he doesn't, he'll be a quarter for some other team to find.