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Jamie Moyer Is Not Pitching Well

Yesterday, Corey Seidman (no relation to Baseball Prospectus writer Eric Seidman…oh wait, yes there is. They’re brothers) and I were discussing Jamie Moyer over Twitter. Needless to say, just about everybody loves Moyer:

“I don’t know about other people, but I know I’m amazed at what he can do,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “That shows his love, his passion and his desire for the game. I don’t mind giving Jamie Moyer the ball, because I know he’s gonna give you everything he’s got when he goes out there.”

“He’s a great pitcher. That’s the best way to put it,” Jeter said. “Whether you’re throwing 95 [mph] or 65 [mph], there’s still an art to hitting your spots, and he’s mastered it as good as anyone.”

I wanted to take a look at Moyer to discuss some deeper things:

2010: 5.19 K/9, 1.67 BB/9, 4.13 ERA, 4.56 FIP, 4.40 xFIP, 4.26 tERA, 1.0 WAR

So, is Jamie Moyer pitching well this year? There’s no question that his walks are way down, which is a huge asset for a guy that does not strike many people out. His ERA is okay, his FIP is mediocre, and his xFIP is solid. But why hasn’t Moyer declined after aging another year (insert “Jamie Moyer is so old that…” joke here) and posting a 5.08 FIP last year? Maybe because of his insanely low BABIP. Hitters are reaching on hits on just 24.4% (.244 BABIP) of the balls put in play against Moyer this year, which is due to regress any minute now.

Many people will say that Moyer is producing a lower BABIP because he is giving up fewer line drives:

2010: 14.3 LD%, 45.9 GB%, 39.8 FB%
2009: 19.0 LD%, 41.0 GB%, 39.9 FB%
Career: 19.9 LD%, 39.7 GB%, 40.4 GB%

So Moyer is giving up fewer drives, which means he’s pitching better, right? No, not really:

I would make another bold prediction at this point, except for one caveat. We really don’t know how persistent the ability is among major league pitchers to manage the number of line drives allowed. In fact, the evidence I’ve seen would indicate that, once a major league pitcher reaches the major leagues, his line drive-stopping capability is pretty much the same as every other pitcher’s.

In other words, the line drive is usually a result of the batter’s skill, and not a lack of the pitcher’s.

That was Dave Studeman in a piece at The Hardball Times from 2005. Here’s Tom Tango:

…MGL, in his fantastic DIPS Primer article from 7 years ago showed the correlation in two things:
(i) frequency of LD per BIP among MLB pitchers, and the r was low, something like r=.05

(ii) the rate of outs per LD, and the r was quite high, something like r=.35; getting r=.35 on a low frequency denominator like LD is fantastic.

So, you can look at half the equation and say “little skill in frequency of line drives”, and ok, let’s accept that with some provisions. But, the other half, the quality of each line drive shows a definite skill. And that you can’t ignore.

We don’t believe an Albert Pujols line drive is the same as a Juan Pierre line drive. While not to that extent, we also shouldn’t ignore the fact that pitchers have their own quality level on line drives.

So while the quality of line drives can be measured, I agree with the findings of Tango, Studeman, and some others (I think Matt Swartz at BP comes to mind), that the rate at which they occur is pretty random.

If Jamie Moyer is an old dog learning new tricks, then he’s bucking the trend. I think he’s just getting lucky with his line drive rate, and I think you’re going to see him get beat up soon.