Matt Moore, Finished or Unfinished

Matt Moore was a tippy-top pitching prospect, and like all tippy-top pitching prospects, he was supposed to become an ace. Based on his current sub-3 ERA and number of strikeouts, he’s arrived at a young age. Based on the rest of the picture, Moore remains at least partially unfinished, as he continues to struggle with command consistency. But that’s “unfinished,” relative to perceived ceiling. And players, of course, don’t always reach their ceilings. Most of them fall well short. Just how “finished” is Matt Moore?

Command has been a problem for Moore in the past. Here’s a thing from this past spring:

With Opening Day now a week away, Moore said he isn’t too concerned about his command issues.

“I’m pretty competitive,” he said. “It’s not so much that I can turn it on, but when the time comes around and I’m battling in those moments, when I have runners in scoring position, it’s better (when it’s the regular season).”

Moore started against the Tigers Tuesday night, and the Tigers make for a difficult opponent. But they’re not so difficult as to warrant six walks in 2+ innings, which is what Moore did before being replaced. Following, watch Moore issue a four-pitch walk to Brayan Pena, on four fastballs, in a situation in which Pena was trying to give himself up:

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Of course Moore is going to look wild in the .gifs when I select for a bout of wildness. Nobody looks good giving up a four-pitch walk on four fastballs. But Moore didn’t have it Tuesday night, and he hasn’t had it for much of the year, ERA be damned. In some regards, at least, Moore has been too wild, and while it’s possible that he’s “buckled down” when he’s had to, Moore’s first two months throw up all sorts of red flags.

Did you know that Moore has thrown fewer than half of his first pitches for strikes? Did you know that he’s thrown just under 59% of his pitches overall for strikes? Did you know that his zone rate is below average and that his contact rate is right on average? Moore doesn’t even seem particularly “frame-able,” if that’s a thing. Jose Molina arrived in Tampa Bay before last season. Since then, 13 Rays pitchers have thrown at least 50 innings. Moore’s rate of strikes, relative to expected strikes, is second-lowest in the group, ahead of only reliever Jake McGee. Molina’s specialty is getting called strikes off the plate. The league average is that about 7% of pitches out of the zone are called strikes. David Price shows up at 10%. Moore shows up under 5%. One could interpret this as being indicative of poor command. That’s a theory on my part, but the best framing, or receiving, involves a pitcher who can locate. You can make a wild pitcher look only so good.

If it were 2006, I’d write a standard article about how Moore’s current ERA is unsustainable. That’s simple and uninteresting. His ERA is 2.95. His FIP is 4.31. His BABIP is .228. The runs are going to come, if the control and/or command don’t. We can guess that Moore isn’t unusually skilled at home-run suppression, since his rates are more or less normal. We can guess that Moore isn’t unusually skilled at hit suppression, since his BABIP a year ago was .293 in front of a good defense. Tuesday represented a bit of over-regression, but Moore isn’t an ace, not yet.

And the trick’s in identifying his future path. You should know that this post started as an attempted deep analysis. Looking at Moore’s mechanics, looking at his release points, looking at his individual pitches and so on and so forth. I dug in for entirely too long, since I’m not a mechanical expert and since we don’t actually need to get that complicated. Here’s what we know: Moore doesn’t throw enough strikes. He’s taken a marked step back from last season in that regard. What’s the history of success for young pitchers who perform like Moore has been performing?

Things are about to get impossibly arbitrary, so consider that your warning. Moore is in his age-24 season. I wanted to look at other starters in their age-24 seasons. I set a minimum of 50 innings and covered an arbitrary window between 1980-2008, because I wanted to look, arbitrarily, at their next four years. I isolated pitchers who walked at least 11% of opposing batters, and then I also isolated, from those pitchers, guys who struck out at least 15% of opposing batters, to capture only guys who had some ability to miss bats. I was left with a pool of 39 pitchers, from A.J. Burnett to Ubaldo Jimenez. Burnett, as a 24-year-old in 2001, walked 11.3% of batters. Jimenez, as a 24-year-old in 2008, walked 11.9% of batters.

Moore’s at 12.6%, by the way. Jonathan Sanchez‘s career rate is 12.5%. Now, again, I looked at those 39 pitchers over the next four years, covering ages 25-28. Of those 39, 20 would surpass 400 innings. Meanwhile, 12 would generate at least 10 WAR, topping out at Mark Gubicza‘s 17.9. Then we have Jimenez at 15.5, Then Juan Guzman at 13.4. A bunch of guys, like Danys Baez, Eric Gagne, Arthur Rhodes, Joaquin Benoit, and Aaron Heilman shifted to the bullpen. They had varying degrees of success, but they didn’t make it as top-of-the-rotation starters.

It’s clear, based on the history, that Moore doesn’t have an easy route to achieving his potential. It’s clear, also, that Moore is his own man, with his own issues and his own instructors, so history doesn’t tell us anything about him specifically. But Moore doesn’t throw even three-fifths of his pitches for strikes. More troubling, he’s gotten worse about that. Because he hasn’t thrown enough strikes, he’s been behind too much, and he hasn’t maximized his natural ability to throw the ball by the hitter. It’s great to have putaway stuff, but those hitters are good. They’re not idiots, about baseball.

Clayton Kershaw would be the best possible outcome. In his first two years, ages 20 and 21, Kershaw walked one of every eight batters or so. Since then, the walks have tumbled, and Kershaw has become arguably the best pitcher in baseball. He wasn’t included in our pool above because he was too young when he scuffled. Jimenez had stretches of looking unhittable, but he still hasn’t figured out how to throw strikes consistently so he’s become a reclamation project. And one can’t help but think of guys like Sanchez and Oliver Perez, guys who never consistently overcame their wildness. When they were younger, coaches said encouraging things about their chances of getting it straight. They got older, and not every adjustment is the solution.

Moore is a highly talented young pitcher with strikeout stuff and borderline insufficient command. Because he’s still so young, the command issues are partially dismissed, and a lot of people assume he’ll figure it out. If he does figure it out, it stands to reason he’ll be incredible. But lots of guys have been similar, and lots of them haven’t figured it out. Command is one of those important things for a young pitcher to have, not unlike discipline for a young hitter. You can work hard on improvements, but it’s meaningful if you need to improve substantially when you’re already reasonably experienced in the bigs.

It’s hard, with top prospects who graduate. You don’t want to expect too much too soon, but you also don’t want to write off any problems as “they’re young, they’ll get it.” That assumes that top prospects usually eventually get it, and that’s unrealistic. The Rays have known about Moore’s command issues for more than a year. If anything, the issues have gotten worse. The only thing we can assume is that Moore is trying really hard.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Khris
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Khris
3 years 1 month ago

I think the best comp at this point would be Kerry Wood. Moore will figure out how to become a very good pitcher, but the lack of control will hinder his greatness.

Mike
Guest
Mike
3 years 1 month ago

He is still very young. In Verlander’s third season he had these numbers K/9 7.30 BB/9 3.90 HR/9 0.81. That ends up with a FIP of 4.18, the point is that young pitchers go through this and in a lot of cases can overcome issues.

David
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David
3 years 1 month ago

I’m actually more concerned in his almost 2 mph drop in velocity at such a young age…

Sandy Kazmir
Guest
3 years 1 month ago

You’re reading wayyyy too much into a poor start on short rest against a great lineup. He had zero fastball command and outside of the change looked pretty lost. He has walked more than we hoped for so far, but there are far bigger sins than walking people. He’ll be fine.

Travis L
Member
Member
Travis L
3 years 1 month ago

While the article discusses that start, the central concern is based on Moore’s career numbers and lack of control.

Even without last Tuesday’s start, Moore has these issues.

Sandy Kazmir
Guest
3 years 1 month ago

The start was the impetus for the article and all subsequent data collection and analysis. It’s always a poor choice to start with a premise and then seek to confirm said premise. Sully uses the 12.6% figure as if that’s an indicator of true talent and not the trough that it more likely represents. Coming into the game he had walked 11.1% which is a nudge above his 10.7% over the entirety of last year.

That is still high, relative to peers, but doesn’t put him in Oliver Perez or Jonathan Sanchez blindfolded pinata swing pitches. Watch the guy pitch sometime and maybe more than one start. He has a plan out there and sure you would love for him to be more efficient but he has had success and has shown better control. Not sure why command was used throughout here since Sully seems to argue that Moore can’t even find the zone let alone locate within, but c’est la vie poor word choices.

Furthermore, the guy has shown throughout his career that he hones his control throughout the year as his arm becomes stretched out. This goes back to his minor league numbers and he showed quite a but of that last year before hitting a wall in mid-September. As someone that has seen every one of his starts with a few in person I would be pretty surprised if he doesn’t ultimately settle in around 8.5 – 9.0% with a K% around 23 – 25%. That’s basically The better parts of Francisco Liriano.

Mostly I’m just annoyed by the recency bias here. Would today be a good time to explain how Yasiel Puig is going to break records with his 100% HR/FB and 0% K-rates? I think not. The numbers are skewed by an out of character performance related to a fluky one-inning start in Cleveland a scant few nights prior. Thanks to Jeff for taking the time, but like every Dave Cameron article about the NL-West it can’t help but be read without picturing a smug sense of satisfaction upon the author’s face as he twists the blade on a poor performance.

Apologies for typoes I am only allowed to post on my phone because of horrible takes like these that expose an author with a narrative.

Jason B
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Jason B
3 years 1 month ago

“because of horrible takes like these that expose an author with a narrative.”

Yes, of course it’s the author with a narrative, not the Rays homer. Thank you for setting him straight, we needed you to bring a totally unbiased perspective. What a fearless exposee that was! Kudos, good sir. Kudos.

/sarcasm end/

Ante GALIC
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Ante GALIC
3 years 1 month ago

I’d have to agree with my brother above. Not using flattery at all, but cannot understand the -6 replies to his article. It might have been laced with a bit too much vitriol directed at Jeff and Dave but the content and the intent at the outset are sound.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
3 years 1 month ago

It’s because he doesn’t comment at all except when an article dare speak ill of a beloved Ray. (Like Evan Longoria, or Matt Moore, or David Price. Not Liotta. Or James Earl.) And then it’s game on, impugning the motives and integrity of the writer of said piece.

One must ask which is more likely: the author has a nefarious hidden agenda to systematically besmirch the Rays, their players, their management and ownership, and their fanbase; OR the Rays homer has a hard time hearing any constructive criticism of his most favorite-ist player.

I know which of the two I would vote as more likely.

(And it’s not just Sandy and the Rays, others exhibit the same tendencies. It’s why fan is short for fanatic. It just helps to recognize a rabid Rays fan may not be the most objective or critical commenter. Doesn’t mean his comments are totally worthless, just that they should be taken with a salt tablet.)

Nick
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Nick
3 years 1 month ago

Could it be that – apart from the actual wild pitches – Moore has left his pitches outside of the strike zone because he is having success doing so? It’s one thing to say that he doesn’t presently command, and another to say that he can’t command. Given his success this year, I am inclined to say that he struggles with some corner pitches, but that he generally has not found reason to go into the strike zone yet this year. The numbers may just reflect this. His next few starts will probably answer my question, but this is the second article talking about this phenomenon so I wanted to bring it up.

Jaker
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Jaker
3 years 1 month ago

You’re ignoring his unsustainable BABIP, his ever-increasing walk rate and the loss of 2 MPH on his fastball. Prepare for serious regression.

Nick
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Nick
3 years 1 month ago

Madison Bumgarner has similarly deflated BABIP, and had a similar velocity issue in the minors (and to some extent last year). But there’s an article on this site calling Bumgarner unlucky. I’m not going to say that Moore is like Bumgarner, especially when the main topic is walk rate. Bumgarner is objectively better than Moore right now, especially with command and control. But velo and an uptick in walk rate don’t mean two different things on the same day.

I’m just saying that what looks like a control or command problem have been effective for Moore. So his walk% may be artificially high as he exploits not having to go into the zone. I’m not saying he won’t regress, just that I think it’s premature to have a second article decrying his serious command problems this season. I want to wait to see how he adjusts to a team actually hitting him around.

Jaker
Guest
Jaker
3 years 1 month ago

You’re talking a walk rate of 7.3% (Bum) vs. 12.6% (Moore). And Bumgarner is usually <6% walk. As the author of this article points out, Moore's walk rate is almost unprecedented as far as effective starters go.

Of the top 30 pitchers by FIP last year, only Yu Darvish had a walk rate above 10% and that was 10.9%. You have to go all the way to 55th by FIP to find a pitcher above 12% (Edinson Volquez). So yeah, unless he finds his command, expect serious regression. Add to that a decrease in velocity AND an unsustainable BABIP and there is cause for concern. I'm not saying it's time to jump ship, but Moore will need to bring his walk rate down to ~10% if he wants to remain effective.

Jaker
Guest
Jaker
3 years 1 month ago

I should point out, that Moore’s walk rate before the last start was 11.1%. So yeah, I don’t want to make too much of the 12% but it’s still a number that bears watching.

Jaker
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Jaker
3 years 1 month ago

Same applies for 1st pitch strike and swinging strike percentage. Both are way down compared to last year and neither of Moore’s numbers are found anywhere in last year’s top 30 FIP performers.

Mike
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Mike
3 years 1 month ago

Rays pitchers have always had high strand rates and low BABIPS. Defense does account for abnormally low babips.

I Agree Guy
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I Agree Guy
3 years 1 month ago

When they show they’re capable of maintaining a team BABIP south of .230, you’ll have a fair point.

Stormin' Norman
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Stormin' Norman
3 years 1 month ago

I’ve come to realize that there’s just going to be two camps to Matt Moore and his future prospects. The side that believes that he’s eventually going to be an ace talent, with near-Kershaw potential, and the camp that believes his command problems will never resolve and he’s going to flame out once his BB-rate leads to him being the bad AJ Burnett.

As an owner of him in a dynasty league (yes, no one cares), all I read almost every week is “SELL HIGH, REGRESSION, HE’S GOING TO CRASH TO EARTH”, but were we saying these things about Clayton Kershaw during his age 20/21 years? I mean, sometimes it just takes time to figure it out. Yeah, maybe he’s never going to be Kershaw, or Sale, or x-LHSP, but maybe he’s also just going to have to work to improve on getting MLB-hitters out and learn how to pitch, not throw.

It’s not interesting, but exercising caution (I don’t mean this towards you Jeff, you put in work that I wouldn’t have otherwise) is normally the better part of valor, especially dealing with pitchers.

J.R.
Guest
J.R.
3 years 1 month ago

I wouldn’t be selling him in a dynasty league, not yet anyways, and I do own him in one. But in a redraft league, I happily traded him for Cespedes before this implosion. He was an absolutely great sell high candidate in redraft leagues.

kolatch
Member
kolatch
3 years 1 month ago

I’m always somewhat confused by this sort of dynasty league comment. His value in a dynasty league is his current inflated value + his future value over the next x years. Currently that value for the next x years is also likely inflated because he is performing so well in his surface numbers… ergo his value in a dynasty league is just that much higher than in a redraft league. Adjust your price accordingly and sell high while the hype for this year (and future years) will net you an incredible return.

Stormin' Norman
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Stormin' Norman
3 years 1 month ago

Nevermind guys he’s awful. qq

AJ
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AJ
3 years 1 month ago

It isn’t the walk rate that worries me because it’s not that much worse than last year. It’s the significant drop in his K rate over the last month. He can get away with the wildness to an extent if he strikes out a ton of guys. But his K rate since April 15% and his BB rate is 14%. That is terrible.

ALEastbound
Guest
3 years 1 month ago

Wasn’t the scouting report on Moore coming up thru the ranks that he was a power pitcher with control issues? Should this be that surprising?

Psychedelic
Member
Psychedelic
3 years 1 month ago

To be honest the 2% drop in velocity from last year is concerning as well, and the drop in velo obviously hasn’t lead to more control. His fastball has a 6% whiff rate this year which is down 20% from last year, thats a huge drop. And it’s leading to less whiffs on just about every pitch. Do the Rays pitching coaches just turn a blind eye to these things? Has no one in the Rays orginization pointed this out? I almost hope for more games like this last one if it leads to him working on his mechanics and control, which should contribute to a return to his normal velocity.

Andre
Guest
Andre
3 years 1 month ago

He had no command of his curveball aside from the other issues and Detroit was fouling off a ton of pitches. Worthy to note that Kluber also came out flat (he also had a short start in the rained out game) until he got it together after the 2nd. Your control could be way off at 70 pitches early in the 3rd due to fatigue. These analyses treat all pitches as equal when they are not.

everdiso
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everdiso
3 years 1 month ago

While imo all top prospects get overrated, i do think the top rays prospects do get overrated more than most.

moore is following in the same footseps as guys like hellickson and jennings before him….prospects that were looked at as guaranteed stars when imo their prospect profile was much more suspect than that.

And i do think wil myers is receiving a similar glossing over at the moment, with most refusing to acknowledge the pcl inflation in last year’s aaa stats (and babip inflation in his aa stats), or the significant worsening of his k/bb rates.

Of course, the rays scouts have earned their benefit of the doubt, and if they keep turning out relatively unheralded gems like Cobb (not to mention sprinkling their magic reclamation dust over a few vets every year), it doesn’t really matter if their stud prospects turn into just decent players instead of great ones.

Sci-ants
Guest
Sci-ants
3 years 1 month ago

Nice article, and measured responses to some criticism that seems mistaken. Author did a nice job declaring assumptions and caveats, etc.

Brandon S
Guest
Brandon S
3 years 1 month ago

His peripherals do suggest that his ERA is unsustainable, but let us remember that Hellickson had a pretty terrific ERA for two years with bad peripherals because he had high strand rates. Once that strand rate starts to tumble, everything falls apart. It would appear the Rays’ defense has something to do with their pitcher’s better than FIP ERAs, and my guess is that could hold for Moore for longer than we suspect. I think it’s just as probable that he maintains his “unsustainable” numbers longer than most of you expect, maybe even the entire season – Hellickson did it for 2 seasons, after all.

Mike
Guest
Mike
3 years 1 month ago

Moore had a 91% runners stranded rate going into the game against Detroit. He needs to mature and bring the same focus he has with runners in scoring position to every at bat in a game. It’s not such an extreme situation that he’ll either blow up and give up 100 runs in 50 innings or be the best pitcher in the league. Command is obviously the biggest issue but that’s a way better issue than not having good stuff. I think he regresses a bit but is still a very fine starter for this year with the potential to be a top 5 sometime in the future. No reason to jump off the bandwagon.

Baltar
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Baltar
3 years 1 month ago

An interesting article with good discussion from both sides of the issue. I’ll take it, thank you.

Adam Bomb
Guest
Adam Bomb
3 years 1 month ago

So what be said of his last two starts. 13 earned in 10.1 innings. And the walks haven’t disappeared. Or did everyone give up on him after June 4th.

evo34
Guest
evo34
3 years 1 month ago

How can you write this article of this length and not even mention the drastic velocity drop over 3 seasons? It’s alarming, at the very least.

FantasyGoat
Guest
FantasyGoat
3 years 8 days ago

I really wish I never encountered this article. Back then it was impetus to trade Moore – which I did for Matt Cain

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