Spring Training Doesn’t Matter, But-

You remember what Scott Baker used to be. He used to be the model of what the Twins were going for. Lots of strikes, easy outs, strikeouts not so much as a result of stuff but as a result of throwing in the zone enough and throwing fastballs high enough. Baker was a dependable guy right up until his elbow surgery. He came back and took a while to get right with the Cubs. In three starts to close last year, he struck out six of 57 batters before becoming a low-profile free agent. He wound up with the Mariners, seemingly with an inside track for a rotation job. All he needed to be was Scott Baker.

According to Chris Cotillo, Baker is leaving the Mariners and becoming a free agent again. Didn’t like his chances, despite rotation injuries. About that: let’s go back to March 1. In the second inning of a start against the Angels, Baker struck out Chad Tracy. The strikeout was called. The pitch was in, and out of the zone. That’s been Baker’s only strikeout in the Cactus League, even though he’s faced 64 batters. He’s walked seven, and he’s hit three, and all three in a row, incidentally. The point is this: we’re conditioned to dismiss spring-training statistics. Sometimes, though, it sure feels like they’re telling us something. In this case, it sure feels like they’re telling us that Scott Baker isn’t right, and he’s always had a pretty slim margin of error.

Not that this is a post about Scott Baker! I promise.

MLB.com hosts spring-training statistics going back to 2006. That spring, among qualified pitchers, R.A. Dickey had the highest walk rate, at 6 per 9 innings. He spent the regular season pitching mediocre baseball in Triple-A. In 2007, Matt Albers was the guy with the 6.0 walk rate. He spent the regular season below replacement level.

In 2008, Daniel Cabrera was the only guy who reached 6.0, and he exceeded it, settling in at 6.9. In the regular season, he was awful. No one walked 6 batters per 9 in spring 2009. In spring 2010, both Rich Harden and A.J. Burnett finished at 6.0 walks per 9. Harden’s regular season was worth -0.5 WAR. Burnett’s was worth 1.2, down from the previous year’s 3.1.

No one reached 6.0 in 2011. In spring 2012, Carlos Zambrano shot all the way to 8.7 walks per 9. His regular season was worth 0.7 WAR. Last spring, Jason Marquis and Tyler Chatwood ended up at 6.2. Marquis wound up worth an incredible -1.6 WAR. Chatwood, actually, was pretty good. He shook off his spring to post a sub-4 FIP in Colorado. That’s the one success story, and it took just about everybody by surprise.

This has been a long build-up. Here’s the point. This spring, Scott Diamond has walked 6.4 batters per 9 innings. Matt Moore has walked 9.4 batters per 9 innings. Among qualified pitchers, Matt Moore has the worst spring-training walk rate since at least 2005.

What we’re actually talking about are 15 walks in 14.1 innings. That’s to go with one hit batter and 14 strikeouts. Last time out, Moore had four walks and four whiffs. The time before that, six walks and four whiffs. The time before that, three walks and three whiffs. Obviously, it’s just March, and obviously, Moore’s got all kinds of time to work things out, but this is one of those cases. You want to ignore spring-training numbers, but when you see something like this, something extreme, it’s hard to fight the sense that the numbers are speaking directly to you.

Moore’s always been a little wild. That’s kind of part of the point. In spring 2012, he had five walks in ten innings. Last year, 14 in 21.1. The main criticism of Moore in the regular season is that he hasn’t thrown strikes often enough. He seems to be going in the wrong direction, and a spring like this isn’t going to generate actual optimism, sub-4 ERA be damned. People are waiting for Matt Moore to make the leap, which means people are waiting for Matt Moore to locate more of his pitches. So far, not enough luck, and talk of mechanical consistency is believable for only so much time. Every pitcher has issues to work on. Some of them never get conquered.

I’ll say this much for Moore: it’s not like he’s ever been bad. He’s always been fine enough, and he belongs in a rotation. But when people have thought of Matt Moore, they’ve thought of his ceiling. To fall short of that — well short of that — would be to many a disappointment. You only get so many years of being a developing ace, and then you either are an ace or you aren’t one. Moore’s coming up on 350 major-league innings.

I’ll also say this much for Moore: he’s about to have an awesome catching situation. The past couple years, the Rays have had a good pitch-framer and average pitch-framers. Now they’re going to have two good pitch-framers, in Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan. Between 2012-2013, Moore made 21 starts with Molina and 37 starts with not-Molina. With Molina, he threw 64.8% strikes, and he was one called strike per start above the expected league-average. With not-Molina, he threw 60.2% strikes, and he was 0.4 strikes per start below the expected league-average. Moore’s thrown more pitches in the zone with Molina, and he’s gotten more calls in his favor, and now Hanigan should also be able to give him some help. Moore’s numbers could look better just because of the guys he’ll be throwing to.

But last year with Molina, Moore threw just 62.2% strikes, despite some quality receiving. And improvements on the catchers’ end aren’t improvements on Moore’s end. Even the best receivers have their limits, particularly with pitchers with middling command, and if Moore intends to reach closer to his ceiling, that’s going to be up to him to pull off. The catchers can only be helpers. There’s a strike zone there, and Matt Moore needs to find it with greater regularity.

And he’ll keep trying, and he’ll keep saying the right things. The Rays will keep giving him opportunities, because he’s good enough, even with the concerns. But Matt Moore came into the spring with a control problem. Most of the way through the spring, he still has a control problem, and it might be even worse than it’s been. Plenty of pitchers with good stuff want to throw more strikes. Some of them manage it.



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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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Catoblepas
Member
Catoblepas
2 years 6 months ago

I would love to see a Cistulli-style string training not-leaderboard, featuring pitchers with the worst possible expected walk/strikeout percentages.

Westside guy
Member
Member
Westside guy
2 years 6 months ago

As a Mariners fan, I suspect that’s be a very depressing list.

Matthew
Member
2 years 6 months ago

The thing with Matt Moore is you can get by with crappy control. Like are a young Clayton Kershaw,Scott Kazmir,Kerry Wood, and Rich Harden. But you have to strike people out. And you can’t do that when declining velocity gives you a slightly above average fastball that used to be elite, a average curveball, and a good change-up.

Matt Moore is kind of an enigma, he has excellent mechanics in every sense, but is incredibly inconsistent. We should have the good control/command that comes with good mechanics, but doesn’t. He’ll come out and be lights out one innings and give up 2 walks and a 3 run homer the next.

He either needs to gain his velocity back/change as a pitcher or find a way to throw well consistently and gain control. If he doesn’t do either, he’ll end up like Carlos Zambrano…ugh

MrKnowNothing
Guest
MrKnowNothing
2 years 6 months ago

I thinks the Rays would be OK if he ends up like Zambrano – who was a pretty good pitcher for many years.

olethros
Guest
olethros
2 years 6 months ago

Yeah, Carlos Zambrano’s career is the envy of the vast majority of pitchers who make to MLB. Especially Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
2 years 6 months ago

Unless of course he skips all the good years straight to 2011 Carlos Zombrano.

Steven
Guest
Steven
2 years 6 months ago

Good control/command should come with mechanics that allow the pitcher to repeat his delivery. I know it’s an argument by definition, but there is no other way to define it to fit all (or even most) pitchers. Moore has an easy and clean delivery but it’s also slow tempo. Generally, slow tempo deliveries are harder to repeat. So does Moore have “good” mechanics? Depends how you look at it.

Jonny Dollar
Guest
2 years 6 months ago

May depend too on how much credence you give to pitchers “not fully having their stuff” in spring training due to the ball being more flat in warmer climates.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
2 years 6 months ago

So, none.

(I mean, really. Most major league cities are warmer in July-August than the spring training sites in March.)

Jonny Dollar
Guest
2 years 6 months ago

Scott Baker is a perfect example of a guy that “needs” his pitches to work just as a follow up.

Kyle
Guest
Kyle
2 years 6 months ago

Not really on the theme of the article, but since you mentioned pitch framing I sort of wonder if it has a bigger effect on pitchers who are known for their command.

For example, if all other things were equal (catcher, situation, etc), and both Cliff Lee and Matt Moore threw 100 fastballs two inches off the plate that then get framed back in, would they both receive X% called strikes?

I’d wager that Cliff Lee’s reputation gains him the benefit of significantly more called strikes in that scenario.

YABooble
Member
YABooble
2 years 6 months ago

Even without the possible “reputation” factor to framing, control should improve framing. In your example above:

1. Lee’s control gives the catchers more pitches near the edges of the strike zone where they can leverage their framing skills.

2. Lee’s command allows catchers to keep their gloves “quiet” much more often, which can only help in framing.

Kyle
Guest
Kyle
2 years 6 months ago

Do you know if there has been any analysis done on pitch framing that somehow takes into account the pitchers that the catcher is receiving?

Completely fictional numbers, but if Catcher A turns 15% of close balls into called strikes and Catcher B turns 10% of close balls into called strikes, we consider Catcher A the superior framer. But if Catcher A’s pool of pitchers have quantifiably better command than Catcher B’s, maybe Catcher B is in fact the better framer. Just a random thought.

larry
Guest
larry
2 years 6 months ago

the hardball times article a couple weeks back about pitch framing included an adjustmnet for both pitcher and umpire, but they were minor IIRC

John
Guest
John
2 years 6 months ago

What kind of pitch framing is Moore throwing to in ST? It’s possible that he’s thrown to a catcher that isn’t Hanigan or Molina. It’s also possible that those guys have taken a little while to get back to awesome pitch-framingness.

Having not watched Moore’s starts, I wonder if he’s specifically working on a pitch that he struggles to command. This is why minor league stats are so flimsy; the players are not trying to win, they’re trying to improve.

The Foils
Member
The Foils
2 years 6 months ago

Either that first paragraph was sarcastic or pitch framing already needs to be retired.

B N
Guest
B N
2 years 6 months ago

There’s the expression “Spring training doesn’t matter.” But has that ever been proved? It seems like we have stats for Spring Training these days. Why not see if there’s a way that they can be used to improve estimates for the following season’s performance? They’d have to be nearly as good as AAA stats, at least.

B N
Guest
B N
2 years 6 months ago

For example, things like this: http://www.lookoutlanding.com/2014/3/3/5466338/diy-spring

The correlations of spring training to regular season aren’t as great as the prior year, but they’re definitely non-trivial. If they capture some unique variance, they’re probably useful…

james wilson
Guest
james wilson
2 years 6 months ago

I watched Moore’s last start. Unhittable stuff and excellent command. Then he walked four straight hitters and looked terrible mechanically. Not minor stuff, really bad. If Rick Ankiel is inside waiting to bust out there is nothing anyone can do about it. Just my impression, but this seems to affect hard throwing lefties more than anyone.

Detroit Michael
Guest
Detroit Michael
2 years 5 months ago

Matt Moore was removed from his start yesterday with elbow soreness.

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