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Give Me (Matt) Moore

Matt Moore. Aside from a (nearly) full season from Stephen Strasburg, was there anyone the majority of fantasy owners were more excited about heading into the year? Well, okay, maybe Yu Darvish. But seriously, after coming up for a cup of coffee and striking out 15 batters in 9.1 innings in 2011 and then allowing just one run in 10.0 innings in the playoffs, the hype was deafening, and for good reason. Moore is a lefty who averages in the mid-90’s with his fastball. That’s not typical of a southpaw. His minor league strikeout record was ridiculous, as his lowest K/9 was 11.5. Crazy! But alas, in 2012, he was a bit of a disappointment. At least to me. But maybe my expectations were too high.

Moore finished May with a 4.76 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP. Yuck. The strikeouts were there (after a slow April in that department), but too many fly balls led to too many home runs and he was unable to strand a league average rate of base runners. Then everything turned around over the next three months and the Moore many had expected to show up finally came out of hiding. Though his skills didn’t exactly surge, he enjoyed better luck and posted monthly ERAs much more in line with the more optimistic projections.

However, there really was no key to his success after the first two months (and he was awful in September when control issues reared its ugly head again), as both his strikeout and walk rates remained pretty similar, with just changes in fortune determining the results (primarily a better HR/FB ratio). So, in other words, he did not actually get better as the season went on like many like to see from a rookie or young pitcher.

Now I personally don’t put much stock in trends or 1H/2H splits, but since there might be a perception out there that Moore “adjusted” or whatever after a disappointing first two months, I wanted to address that. Having said all that and giving you the impression that I am not a fan, well, I actually am. No, I don’t like the fly balls and I don’t like the walks. But, I love the strikeouts and the strikeout potential, as I’m sure we all do.

Moore’s SwStk% ranked sixth among all starters and his Contact% ranked seventh, yet his strikeout rate ranked twelfth. Now obviously that isn’t a significant difference, but when you combine how he performed in those metrics with his minor league track record of elite dominance, you see the upside he possesses in strikeout rate even though it was already at nearly a batter per inning.

So, we know he could punch batters out at a fantastic clip. But will he ever improve his control? I think he will. His F-Strike% was a smidge over 60%, just barely better than the league average for American League starters. Those same AL starters averaged a 2.9 walk rate with that F-Strike%. Yet, with a nearly identical F-Strike%, Moore walked 4.1 batters per nine. That doesn’t really add up, does it?

F-Strike% is a pretty good proxy for walk rate, though it’s obviously not perfect. But given the control gains Moore displayed in the upper minors in 2011 along with a league average rate of throwing first pitch strikes, it seems to me like a control improvement could come swiftly. If that happens, a low-3.00 ERA is there for the taking and you have Clayton Kershaw‘s career trajectory, with maybe a couple more fly balls. Now that the hype has died down and Moore’s potentially great second half became just good after his poor September, there might be some nice room for profit during next year’s drafts.