Yes, the sell highiest. The easiest way to identify buy low and sell high candidates among starting pitchers is to export the advanced tab of the leader board into Excel and then simply subtract the pitcher’s SIERA from his ERA. Sort and voilà, you now have your list of pitchers who are most outperforming and underperforming their SIERA marks. Of course, you shouldn’t blindly take that list as gospel, as some pitchers have proven that they can consistently post ERAs higher or lower than their SIERAs. But it’s the quickest way to generate a list of names for further analysis.
After performing this exercise, Matt Moore was not the biggest SIERA outperformer. But, given his name value and preseason draft cost, he is the one most worth shopping. He currently ranks eighth among all qualified starters in ERA outperformance, with a 4.11 SIERA versus a 2.29 ERA. While that alone should make him a sell high candidate, there are additional warning signs beneath the surface.
Oddly, I had him ranked as the 24th best starting pitcher in the preseason, but yesterday our consensus rankings were updated and he actually moved up to 20. So it would seem that I have actually become more optimistic, but in reality, it was solely the result of pitchers ahead of him getting injured (like Jered Weaver and Roy Halladay) or whose projection is swiftly declining (like R.A. Dickey).
We first observe that Moore’s K%, BB%, batted ball mix and SIERA are nearly identical to what he posted last year. That’s really not such a good thing, however. In fact, my initial preseason ranking was derived from my projection that assumed better control and an increased strikeout rate. So far, none of those improvements have been made.
That’s okay of course and not a reason to panic, as 55.0 innings remains a rather small sample. In just one or two more outings, Moore can easily post strong strikeout and walk marks that would push his season rates to more appealing levels. But there’s a problem. Actually, several. For one, his velocity is down…on every pitch:
And now in fun graphical format for his most frequently thrown fastball, the four-seamer:
That is one scary trend. You could also see that along with his average fastball velocity being down, he’s also topping out at a lower speed. In 2012, his four-seamer reached 97.0 mph. This season, it hasn’t even broken 95.0. Sometimes with young fireballers with iffy control, you hear that a pitcher has “learned how to pitch, not throw” and takes some velocity off in order to improve his control. Unfortunately, that’s not the case here.
In fact, his control looks to be significantly worse than it was last season, despite a similar BB%. His F-Strike% is the worst in baseball, and it isn’t very close. His 47.6% mark is well below the next worst mark of 50.0% posted by Brandon Morrow. For comparison, last season Moore was right around the league average, which provided optimism that his walk rate would dip, perhaps considerably. His Zone% is also down from where it sat last season, but at least it still falls around the league average.
That brings us with his strikeout rate, which is strong, but digging deeper, appears questionable to remain that way. His SwStk% is all the way down to 8.4%, ranking just 57th among all qualified starters. This comes after he posted an 11.8% mark last year, which ranked sixth. Looking more deeply into the PitchF/X data, we can already see the effect his diminished fastball velocity is having on his results. Last season, his fastball generated a 10.3% SwStk%. This season that has declined to just about half that at 5.3%. He is also throwing the pitch in the zone less frequently.
So how is he managing to continue racking up the strikeouts with such a deterioration in his swinging strikes induced? According to Baseball-Reference, his called strike rate is way up, and as a result has generated more strikeouts looking than last season. Is this sustainable? David Price has made a living doing it, but he’s been consistently among the leaders (there actually is no leader board I can find for looking strikes, but if there was, I assume Price would always be near the top). Moore didn’t do it last year and while getting called strikes is most certainly a skill, it is likely a much less stable skill than inducing swinging strikes. So I would be much more confident if his strikeout rate was buoyed by a high SwStk% than called strike rate.
There’s a lot happening behind the scenes with Matt Moore beyond the standard “his ERA is wayyyy below his SIERA, sell high! sell high!” Given his name value due to his top prospect status, his fantastic surface ratios and how many owners were projecting a big breakout to begin with, the many red flags identified above make him the perfect sell high candidate.
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