Strikeouts, man. Alone, they predict next year’s ERA better than FIP! They’re an important category by themselves, and then they predict good work in the other categories, so they’re a double threat. At some point though, you have to worry about the other categories too. Edinson Volquez cough cough.
The first thing that we “know” about pitchers with bad command is that they don’t age well, actually. Call it the Billy Beane Type, but guys that keep the ball in the zone over 51.5% of the time hit the DL about 35% of the time, which is down from the general population. We also know the best predictor of future disabled list time is past disabled list time. Matt Moore hasn’t sniffed 50% zone percentage so far, and he hit the DL last year for elbow inflammation for a full month.
Moore doesn’t hit the threshold for worry about his breaking ball usage — his 18% usage is under both the curveball (25%) and slider (30%) benchmarks for injury worry. He also does throw a changeup, which might be the healthiest pitch. Still, he owns two of the worst injury markers already.
And there are other signs of worry when it comes to how he’ll hold up. The velocity loss, for one. We know pitchers’ fastball velocity begins dying as soon as it’s born, but Moore’s two miles an hour drop from his first to second seasons is fairly large. It was actually ninth-worst in the big leagues among pitchers that threw 50 innings in both 2012 and 2013. And if you remove guys that moved from the pen to the starting rotation, only David Price and Jason Marquis lost more gas on their fastball last year.
We know that velocity is linked to swinging strikes, so it’s no surprise that Matt Moore also lost the 16th-most off of his swinging strike rate. And if you move role-changers off the list, only Edwin Jackson, Jason Hammel, R.A. Dickey, Erasmo Ramirez, and Jake Westbrook lost more swinging strikes off their entire arsenal from 2012 to 2013.
Most of those lost swinging strikes disappeared in his fastball velocity. While his changeup still got above-average whiffs in both years (~18%), and his breaking ball was still an excellent pitch for grounders in both years (~60%), his fastball went from super-duper for whiffs (11.8%) to meh (8%, average is 7%).
The problem is, of course, that the fastball is likely to only get more meh. He used to throw a sinker — he could improve that below-average pitch and add a wrinkle to his arsenal. His 38.4% ground-ball rate would welcome that change. Walk rate improves until your early thirties, and he’s only 25, so there’s some chance he could walk fewer people in the coming years. And yes, he still was in the top 25 when it came to strikeouts per nine last year (min: 150 IP, 26th in strikeout percentage).
But sometimes a good strikeout rate is not enough to mask the problems. Moore’s wonky control, velocity and swinging strike loss, and injury history — these are risk factors that make him less exciting in 2014 than he was last year. That’s how it goes with age.