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September 30, 2011

One-Hoppers

ALDS G1: Moore Impresses As Rays Beat Rangers

by R.J. Anderson

Matt Moore’s ability to stomach postseason pressure was the great unknown entering Game 1 of the Rays-Rangers series. Short in experience and years alike, Moore needed to be long in stuff and poise in order to contain the right-handed heavy Rangers lineup within a hostile and offensive-friendly environment. Three hours after the game’s first pitch, Moore had provided enough evidence to suggest he might be able to deal with stressful conditions just fine, as he led the Rays to a 9-0 victory and a 1-0 advantage in the best-of-five series.  

Joe Maddon is nothing if not daring, and he set himself up for second-guessing by electing to hand the ball to a 22-year-old with one major league start in Game 1. Truthfully, Maddon’s choices were limited. It was Moore, James Shields on short rest, or Wade Davis (as Jeff Niemann failed to make the playoff roster). Starting Davis over Moore would be viewed as nothing short of an iniquity, so Maddon chose Moore, and Moore—by choice or otherwise—proved his manager’s decision to be prescient by striking out six batters in seven shutout innings of work and allowing just four baserunners.

Working in Maddon’s favor was that Moore is unlike the normal 22-year-old pitcher. What makes Moore special? The simplest explanation is that he makes pitching look easy. Moore works fast—pitching as if he has a plane full of baseballs to toss before he can go do something more interesting—and his fastball works faster—registering a Game 1 max velocity of 97.9 miles per hour according to PITCHf/x data. In addition to the fastball, Moore also has a two-plane breaking pitch and an improving changeup, all of which he tosses from the left side.

Postseason play presents the rare opportunity for active major leaguers to watch and tweet their observations of ongoing games, and some pitchers chose to express their opinions on various aspects of Moore’s game. Ricky Romero, a fine southpaw himself, tweeted remarked about the ease of Moore’s delivery; such a comment has become commonplace for those experiencing Moore for the first time.  Brandon McCarthy tweeted a different view as he noted that the Rangers contact-heavy ways could affect Moore’s confidence throughout the night. McCarthy could have pointed out that the Rangers led the league in batting average and True Average as well—although it would not have mattered to the stoic Moore.

Moore could have passed for a veteran to the casual viewer who ignored the in-game commentary and displays telling of his situation. For everyone else, Moore’s first two starts encroach on territory previously reserved for Stephen Strasburg. If you ignore Moore’s relief work this season and focus only on his two starts, then you will notice two things: 1) he hasn’t allowed a run, and 2) he possesses a strikeout-to-baserunner ratio bordering on two. How does that stack up to Strasburg through two starts? Here’s a look:

Pitcher

IP

H

R

SO

BB

Opponents

Moore (’11)

12

6

0

17

3

@NYA, @TEX

Strasburg (’10)

12.1

6

3

22

5

PIT, @CLE

Some non-Moore thoughts and observations on Game 1:In Strasburg’s third major league start he struck out 10 batters, walked none, and allowed one run in seven innings. Whether Moore receives a third start in 2011 depends on how deep the Rays voyage into postseason play. One thing seems for certain, and that is that Game 2 starter James Shields, and not Moore, would make the Game 5 start if necessary. Even so, few if any pitcher has a future more honeycombed with potential than the one who recorded the first W of this postseason.

  • File this under You Can’t Predict Baseball: Kelly Shoppach hit 11 home runs and drove in 22 runs during 253 regular season plate appearances. Naturally, Shoppach hit two homers and plated five runs in his five plate appearances on Friday night. All this from a backstop who was effectively benched in early September only to return to the lineup and hit three home runs over the season’s final dozen days.
  • Another You Can’t Predict Baseball moment: Josh Hamilton recorded a hit in his first two at-bats (the only two hits of the night for Texas) and yet he bunted in his third trip to the plate. The reason why is unclear since the Rangers were trailing by eight. Factor in that Hamilton is arguably the Rangers best hitter and that his bunt advanced one runner one base and the whole situation is puzzling.
  • TBS analyst Buck Martinez duly noted that the Rays play the game like a National League team. You would have known this was coming if you read the series preview.
  • Game 2 will start at 7 pm (EST) on Saturday night. Because other games will be ongoing, Game 2 will be broadcast on TNT rather than TBS. Derek Holland will start for the Rangers while James Shields goes for the Rays. 

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

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<< Previous Article
On the Beat: A Date Wh... (09/29)
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One-Hoppers: ALDS G1: ... (09/30)
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One-Hoppers: ALDS: Doo... (10/01)
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