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May 8, 2012
Matt Moore has done one thing very well in 2012: remind everyone that he is a rookie. He was purchased in the low-teens in mixed league, upper-teens in AL-only leagues, and even as high as the eighth round in drafts. Despite the high praise fantasy drafters gave him, he is currently 1-2 with a 5.71 ERA and 5.15 FIP while walking 18 and striking out 28 in 34 2/3 innings of work.
Youth is a common explanation for his slow start, but it has also been pointed out that he is common April underperformer. Another school of thought suggests that Moore has even been tipping his pitches. It also is worth mentioning that Moore missed a chunk of spring training due to an abdominal strain and did not make his first appearance until March 8. Between the youth, the pitch tipping, and the late start, it has not been the smoothest of first months for Moore. This past week, the schedule set up rather nicely for him with two home starts against two of the worst offenses in baseball, but he was only able to split the games and was pummeled in the second one by the lowly A’s offense.
It’s interesting to note how both Moore’s pitch mix and pitch results have differed so far in 2012 against the small sample size of 2011.
Matt Moore 2011
Both this year and last, Moore has used his fastballs 70-plus percent of the time, but he’s relying more on the two-seamer this year and the usage of his breaking ball and change has flipped from 2011 to 2012. The most noticeable difference is in the frequency with which his pitches are being put into play. His four-seam fastball is being put into play three times as often this season while his two-seamer is being put into play twice as often. Not surprisingly, the breaking ball and change-up are also being put into play more often. The swing and miss rate on Moore’s four-seam fastball has remained nearly identical, but his curveball is where the results have changed dramatically.
The first pitch plot below represents the strike zone report on Moore’s breaking balls in 2011 from texasleaguers.com, while the second one shows where those pitches are going this season (note that while Moore’s breaking ball is classified as a slider by default, it is actually a curveball per Brooks Baseball).
Whereas last season Moore rarely threw the pitch in the zone and used it more as a put-away pitch, this season he has lived in the strike zone with his breaker and is paying for it; batters are making significantly more contact with those pitches this year. The change-up is in the same boat.
The other parts of Moore’s game are much in line with the rest of the league. His first-pitch strike rate is slightly above league average, and the frequency with which he is ahead in the count, even in the count, and behind in the count are right in line with league averages. His outcomes in those situations, however, vary widely.
Even the common fan watching Moore pitch this season can see how he is elevating pitches. The spray charts below show his fastball plots last season compared to this season thus far.
In 2011, his fastball distribution within the zone appears to be evenly-disributed, but this season he is throwing more pitches in the top half of the zone than he is the bottom.
This animated gif shows his pitch plots from his five outings in 2011 compared to the six outings he has made so far in 2012:
This does not appear to be a control problem with Moore, since he is finding the strike zone at a league average rate in 2012. What this appears to be is a command issue as Moore is struggling to locate his pitches within the strike zone and is leaving many of them up. He works best when he is establishing his fastball and getting hitters to expand their zone, but he is struggling to locate his fastball. He is throwing his fastball for strikes approximately 25 percent less frequently in 2012 compared to last season. He has given up seven home runs in his major league career, all of which have come off fastballs (six of which were elevated):
I am not a pitching coach, nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, so I am not going to look at anything mechanically that Moore may be doing wrong. I can note, however, that he has not changed his position on the pitching rubber, his release points remained unchanged, and his velocity is just about where it was last season. This seems to be a mixture of youth and inexperience, which is not much different than the struggles David Price went through in the first half in 2009 when many were debating whether he should return to the minors. Price, of course, went on to rebound in the 2009 season, and the next season he was runner-up for the Cy Young.
Few pitchers receive the lofty praise and expectations that Moore was given this past off-season, and even fewer achieve them at the pace people expect them to.