Let’s skip the formalities and quit delaying. There’s one player everyone in the Tampa Bay area and beyond has their eyes on. Let’s begin our Rays Colored Glasses 2012 season preview with the Rookie of the Year frontrunner for 2012, Matt Moore.
You know the story at this point. Matt Moore dominated where ever he went in 2011, from Double-A to Triple-A, from the big leagues to the postseason. Overall in 2011, in 29 starts and 3 relief appearances spanning 174.1 IP, Moore went 14-3 with a 1.91 ERA, 233 strikeouts (12.0 K/9), 52 walks (2.7 BB/9), and 13 homers allowed (0.7 HR/9). His FIP was a ridiculous 2.51. His xFIP (combining data from Fangraphs and Minor League Central), was still insane at 2.62. But the craziest stat is his SIERA between the minors and majors: 2.13. After a ridiculous season, the bar will be set high for Moore in 2012. How high should we set the expectations?
I think that before we can try to come up with a prediction, we need to look at the Pitch F/X data. What’s nice about Pitch F/X is that it doesn’t lie. When you look at the data, that’s the pitcher’s pitches. Some games his stuff may be better and other days it may be worse, but no matter what Pitch F/X data gives us a good overview of pitchers. Let’s look at the data from Moore’s time in the major leagues courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net, which I’ll display in the form of one of my revamped Pitch F/X graphs.
(For an explanation of this type of graph, please see here.)
This Pitch F/X data graph confirms what we already know: Matt Moore’s stuff is nasty. It’s hard enough to hit 96 MPH to begin with, but Moore’s fastball and sinker also had tailing movement in on the hands towards a righty batter. Moore is able to use his fastball in a variety of ways other than just letting it rip: he can start it at the knees and let it finish down-and-in to a righty (good luck hitting that), or he could start it away and freeze batters on the outside corner. Against lefties, the ball is tailing away at 96 MPH, and if Moore starts the pitch in on a lefty batter at 96 MPH, the batter will have to try hard to not flinch as the pitch starts going right at him before finishing on the inside corner. Moore’s fastball is a true plus-plus pitch, and hitters will be sitting dead-red all the time against Moore. Unfortunately, hitters have two problems: 1) they’re still going to swing-and-miss at Moore’s fastball more often than they get quality contact on that and 2) he also happens to throw two other nice pitches.
Moore’s changeup has a nice speed differential of around 12.5 MPH with his fastball, which is enough to generate empty swings and weak contact on its own, but his change adds in a little more horizontal fade along nearly a foot more sink. It’s not quite is overpowering as his fastball, but it’s still an excellent pitch. (Jamie Moyer could call it his sinker.)
And then there’s the matter of Moore’s curveball. Moore’s curveball is just about a 12 to 6 downer (maybe 11.5 to 5.5 if you want to be meticulous), and when a hitter is looking fastball and sees a pitch going right down into his hitting zone, he’s bound to swing- except unlike his fastball, Moore’s breaking ball will just keep dropping. It has sharp enough movement on its own, but when you contrast it with its fastball it’s another great weapon for Moore. When Moore establishes his fastball, there’s no way hitters can avoid looking fastball if they want to beat Moore. But hitters will have to keep the breaking ball in the back of their minds, making his fastball just a bit more dangerous. Moore’s breaking ball is relatively hard for a curveball, but it still has enough of a speed difference with his fastball and its movement is downright nasty.
So what about a prediction? Moore has the best pure stuff of anyone on the Rays staff (although we’ll have to take a look at their Pitch F/X graphs as well), but there are going to be growing pains for Moore in his first year in the big leagues. He will occasionally lose control of his fastball and misplace it right down the middle, and hitters will take advantage when that happens. When Moore has the great location on his fastball, he’ll fall in love with it and use it too often, and no matter how great a pitch it is, it will eventually get hit and hit hard if he can’t mix in his breaking ball and changeup. However, Moore is an incredible talent and his overall numbers as a rookie will be staggering. Moore posted a 10.7 K/9 in 19.1 big league innings between the regular season and postseason, and there’s absolutely no chance he doesn’t strike out a batter per inning in 2012. Let’s give him a 9.9 K/9 in 2012, halfway between 10.7 and 9.0. Moore is a player who has really improved his control the past few seasons, lowering his BB/9 from 5.1 in 2009 to 3.8 in 2010 to 2.7 in 2011, but hitters will bring back some of the control struggles so I would split the difference between his 2010 mark and his 2011 mark and give him a 3.3 BB/9 in 2012. And I think Moore will inevitably misplace his fastball and use it too often, so I would project a 1.0 expected HR/9 but a 0.8 HR/9 mark by virtue of the fact that he’ll pitch half his games in Tropicana Field. If we project those ratios over 190 IP, a modest 25.2 inning increase over his innings total in 2011, Moore would strike out 209, walk 70, and allow 17 home runs, which (factoring in Moore’s 0.5 HBP/9 in the minor leagues) amounts to a 3.43 FIP and a 3.71 xFIP, and considering the Rays’ outstanding defense helps their pitchers nearly always out-preform their FIPs (by an average of .34 runs per 9 innings per season over the past four years), that would put Moore at a 3.09 ERA, a bit behind Jeremy Hellickson‘s 2.95 mark in 2011, although Hellickson needed a whole lot more luck to get their (more on that in his preview). Hellickson went 13-10 in 2011, so let’s say Moore will go 14-9 since the Rays offense is better this year. If that happens, it will be awfully hard not to give Moore the AL Rookie of the Year considering that he would also be among the AL leaders in strikeouts (he would have ranked 6th in the AL in strikeouts in 2011 if he had struck out 209 as we suggested and he would have been second in K/9).
The great thing for Moore is that he’s going to be part of a great rotation. He just gets to go out there every fifth (or sixth) day and pitch. Expect great things from Matt Moore in coming years, and that will start with an outstanding 2012.