A little over a week ago, we discussed how Matt Moore‘s velocity had been declining over his last few starts, reaching a noticeable low-point when his average fastball velocity was just 92.6 MPH in his September 16th start, and that had coincided with a string of bad starts for Moore. Moore’s fastball velocity actually increased a little bit on Sunday, averaging 92.98 MPH, but that’s still well below his average fastball velocity per start on the season of around 94.5 MPH. And more importantly, Moore lasted just 2.2 innings, failing to throw as many as one pitch in the 5th inning for the third straight start. Does Moore just have nothing left in the tank and should the Rays stop throwing him out there?
The last time we talked about this, we referenced the number of innings Moore has pitched. Upon further reflection, innings pitched is a decent measure of how much wear and tear a pitcher goes under, but we can do better. We can have a whole discussion whether higher-pressure pitches wear out a pitcher more than low pressure ones, but if you face more batters and throw more pitches, you will be more tired. A 1-2-3 inning doesn’t put anywhere near as much pressure on a pitcher’s arm as an inning where he escaped a bases loaded jam even if both go down in the boxscore as scoreless innings. The ideal would probably to look at how many pitches a pitcher throws, but the best we can do given that we’re going to have to look back at minor league numbers is the number of batters faced.
In 2011, between Double-A, Triple-A, and both the regular season and postseason in the big leagues, Matt Moore threw 174.1 innings. This season, he has thrown 169.1, so he hasn’t even surpassed his career-high in innings yet. But the difference in batters faced is huge. In 2011, Moore faced a total of 681 batters. In 2012, he has already faced 727. The MLB average for the numbers of batters faced per inning this season is 4.25 (it’s only percentage points off for both starters and relievers). In 2011, Moore was at 3.90. For his pro career, he has faced 4.14 batters per inning. This season, he’s basically average at 4.29. That is not bad, but not only is he throwing a lot of pitches per inning, but also he’s throwing a lot more pitches than he was used to when he was dominating almost every time out last season. It seems like Moore, even if he hasn’t thrown that many innings, is just out of steam. Between the fact that the Rays want to protect their young pitchers and that Moore just isn’t doing the job starting every sixth day for a team that is still in the playoff hunt, it makes sense to shut Moore down and get him healthy and primed for a big sophomore season in 2013.
Who would replace Moore? Well, for right now, it could no one as the Rays could move into a 5-man rotation. The problem is that Alex Cobb will be shut down after his start Wednesday, leaving the Rays with just four starting pitchers: David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, and Chris Archer. That obviously won’t cut it. If Jeff Niemann was healthy, he would be a godsend right now, but he’s not. The only other pitcher to make a start this season for the Rays other than the seven we have mentioned is lefty Cesar Ramos, who has made a grand total of 1 this season- although he did make 7 at Triple-A this season as well. Ramos’ ERA was just 4.84 as a starter at Triple-A with his FIP being even a tick worse at 4.90. Wade Davis has started in the past, but you can’t suddenly convert him to a starter now. Do the Rays have any other options? The Rays have three more starting pitchers on their 40-man roster: Alex Colome, Alex Torres, and Wilking Rodriguez. Colome and Rodriguez have been hurt. That leaves Torres, who posted just a 6.72 ERA at Triple-A this season- but with key progress in his last few starts. Even with that progress though, the Rays are not about to bring Torres up to be their 5th starter except as a last resort. So what will the Rays do? They will likely keep throwing Moore out there- except as we saw Saturday, they will have the bullpen at the ready every team he goes out. Joe Maddon warmed up his bullpen as early as the 1st inning and took Moore out after just 50 pitches on Saturday seeing that he had nothing. Expect to see Maddon be ready to act in the same fashion every Moore start the rest of the season. We will see pitchers like Burke Badenhop, Davis, and Ramos used in a way that they’ll be ready to go even a couple innings if necessary when Moore makes his starts. Hopefully Moore can manage to give the Rays a couple of solid 5-inning outings the rest of the season- anything more than that would be a bonus at this point. But the Rays don’t have the luxury to be patient with Moore now as they battle for an AL Wild Card spot. They’ll see what they get from him but will not be afraid to take him out early in games if he continues to pitch like he has of late.