It’s far from the usual progression, but the Rays were confident that Matt Moore could make it. Despite his enigmatic rookie year, Matt Moore slots in as the Rays’ third starter following the James Shields trade. Everyone knows how talented Moore is, but how could a team in the Rays with such a high reliance on its pitching staff possibly take the risk of having such an inexperienced player filling such a key role? After he blew away the Yankees in his first MLB start in September of 2011 and then the AL champion Texas Rangers in Game 1 of the ALDS, the expectations were sky-high for Moore entering his rookie season in 2012. While Moore had his moments in his first full year in the majors, it’s impossible to say that he lived up to the lofty expectations placed on him. On the season, Moore went 11-11 with a 3.81 ERA in 31 starts and 177.1 innings pitched, striking out 8.9 batters per 9 innings but managing just a 4.1 BB/9, and a 0.9 HR/9. Moore was by no means horrible, but how can the Rays expect him to immediately go from that to being a pitcher they can rely on to start Games 3 and 7 of a playoff series?
This spring, all of the skeptics’ concerns came to light as Moore struggled outing after outing. In his first 5 appearances spanning 17.1 innings pitched, Moore managed just a 4.67 ERA, striking out 15 but walking 13 as well. In his last exhibition outing, Moore finally came through with a strong start, going 4 innings allowing just a hit and a walk while striking out 5, but how much can one outing mean? Overall, his spring numbers wound up looking an awful lot like his 2012 stats: he managed a 3.80 ERA, an 8.3 K/9, a 5.8 BB/9, and a 0.4 HR/9 in 21.1 innings pitched. His walk rate was a good deal higher, but his homer rate was much lower, leading to a 3.90 FIP compared to his 3.95 mark from 2012. All the spring stats are basically meaningless, but it’s clear that Moore hasn’t suddenly turned a corner and gone from inconsistent rookie to dependable starter in one offseason. At the end of the day, though, that doesn’t really matter much. For evidence, look no further than David Price‘s 2010.
In the spring of 2010, David Price had a horrific spring training. In four starts spanning 12.2 innings pitched, Price managed just a 5.68 ERA, striking out 11 while walking 2 but allowing hitters to bat .400 against him as he allowed 22 hits in those 12.2 innings. Sure, hits in spring training don’t mean as much because Price might have had a whole bunch of Double-A players playing defense behind him, but allowing a .400 average is scary and it’s clear that Price was having quite a bit of command issues. With Price coming off a rookie season where he managed just a 4.42 ERA, the Rays had to be especially worried that he still had not made the adjustments necessary to succeed in the major leagues as a starting pitcher despite his immense talent. Once the season got underway, though, Price was dominant right from the start and before we knew it, he was among the best pitchers in baseball.
Matt Moore has a chance to put everything together and pull a David Price 2010, going from enigmatic to unhittable from his rookie year to his sophomore season. The Rays obviously hope that will happen, but if Moore falls short of that, they won’t be disappointed. Moore has a ways to go in his development as a pitcher and the Rays are just hoping for progress. His spring was for the most part terrible, but at the same time you can almost say that it was a good thing- Moore got his rough stretch out of the way before the season began and took the pressure off of him a little bit more as fans are expecting less and less from him. All Moore has to do to live up to the responsibility the Rays have bestowed upon him as their third starter is begin to scratch the surface of his potential. We all know that he could be one special pitcher someday and maybe pair with David Price to be twin aces at the top of the Rays rotation as this season, but the Rays aren’t doomed if he doesn’t. If Moore simply takes things slow and continues his maturation as a pitcher, he’ll deliver exactly the type of season the Rays are asking from him as their third starter and just maybe start to turn the flashes of dominance we saw at the end of 2011 and at times in 2012 into something he can sustain.