Jun 14, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Matt Moore (55) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Kansas City Royals at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Hitters Are Helpless When Rays' Matt Moore Simply Throws Strikes

Saying that a pitcher is dominant except for his control issues is like saying that someone is alive except for the spear piercing his heart. Control issues are more than a flesh wound, serving as the reason why countless pitchers with overpowering repertoires never lived up to their potential. But the more you watch Matt Moore, the clearer it gets that when he keeps the ball anywhere around the zone, there’s simply nothing that hitters can do. That was never more evident than in Moore’s start against the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night.

Moore’s numbers for the start are something that you never see. Moore went 6 innings allowing 1 run on 4 hits, striking out 11 while walking 6. It’s awfully difficult to strike out 11 batters in only 6 innings–how often do you see a pitcher walk as many as 6 batters and still manage to pitch well and notch that many strikeouts? As it turns out, it’s only happened one other time in major league history. Moore become just the 7th pitcher since 1916 to register a game with 6 or fewer innings pitched and 11 or more strikeouts and 6 or more walks. The last was Johan Santana on 5/27/09. But among the seven pitchers, Moore is just the second, after Russ Ortiz on 5/27/00, to allow two or fewer runs in the process. How in the world did Moore manage that? Moore certainly labored in his 6 innings, throwing 120 pitches. But even so, how in the world did he manage to go 6 innings? Since 2000, just 36.8% of pitchers who have walked 6 or more batters in a start have gone 6 innings. And among pitchers who have gone 6 innings since 2000, just 1.1% have walked 6 or more batters. What made Moore’s start differentiate itself so significantly from the norm?

Moore was able to go so deep into his start because even as he both struck out and walked a ton of batters, he kept the at-bats very short. When Moore was striking out hitters, he wasn’t nibbling at the corners but absolutely blowing them away, with just 1 of his 11 strikeouts coming on more than 5 pitches. When he was walking hitters, quite often he wasn’t faltering after long at-bats but simply losing the strike zone entirely, with half of his 6 walks coming on 5 or fewer pitches and every single one coming on 6 or less pitches. And among the 11 balls in play that Moore allowed, 6 of them came on at-bats of less than 4 pitches and 8 of them were after at-bats of 5 or fewer pitches. Also note that all four hits that Moore were singles with nothing hit very hard. What does all of this mean? As long as Moore was throwing the ball anywhere near the strike zone, he was blowing by hitters like it was nothing. As long as he was locked into the zone, hitters could barely make contact, let alone hit the ball with any authority. And if Moore can ever somehow eliminate the lapses of his control, leaving only his mastery of the opposition, we’re looking at a pitcher who could be right there among the best in baseball.

Will Matt Moore ever solve his control problems? It’s a question that has been asked so many times about manifold hard-throwing pitching prospects, and so often the answer has been no. Maybe the dominance he has shown will be remembered only as a transient glimmer of promise from a pitcher who had endless potential but just could never put it together for an extended period of time. But Moore has shown an ability to throw strikes in the past, walking a decent 4.1 batters 9 innings last year and lowering his walk rate each of his last three seasons in the minor leagues, and you just have to hope that there will be a moment where everything clicks. Matt Moore has a Hall of Fame arm. The question is whether he will ever find a way to overcome his control issues and become the pitcher everyone around baseball knows he has the ability to be.

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7 Comments on Hitters Are Helpless When Rays’ Matt Moore Simply Throws Strikes

  1. Joey says:

    Robbie this is unbelievable analysis. Curious, how long did it take you to do this research? I’m new to your site and after reading this I will be checking in everyday. I’ve been following Matt’s starts since low A ball. Its amazing how different he is in the second half of every year. With this year’s 1st half success, do you think we’ll see more consistency after the break? I also read that a windup change might be coming down the road similar to David Price. Supposedly, by eliminating the over the head motion, it may help him to repeat his delivery more consistently.

    • Robbie_Knopf says:

      Wow, thanks Joey. Welcome to the site and I hope my staff and I can provide you with some interesting Rays content.

      So much of Moore’s success and failure has to do with his release point, and maybe it just takes him a while to find it. Hopefully that will come soon–although we have seen for most of this year how good he can be even when his control isn’t pinpoint.

      A windup change is where it gets a little touchy, but if Moore continues to struggle throwing strikes, it could very well be in the wings. If nothing else, look for Jim Hickey to keep working on subtle changes in his mechanics that will hopefully make a difference.

      • Joey says:

        Hey Robbie, next time you watch Alex Colome pitch, see if you notice any similarities to Rodney’s windup. They look almost the same to me. I can’t remember the name of the pitching coach, it definitely wasn’t Hickey, but he was the one that changed Fernando’s windup last spring. This guy did the same exact thing for Colome this spring and Alex is having his best year as a pro. I think this could make a great story especially if you can show a side by side with one of your break downs. This coach deserves some major props and Rodney should sign a multi year deal with us for helping to resurrect his career.

        • Robbie_Knopf says:

          Colome has no toe-tap and stays much firmer in his windup, but I definitely see what you’re saying because they look so similar as they release the ball. I can always use great article ideas, and it might be something worth looking into.

          • Joey says:

            Yeah I see the toe-tap for Rodney. The biggest change I noticed was the shortening of the delivery. They both look like they pitch almost primarily out of the stretch. Zero body turn to start and explosive finishes.

          • Robbie_Knopf says:

            Colome, simply put, has much better mechanics and does a better job repeating his delivery. The biggest thing with Colome was simplifying everything so he can throw more strikes, and pitching out of the stretch helped make that happen.

  2. OTown RaysFan says:

    i’m with joey, robbie: great use of your data. (would love to know what database(s) you are using, but that’s probably proprietary…)
    bottom line on matt’s performance on tuesday – he was amazing in that he was able to contain all the bad he did by blowing them away EXACTLY when he needed to. which makes me think that the sideline lady for fox sports florida, kelly nash, was on to something when she described his performance as bi-polar, and joe maddon retorted that it was schizophrenic. i think what these metaphors are getting at is that matt was able to kick things into a seldom seen super drive whenever he needed too. whether his brilliance came as result of the trouble he got himself into, or he got himself into trouble somehow so his brilliance could shine through seems to me to be the question.

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