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.