Has Moore lived up to the hype? It’s hard to say that he has. The bar was set incredibly high when Moore overwhelmed opposing hitters between Double-A and Triple-A in 2011, going 12-3 with a 1.92 ERA and a 210-46 strikeout to walk ratio in 27 starts and 155 innings pitched, and then struck out 11 in his first major league start before shutting out the eventual AL champion Texas Rangers in his second. Moore has not immediately blossomed into an ace in the major leagues, instead finding himself plagued by inconsistency and shrouded in doubt from people across baseball. There are games when it’s almost impossible to watch him as he simply can’t throw a strike. But amid everything that could make you pull your hair out are flashes of exactly the pitcher we thought Matt Moore would be. The question is going to be when those flashes bcome something more sustained if ever.
It seemed like Moore had finally become an ace when he went 8-0 with a 2.18 ERA in his first 11 starts of the season. Instead, he got destroyed in his next three starts, allowing 19 runs in just 12.1 innings pitched (13.86 ERA), forcing all of us to rethink where he stands in his development. But now suddenly he’s back on a roll, managing a 1.91 ERA in his last five outings. What does it mean? Is it just another flicker before the lights go back on and we see that Moore is far from where he needs to be? Will it give way to another collapse? There’s certainly a chance it will. However, Moore’s last five starts have been significantly better than his 11-start run to begin the year, as explained by the table below.
The ERA is very similar or the two streaks, and Moore has walked a few more batters in the recent run, but everything else is noticeably better in the last run. It’s obviously easier to pitch better for a short period of time than a longer one because of the influence of chance. By chance, we don’t simply mean BAbip and HR/FB and all those other stats but simply Moore being locked in and showing good command for five consecutive starts. For the time in his career, Moore has notched three 9-strikeout games in four starts–but who says it really means anything? He’s still walking a lot of batters and he’s getting lucky on flyballs not leaving the yard. And even that groundball rate difference, while quite noticeable, is far from statistically significant. The case for that difference really marking a turning point in Moore’s development falls apart when you realize that Moore had a 49.5% groundball rate for seven starts from May 12th to June 15th of 2012 only to revert back to his old habits. You can pore over the Pitch F/X data from Brooks Baseball, but the only major difference is that his changeup has taken over the role of primary secondary pitch from his curveball–but even that could be just Moore having a better feel for his changeup for a few games. Well, there is one thing: he is suddenly throwing his changeup a lot more to left-handed batters, going from 4% all the way to 12% (explains why it’s now his primary secondary pitch) including a jump from 5% to 20% with two strikes. Maybe Moore has changed his approach to incorporate his changeup more, and that has helped him take the next step as a pitcher. But correlation does not imply causation–just because he made a change doesn’t mean that it’s responsible for his strong pitching of late–and only time will tell whether this adjustment lasts and whether Moore has really improved.
This could be the game that changes everything. How many times have people said that after a Matt Moore start the last two years? Any game may be the turning point–but at this point, we have no idea what’s real and what’s just luck playing around with us. Maybe next year, we will look back at these last five starts and conclude that it was then that Moore clicked as a pitcher. For now, though, all we can do is appreciate when Moore pitches well and wait to see if it lasts. Matt Moore has as much talent as any pitcher in baseball. Let’s see if that talent is finally turning into the type of consistent results we all know he’s capable of.