The Rays have been privileged over the years to have some of the top pitching prospects in baseball come through their organization. And now, we are seeing just how good two of those prospects can be as they dominate hitters at the major league level. Matt Moore was renowned as one of the top prospects in baseball and this season has seen him finally start to live up to the hype. Moore is 14-3 with a 3.17 ERA in 20 starts, striking out 112 while walking 56 in 116.1 innings pitched. Archer, meanwhile, has rebounded from a rough start to put up even gaudier numbers, albeit in a smaller sample, going 6-3 with a 2.39 ERA in his 11 starts, striking out 47 while walking 25 in 67.2 innings pitched. Moore and Archer are beginning to establish themselves as two of the best pitchers in baseball, and it will be exciting to see what they can do this season and beyond. But which of them will be better in the long term? That’s not a question we will know the answer to for several years. There is one question we can ask, though: based on what you have seen from them this season, which pitcher has more potential moving forward, Matt Moore or Chris Archer? Read the cases for and against both pitchers and vote in the poll at the bottom of the page.
The Case for Matt Moore: This season has seen Moore’s average fastball velocity slip from more 95-96 MPH to 93-94, but it doesn’t even matter because his stuff is absolutely unhittable. His fastball’s late life can beat even the best hitters whether he’s throwing it 97 MPH or 91, but that’s only the start for Moore. Moore’s sharp breaking ball remains a very good pitch, but he has made tremendous strides with his changeup, mimicking his fastball arm action with devastating bottoming-out action to miss bat after bat. Moore has three legitimate plus pitches and he’s finally showing signs of locating them consistently for strikes. He has struck out plenty of hitters since the moment he arrived in the major leagues but now everything is finally clicking. We heard when he was arriving in the major leagues that Moore would be the second coming of David Price. There’s a real chance that he might be better.
The Case Against Matt Moore: Why did Moore’s velocity decrease? There have been no other signs that he’s injured, so it appears that it’s a conscious change. But it’s not as though that has helped him throw more strikes this season! Five starts ago, Moore walked 6 batters in 6 innings of work. Are we really going to say that his control problems are gone? Moore’s strikeout to walk ratio on the season is pretty mediocre and he has been lucky as a flyball pitcher not to allow more home runs. And even Moore’s newfound aptitude with his changeup is something that the league will adjust to and we can’t be sure that the breakthrough will last. Moore has potential, but the velocity decrease adds to all the other concerns we had about him going into the season, none of which he has entirely left behind. Moore may turn into an ace, but he’s not there yet and it remains to be seen if he’ll ever get there.
The Case for Chris Archer: Have you seen Chris Archer his last few starts? Two complete shutouts in his last three outings speaks volumes about what this guy can do. His fastball stays at 97 MPH from the 1st inning to the 9th and he’s doing a better job locating it down in the zone. But it isn’t even his best pitch! Archer can do everything with his slider, locating it for strikes with unbelievable precision early in the count before burying it down in the zone to force a seemingly endless amount of whiffs with its two-plane break. And then there’s his changeup, which has taken a big step forward to give him a third weapon. Archer had issues throwing strikes early in the season, but he’s totally locked in now and hasn’t walked a better in three of his last 4 outings as he’s looked as dominant as any pitcher in baseball. The pitcher who Archer was traded for Matt Garza, just got dealt by the Cubs to the Texas Rangers for a considerable return. But no matter who they acquired, the Cubs will be having nightmares for years about letting Archer go.
The Case Against Chris Archer: Yes, Archer’s stuff is electric. But isn’t electric stuff supposed to net you a lot more than 6.3 strikeouts per 9 innings and only 17 K’s in 31 innings (4.9 K/9) even as he has dominated his last four starts? Archer is pitching very well, but the league isn’t getting blown away by him and it’s only a matter of time before they’re squaring him up. The reason is simple: he’s had the feel for his changeup for a few games, but more than not it’s been a non-factor. After throwing his changeup 12 times in his shutout of the Astros, Archer has thrown it just 10 times combined in his last two games. He’s basically only fastball-slider right now, and that won’t cut it in the long term. How confident are we that Archer will finally hone his changeup into a consistent weapon after that’s been an issue for him for five or six years now? Archer has the stuff to dominate on any given night. But unless he develops his changeup more, he’s going to have his ups and downs, especially because his fastball command still isn’t a done deal either. Anyone notice that he walked 4 while striking out 1 just two starts ago? And by the way, anyone notice that his shutouts came against the decrepit Astros and the offensively-inept Yankees? Archer has a lot of work to do before he proves that he’s a real frontline pitcher, and a much more likely outcome than an ace is a sometimes dominant, sometimes enigmatic third starter.