When Matt Moore created a buzz in the minors, Tampa Bay Rays fans couldn’t wait for him to make his major league debut. And Matt made a big splash when he did debut, culminating in 7 innings of per dominance against Texas in the playoffs. The Rays waited Moore’s entire rookie year for that type of dominance to surface again, but it never did for an extend period. In 2013, however, it seemed like Moore was finally take that next step.
Last year started out as a Cy Young-caliber year for Moore. He started the season 8-0, striking out 54 batters in 55 innings. April was a magical month for Moore. He was 5-0. In 32 innings, he surrendered just 13 hits and four runs, good for a 1.13 ERA and struck out 38 of the 123 batters he faced. Four of the five starts, he registered quality starts. He also struck out 2.53 batters for every one he walked. For every groundball he induced, Moore surrendered 1.33 flyballs.
May saw Moore remain perfect. He picked up three more wins to go 8-0. In 30 innings, he surrendered 11 runs and struck out 19. However, his strikeout to walk ratio dipped. He struck out 1.46 for every batter he walked. However, for every groundball hitters hit, they struck for 1.74 flyballs. Moore’s control would come and go, but he was the definition of effectively wild as he continued to dominate.
Moore probably tried to ask for a redo of June. He went 2-3 with an 8.39 ERA. Worse was his walk rate. For every guy he walked, he struck out 1.3 batters. Moore only surrendered one home run the entire month. Hitters smacked 1.51 flyballs for groundball, down from May. Moore had his moments earlier in the season, but was he about to fall apart?
In July, Moore reemerged, going 4-0 and a 2.08 ERA. His control improved as he struck out four batters for every one he walked. But Rays fans had to wait until September for him to appear again as elbow soreness sidelined him for the month of August. In September, Moore was 3-1 with a 2.79 ERA. Even so, control was a concern again. For every batter he walked, he managed to strike out 1.4. He also gave up 1.29 flyballs per groundball he induced, his lowest ratio of the season. Moore finished the season with a 17-4 record and a 3.29 ERA, but after the variability he exhibited over the course of the season, those numbers are a little surprising.
The statistics tell us that hitters are not very good against Moore. Inevitably, he gets compared to David Price and his progression is arguably as far along as Price’s was at the same point in their careers. However, Price took the next step and became the Rays ace. Moore could easily make that leap as well but issues remain.
The statistics do bring a comparable that is so rarely mentioned: Carlos Marmol. In his heyday as the Chicago Cubs closer, Marmol could walk the bases loaded an then proceed to strike out the next three guys in short order. His career batting average against is .185. Moore’s is .228. In 2013, Moore reduced that to .216. Both are pitchers with dominant stuff, yet Marmol has managed just a 1.90-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio in his career, and Moore was right there with him at 1.88-to-1 in 2013.
This Moore-Marmol comparison has a major flaw: Moore is a starter and Marmol a reliever–but indulge me for a minute. Watch Moore and then watch Marmol in his heyday as closer of the Cubs. There are similarities. Neither get hit very hard but both sometimes cannot find the strike zone, no matter how hard they try. Cubs management believed Marmol could reign in his control. His stuff was so filthy that it paid to be patient. Marmol never has been able to find the strike zone and the Cubs fans weren’t too disappointed when he was ushered out of town.
I am not suggesting the same will happen to Matt Moore. Lefties sometimes do take more time to develop. Randy Johnson is a prime example of that. He did not pitch a full MLB season until the age of 26. Moore will be 25 in June. But it is time for him to go from “unhittable when he is near the strike zone” to “unhittable all the time.” Attacks of wildness have dogged Matt Moore from the very beginning and have continued to pop up every so often. The sooner the command issues can become a thing of the past, the sooner Moore can live up to his potential.