On Tuesday against the Minnesota Twins, Matt Moore‘s control issues were as present as ever. In 4.1 innings, he walked 6 batters, bringing his totals to 11 walks in 10.1 spring innings. But while the location problems were more the same, there was something different about Tuesday’s outing for Moore: his velocity. In previous starts, we saw Moore in the 92-94 MPH range with his fastball. Versus Minnesota, however, his fastball consistently hit 94 MPH and topped out as high as 97 MPH. You have to go back to August of 2012 for the last time Moore’s velocity was even close to that. Moore readopted his own throwing program this offseason as he hoped to find the velocity he lost in 2013. Well, it worked, and now Moore enters the 2014 season as an entirely different pitcher.
As Matt Moore’s velocity dipped to an average of just 92.24 MPH in 2013, suddenly he had to be more precise with his pitches. His fastball still featured excellent late movement and was difficult to square up, but when he made mistakes, hitters could handle them. After Moore had been used to blowing by hitters with his fastball his entire career, suddenly he had to place a higher focus on commanding his pitches. Moore did actually improve his command from 2012 to 2013, improving his groundball to flyball ratio on the pitch from 0.67-to-1 all the way to 1.04-to-1. As Moore tried harder to keep the ball down, though, it made it more difficult for him to throw strikes. Plus with Moore’s fastball not being as effective, he had to rely more heavily on his secondary pitches, especially with two strikes, and as he threw them more, hitters began to lay off of them. Moore’s walk rate of 4.5 per 9 innings and strikeout-to-walk ratio below 2.00-to-1 look like Moore having little idea where his fastball was going even though he was not throwing as hard. Moore’s control certainly is not perfect, but his loss of velocity led to a chain reaction of problems that contributed to his inconsistency more than anything else.
We saw on Tuesday that Moore had trouble locating his fastball with its newfound velocity. But with its velocity more impressive, suddenly pitching becomes much easier for Moore. Moore gets enough natural movement on his fastball that his task as a pitcher becomes quite simple: just throw it towards the middle of the plate and wish hitters good luck. Even if Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina set up right down the middle every time, his fastball will end up going to various places within the zone and giving fits to his opposition. As long as Moore trusts his fastball enough to challenge hitters, his uptick in velocity lessens the significance of his issues with command. We always here that highly-touted young arms have go from “throwers” to “pitchers.” With his stuff, Moore has the ability to be dominant simply as a thrower until his command comes along.
The return of Matt Moore’s velocity is great news for his prospects in his third season in the major leagues. Last season, he managed to go 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA, but those numbers belied unceasing inconsistency and everyone knew he had plenty of room to improve. This could be the year that Moore takes his David Price-esque leap, and if he does, his velocity will be the principal reason why.