The Best Lefties Struggle Early


We get it. Matt Moore is struggling and struggling mightily. He has shown no command and is just getting overpowered by major league hitters. Through 7 starts in his age 23 season, he has gone 1-3 (the team is 2-5) with a 5.31 ERA, 34 strikeouts (7.8 K/9), 22 walks (5.1 BB/9), and 6 homers allowed (1.4 HR/9) in 39 IP. His stuff is there, but the results simply are not. Should Moore be moved to the bullpen? Should he be sent down to Triple-A? No, he should not. History tells us that even the greatest lefties struggle mightily at the beginning of their careers.

We all know the story of Sandy Koufax– a “bonus baby” who struggled for six years to the best pitcher baseball has ever seen for 6 years. But Matt Moore is a completely different situation and we have no reason to believe that his arm is anywhere near as good. So here are some other examples of pitchers who struggled to begin their careers. Some of them seem eerily similar.

We have a couple of Rays examples in Scott Kazmir and David Price. In Scott Kazmir’s first 8 big league appearances in 2004 at age 20, 7 starts, he went 2-3 (the D-Rays went 2-6) with a 5.67 ERA, striking out 41 (11.1 K/9), but walking 21 (5.7 K/9), and allowing 4 home runs (1.1 HR/9) in 33.1 IP. The D-Rays stuck with Kazmir and the next four seasons, he was their ace.

We know how badly David Price struggled his entire rookie year in 2009 at age 22 after dominating at the end of 2008, going 10-7 (the Rays went 13-9) but with a 4.42 ERA, 102 strikeouts (7.2 K/9), 54 walks (3.9 BB/9), and 17 home runs allowed (1.2 HR/9) in 23 starts and 128.1 IP. Price went on to finish second in the AL Cy Young voting in 2012 and become an excellent big league pitcher. We’d love for Moore to figure things out before Price did, but even if that doesn’t happen he could still be a great big league pitcher and an ace.

We have more compelling comparisons to Moore than Kazmir and Price. Do any of these guys sound familiar?

Randy Johnson simply had no idea where the ball was going early on. Johnson went 3-0 with a 2.42 ERA, an 8.7 K/9, a 2.4 BB/9, and a 1.0 HR/9 in 4 starts at the end of 1988, but his official rookie year did not go nearly as well. Through his first 7 big league appearances in 1989 at age 25, Johnson went 0-4 (the team went 1-6) with a 6.67 ERA, striking out 26 and walking 26 as well in 29.2 IP. Right then and there, the Montreal Expos gave up on him, trading him to the Seattle Mariners. How did that turn out for the Expos?

In his first 10 big league starts as a 20 year old in 2001, CC Sabathia got manhandled, going 6-2 and the Indians went 7-3, but that was an absolute miracle. He posted a 5.36 ERA, 30 strikeouts, 27 walks, and 6 home runs allowed in 50.1 IP. Sabathia went on to post a 4.38 ERA, a 7.4 K/9, a 4.2 BB/9, and a 0.8 HR/9 in 66 starts spanning 390.1 IP in his first two big league seasons. But the Indians stuck with him and look what he has become.

Let’s get old-school with Lefty Grove. Grove’s MLB career with the Philadelphia Athletics as a 25 year old in 1925 did not get off to the type of start anyone wanted as he went just 2-3 (the A’s went 5-5) in his first 10 big league appearances, 4 starts, as he posted a 5.36 ERA, 30 strikeouts, 43 walks, and 2 home runs allowed in 42 IP. He didn’t throw a single complete game (gasp). How did Grove turn out? He would lead the AL in strikeouts over the course of his rookie year and each of the next six seasons as well, and for his career, he had a crisp 300-141 record as he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Not too shabby for a guy who walked 13 more than he struck out in his first 10 big league appearances.

Cole Hamels did not have such a good time in his first 7 big league starts as a 22 year old in 2006, going 1-4 (the Phillies went 2-5) with a 5.50 ERA, striking out 35 (8.4 K/9), but walking 20 (4.8 BB/9), and allowing 5 home runs (1.2 HR/9) in 37.2 IP. The next season, Hamels went 15-5 with a 3.39 ERA and 3.72 FIP and the season after that he led the Phillies to their first World Series title since 1980 by beating the Rays. Now, he is one of the Phillies three aces, and even though he may be a bit of head-case (see Harper, Bryce), he is one of the best pitchers in baseball and will be an extremely sough-after free agent (not by the Rays) if he makes it there following this season.

Bottom line, don’t get too worried about Moore. It’s not like we’ve seen his fastball velocity dwindle or his pitches lose their bite. He’s just missing his spots and getting hit hard because of that. But when he figures out his command and control everything will be fine. And maybe he’ll end of being as good as some of these pitchers above.