Can Matt Moore Make a David Price-Esque Leap in His Second MLB Season?
By Robbie Knopf
Over the course of their short team history, the Rays haven’t developed too many traditions. But one of the few they have established is power left-handed pitching. It began with Scott Kazmir, the first pitcher Rays fans could ever call an “ace” and the pitcher who proved that a promising future was ahead by becoming the first Devil Rays pitcher to hold his own against the Yankees and Red Sox. Then, in Kazmir’s last season with the Rays in 2009, David Price made his full-season debut as a starter for the Rays, and although he got off to a rocky start, he soon proved himself as not a pitcher only considered an ace because the pitchers around him were so bad but a true ace in every definition of the word, finishing second in the AL Cy Young Award voting before winning the award in 2012. And now, we’ve already started to see the next pitcher in line, Matt Moore, who struck out 11 Yankees in his first MLB start in 2011 before tossing 7 shutout innings against the Texas Rangers when pressed into duty in ALDS Game 1 before making his full-season debut this past season. In 2012, Moore was not dominant right off the bat but overall, the results were good as he went 11-11 with a 3.81 ERA, an 8.9 K/9, a 4.1 BB/9, and a 0.9 HR/9 in 31 starts and 177.1 innings pitched. But the big question is 2013- will Moore take the next step in his development as a pitcher and show that he truly belongs in the same class as Kazmir and Price?
In his breakdown of the Rays’ offseason yesterday, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports had a very interesting quote from a scout about Moore that he’s “going to be every bit as good as Price – soon.” The stats from Moore’s rookie season compared to Price may suggest exactly that. Moore’s numbers don’t look so great until you compare them to Price’s rookie year, when he went just 10-7 with a 4.42 ERA, a 7.2 K/9, a 3.8 BB/9, and a 1.2 HR/9 in 23 starts and 128.1 innings pitched after arriving in the major leagues in late May. Moore walked a few more batters than Price, but he struck out significantly more batters and actually finished fifth in the AL in strikeout per 9 innings and 10th in strikeouts overall, and he also allowed just 1 more home run that Price did despite pitching almost 50 more innings. One concerning factor is that not only was Moore’s control worse than Price, but also his command as his 37.5% groundball rate was lower than Price’s 41.5% mark and puts him at risk to allow a lot more home runs next season if that isn’t fixed. Command is always a huge factor for pitchers and the reason that many pitchers don’t reach their potential is sub-par command, so those stats by no means indicate that Moore truly has what it takes to take a Price-esque leap from enigmatic to Cy Young-worthy in his sophomore season in the major leagues. But what does make you more optimistic, is just how much better Moore’s overall arsenal is better than Price’s was at the same age (23 years old) and the same point in their careers. Here’s a table comparing pitch types and strike percentage, whiff percentage, and groundball to flyball ratio on each pitch between David Price’s 2009 repertoire and Matt Moore’s 2012 repertoire.
That’s a lot to digest, but the difference that immediately stands out is between Price’s changeup and Moore’s. Price barely used it all, just 5% of the time, and it wasn’t a very effective pitch, while Moore’s was an absolute weapon, striking out a higher percentage of batters than any of his other pitches. Moore’s breaking ball was also quite a bit better than Price’s (looking at both his slider and curveball), forcing swings-and-misses at over double the rate of Price’s and also a few more groundballs. Price and Moore’s fastballs (fastball and sinker) are more of a toss-up. Moore forced a lot more swings-and-misses with his but couldn’t force nearly as many groundballs. One other good thing, though, was that Moore was much less dependent on his fastballs, using them a combined 67% of the time compared to Price’s 74% mark, and that was because his secondary pitches were just so much better. Moore certainly has work to do with his fastball and overall command- but his stuff blows Price’s out of the park and even if he’s never a great groundball guy, he has the ability to strike out so many batters that it just won’t matter. And even when you compare Price’s 2010 pitches to Moore’s in 2012, Moore still looks very good.
Even in his Cy Young runner-up season of 2010, Price was still extremely fastball dependent, and although a shift to his curveball as his primary breaking ball certainly helped, his secondary pitches were still not very good. Price’s command in 2010 was exponentially better than Moore’s was in 2012- but in just about any other place that you look, Moore was as good or better.
There is still plenty of risk for Matt Moore in 2013. He wore down at the end of 2012 and is probably not ready to handle a 200-inning workload yet, and that’s without saying the constant injury risk for pitchers. And then there’s the matter of his control and command, which you hope will improve as he gains experience in the major leagues but you never know for sure. But at the end of the day, Moore has the ingredients to not only follow in Price’s footsteps with a strong sophomore season, but be even better than Price was in 2010. Will it happen? You never know. But the sky is the limit for Moore this season, and if he lives up to the hype, pairing him with Price at the top of the Rays’ rotation will be opposing teams’ worst nightmare.