Tampa Bay Rays’ Matt Moore Gets 2014 Started on a Better Note

By Robbie Knopf

Matt Moore entered his second season in the major leagues hoping to follow the path of his predecessor, David Price, and deliver a Cy Young-caliber year. Instead, it got off to a disastrous start. Moore’s velocity was down right from the beginning of spring training, and it never really came back as it dropped from 94.25 MPH in 2012 to just 92.24 MPH in 2013. It is a testament to how talented Moore is that he overcame that to go 17-4 with a 3.31 ERA–but his control issues where as bad as ever and he also hit the disabled list with the first arm injury of his career. Despite the strong season–and a 9th place finish in the Cy Young voting–Moore knew he needed a change. In this case, the change was in fact a return to previous habits.

This offseason, Moore went back to putting his work in at Pro Advantage Training in Arizona, where he had spent the 2009, 2010, and 2011 offseasons. It was at Pro Advantage that Moore honed the form that turned him into one of the top prospects in all of baseball. Moore returned there hoping to take his career to the next step. Moore told the Rays’ official site that he hoped to use his time there to avoid further injuries, improve his weight distribution in his delivery, and restore some of his fastball velocity. After the work he did, Moore felt better at the beginning of spring training, and Joe Maddon saw a difference.

"“He worked out of the windup and out of the stretch, threw some really good curveballs, had a lot of hop on the ball,” Maddon said. “I’d say for the first day I saw him pitch to live hitters his velocity looked pretty impressive. So I don’t know exactly what it was, but there was a lot of jump on the ball and some really good break.”"

It was impressive how good Moore was even at lower velocities. Between the late movement on his fastball and the continued improvement of his secondary pitches, Moore’s managed to improve his strikeout, homer, and hit rates in 2013 on his way to his big season. If Moore can get his fastball back to the mid-90’s, the strikeouts could be even more plentiful. But more important than Moore’s velocity is his ability to control where it is going. Moore’s walk rate was 4.5 batters per 9 innings in 2013, besting only Lucas Harrell among American League pitchers who threw 80 innings. All season we saw Moore’s release point come and go, and if Moore is going to become a pitcher the Rays can rely on, that has to change.

Matt Moore’s problems in 2013 stemmed from way back in spring training, where he had to focus more on reaching back and getting his velocity in order instead of getting a consistent arm angle. This year will be a different story as he enters the spring looking sharp from the onset and primed for continued improvement. There is reason for optimism that Moore’s velocity will return, and he will be able to make more progress in regards to his command. That is exactly the way Moore hoped to start his third season in the major leagues. It will be exciting to see what happens from here.