Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Matt Moore entered Tuesday night’s game against the scary Detroit Tigers lineup with a pristine 8-0 record and 2.18 ERA, but there was clearly cause for concern with his elevated walk rate, plus the fact won-loss record empirically tells us little. It’s always nice to have 20/20 hindsight, and I would have left Moore active for this outing, but few could have seen the fall from grace that Moore dumped on fantasy owners Tuesday: Seven hits, six walks and six runs while retiring only six hitters. According to Elias, only one other pitcher in the past 10 seasons had allowed 13 men to reach base safely by hit, walk or hit by pitch while recording six outs or fewer. Let’s hope Moore has more success moving ahead than former big leaguer Brian Bannister, the prior culprit.
Tampa Bay Rays
What’s interesting is just how quickly value can deviate with players. On the surface, Moore was an obvious sell-high option before the ugly outing because, let’s face it, any 8-0 pitcher is. It’s not any different with undefeated Arizona Diamondbacks lefty Patrick Corbin, because there’s always an owner in your league who buys in to the perfection and over-the-top praise. However, the underlying numbers were really telling on Moore. Hey, I still like him and think he can be effective. The walks certainly were and perhaps will continue to create issues, but the stuff is top-notch. After an outing like this, one might be able to acquire Moore a bit on the cheap, which I’m all for. It’s all about context, and generally is.
I had been meaning to analyze Moore’s season a bit more in depth anyway, and what better time than after he needed 86 pitches to get six outs! Pitchers can be effective with occasional lapses in control; only two pitchers have issued more free passes than Moore, and I don’t think people are too interested in owning Lucas Harrell (despite his outing Tuesday) or Jason Marquis. Moore is a strikeout pitcher, though he has been doing so with considerably less fastball velocity. That’s not terribly unusual for a young hurler trying to figure things out and make adjustments, but still, talk about a red flag. Today, Moore’s ERA is significantly higher at 2.95. His xFIP (removing defense) is 4.61, his SIERA (measuring skills) is 4.54, his BABIP against (luck?) is a low .228, and his fastball velocity is down from 95.7 mph in 2011 to 94.4 mph a year ago to 92.5 mph. This is all scary stuff. Moore was recently a ballyhooed prospect, but the results just don’t match the hype, yet, though this isn’t close to Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer territory, either. Moore is producing major value.
So why do I still like him knowing that there’s still likely regression coming unless he adjusts? Well, even as a mild disappointment last season, Moore fanned 175 hitters in 177 1/3 innings with a 3.81 ERA. I didn’t rank him among my top 20 starters this season, but he was close. I’m hoping/assuming the Rays have been working with Moore to throw more strikes, not relying on his 8-0 record to tell the ultimate story, and the Rays seem to know what they’re doing.
I’ve got Moore pegged for an ERA in the 3.25-3.50 range, so perhaps more regression is pending. What we don’t know is if he’ll make adjustments. Other lefties walk people too, you know. Gio Gonzalez of the Washington Nationals and C.J. Wilson of the Los Angeles Angels are examples. Like Gonzalez, Moore doesn’t allow a ton of hits, so an 80-walk season shouldn’t result in a WHIP on the wrong side of 1.30, as with Wilson. Plus, let’s remember Moore faced Detroit in its place, and there was a major change in his routine after a rain-shortened, one-inning start only three days earlier. I expect a nice bounce-back performance against the Baltimore Orioles -- another strong offense that Moore has beaten twice already this season -- this weekend.
Even before this outing I had doubts about Moore continuing to thrive, but I’m not giving up on him because the team with the top OPS against lefties in the game shattered the dream. Moore is a good pitcher. He can win 15 games with a 3.25 ERA and 175 strikeouts. Sometimes it’s just about context.