<
>
Insider

Will rookie Matt Moore turn it around?

7/2/2012

Chicago White Sox left-hander Chris Sale -- that's All-Star left-hander now -- is having a monster season in his first year as a full-time starter. He's top-five statistically, according to the ESPN Player Rater, and that's pretty much what I expected ... from Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Matt Moore. That's right, Moore has the stuff to dominate as well, but entering Monday's AL East matchup with the New York Yankees, he's barely in the top 150 among pitchers on our Rater.

Moore's ERA and WHIP are inflated, and among the pitchers that have apparently helped fantasy owners more are Minnesota Twins relievers Alex Burnett and Jared Burton, Houston Astros' Lucas Harrell and Wilton Lopez and Toronto Blue Jays "youngster" Darren Oliver, who was pitching in the South Atlantic League for the Gastonia Rangers when Moore was born. That's ridiculous. This all saddens me, since Moore was my AL Rookie of the Year pick (it will be Mike Trout, quite clearly), and owners made him the 75th choice in ESPN average live drafts. He should be awesome.

Well, I'm buying low on Moore, and it's not because I'm stubborn. I'm more than willing to admit I'm wrong about a player (such as Moore's teammate Fernando Rodney, for example), but I cannot give up on the hard-throwing Moore. I don't think this is a case in which playoff performance -- Moore started Game 1 of the playoffs and ultimately permitted only one run in 10 innings against the Texas Rangers -- overrated a player, either. I still really like the 23-year-old. We're halfway through the season, and as I look further into Moore's lesser numbers, I see someone that at least made strides in June; Moore's ERA in those five starts was 3.16, and his WHIP was 1.27. His strikeout rate was terrific, as it was in May. The walks and home runs allowed are a bit inflated as well, but there's another factor at work here: Left-handed hitters are teeing off on Moore.

In fact, the southpaw boasts odd splits in that he's having few issues with right-handed hitters (.230 batting average allowed, .695 OPS), but lefties are hitting .294 off him with a .900 OPS. No AL lefty has more strikeouts against right-handed batters than Moore's 78 in 71 innings, but when compared to other lefties facing lefties, Moore's numbers are brutal. He sports a 1.82 WHIP and 4.76 ERA with 11 walks versus 12 strikeouts. Fellow struggling lefties Ricky Romero, Mike Minor and John Danks have had similar issues against same-sided hitters. In Romero's case, he has always been a reverse-splits guy in that his off-speed stuff works better against right-handers. Now that he's walking more hitters and can't locate his fastball, everyone is having fun hitting against Romero (though I'd stick with him in fantasy, too).

Like Romero, Moore's changeup is a critical pitch to retire right-handed hitters, and it's earning him many strikeouts. But against lefty hitters, he's relying on his fastball, and pretty much all hitters can hit a fastball. Moore's breaking ball just isn't a weapon against lefties. Last week, Kansas City Royals lefty-hitting third baseman Mike Moustakas homered on a Moore first-pitch fastball in the first inning. But overall, of the 10 hits Moore permitted in his 7 1/3 innings, lefties accounted for only two of them. That's progress, I suppose. And really, one must assume the Rays, in their infinite wisdom (how else to explain their All-Star closer's performance?), are aware of Moore's woes and working on it.

Moore has not faced the Yankees this season, but one thing fantasy owners should know is that lefty hitters such as Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano really aren't poor plays against him. I'd never sit those guys against any pitchers, but perhaps in a daily league, you would sit slightly lesser lefties, such as Alex Gordon or Shin-Soo Choo. Well, I wouldn't! Not against Toronto's Romero, either! And really, if Yankees manager Joe Girardi looked into it further, he'd use streaking Dewayne Wise or even Raul Ibanez (each a lefty hitter) on Monday instead of Andruw Jones or Jayson Nix in left field, and those lefties would be reasonable sleeper choices. I suspect, however, that Nix will start.

It's July now, and Moore's owners must feel burned on a top prospect that we at ESPN Fantasy projected to have terrific numbers, but there's immense potential here, Chris Sale potential. That could be Moore, and soon. He needs to adjust against lefties and be more consistent, find better command and control the home run ball, but one of the best ways for a fantasy owner to change his fortunes on a struggling pitching staff is to invest not in guys already in the top 10, such as Sale, but in struggling pitchers about to turn things around. Moore is one of those options.