As many expected, Tampa Bay Rays fireballer Matt Moore has gotten his act together after a slow start to his 2012 rookie season. After posting an ERA of roughly 4.80 in his first 10 starts of the year, Moore has turned things around in the past month. In his last five starts, he's posted a 3-1 record with a 2.64 ERA.
It appears as if the best is still ahead of Moore, who has a history of starting slowly throughout his professional career. Moore's track record of early-season struggles is the main reason why nobody should be at all surprised by his gradual improvement over the past few weeks.
Despite the success he's had during his years spent in the minors, numbers clearly show that Moore has always had trouble in the first quarter of the season. The table below shows Moore's stats of the first month or so for every year he's played full-season ball:
And here were the results of all three of those seasons:
(Data courtesy of DRaysBay.com)
As you can see, Moore's command has been by far the biggest thing hurting him early on in the season. While the the strikeout rates seems to stay high the entire season, the walk rates are usually much higher in the beginning of the season than the rest of the year.
This year has been no exception. Getting batters to swing and miss has not been a problem for Moore at all, as his whiff percentage and velocities have not been a real issue. While his strikeout stuff has not been lacking, his ability to throw strikes has.
His overall performance has and always will coincide with his walk rates, as the simple fact remains year after year for the young lefty: The more strikes he throws, the better.
As I said before, strike throwing is the key to his success, and Moore's numbers are probably not going to be too good until he gets his K% up to around 30 percent (lower than they've ever been in his pro career) and his BB% down to about 10 percent or lower (currently at 11 percent). It's a goal that Moore has proven he's capable of achieving, and he'll likely excel in this league once he gets there.
While his strike-throwing ratios are something that have changed during his recent improvement, there's another change that's definitely worth noticing. Suprisingly, Moore's pitch selection has seen a pretty significant difference between his bad starts and his better (and more recent) starts.
In his first six starts of the season, which were much worse than his last seven, Moore was throwing more fastballs and less off-speed stuff. His fastball percentage dropped to roughly 68 percent after throwing a bit over 72 percent heat (including every type of fastball) in his first six starts. Mixing in a heavier dose of off-speed pitches—especially changeups (which has had the largest increase in selection)—has seemingly helped Moore pitch better.
It makes sense that Moore has thrown a higher percentage of changeups lately, which has been a "secret weapon" for him this year. With such an outstanding fastball, Moore's changeup is devastating to almost every right-handed batter (0 percent whiff rate vs LHP) he faces.
It's become his go-to pitch after the heater, and theres's a good reason why as Moore has thrown it with a a whiff rate at about 18 percent. The changeup is by far his best secondary pitch, and will carry him in the coming years as he continues to develop into a big league star.
In conclusion, Moore will be very effective in the Rays' rotation this year if he can keep improving his command and continue his success against right-handed hitters with the changeup. The key for him is to locate his pitches well and avoid a large amount of walks, but how he utilizes his off-speed pitches will likely be the X-factor.
The pitch F/X data used in this article was from TexasLeaguers.com.