Matt Moore – Signs of Trouble Ahead?
Matt Moore had a very successful season for the Tampa Bay Rays posting a 17-4 record with a 3.29 ERA. His 17 wins rank 2nd in franchise history to David Price who won 19 games in 2010 and 20 games in 2012.
His .810 winning percentage set a franchise record for a starting pitcher previously held by David Price .800 (20-5, 2012) and since 2000 his .813 winning percentage was the 3rd highest season total by all left handed starting pitchers ( Cliff Lee (.880) who went 22-3 withe the Cleveland Indians in 2008 and Barry Zito (.821) who went 23-4 with the Oakland A’s in 2002).
Moore, like fellow starting pitchers David Price (strained tricep) and Alex Cobb (concussion), also spent time on the disabled list in 2013. He felt soreness in his elbow during his July 28th outing against the New York Yankees and on July 31st was placed on the disabled list where he’d remain for the next 31 games.
An MRI exam revealed no structural damage and after a rehabilitation start with the Durham Bulls he made his return to the Rays starting against the Los Angeles Angels on September 3rd. In his return he went 5.1 innings allowing 1 unearned run on 4 hits improving his record to 15-3 in a Rays 7-1 victory.
When looking at some key indicators it appears as if Moore may have been fortunate in 2013 and since the indicators are also useful for predicting future performance they can be viewed as red flags for Moore as he heads into the 2014 season.
Indicator #1: FIP
Fangraphs.com Glossary - Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average.
In 2013 his FIP was 3.95 which is quite a bit higher than his ERA of 3.29. Of all American League starting pitchers with 150 or more innings pitched only five pitchers had a greater ERA/FIP (E-F) than his -0.66. They were Ervin Santana (-0.65), Chris Tillman (-0.72), A.J. Griffin (-0.72), Jeremy Guthrie (-0.75), and Hisashi Iwakuma (-0.78).
For reference – his 2012 ERA was 3.81 and his FIP was 3.93 a E-F gap of -0.12.
For a quick an easy video explaining FIP check out Bradley Woodrum’s (@BradelyWoodrum):
Indicator #2: LOB%
Fangraphs.com Glossary – Left on Base Percentage (LOB%) measures the percentage of base runners that a pitcher strands on base over the course of a season.
Generally most pitchers LOB% will be around 72%. Lower than that and the pitcher will most likely have a lower ERA and below that the pitcher will most likely have a high ERA.
In 2012 his LOB% was 72.9% but in 2013 it improved to 78.6% which was the 6th highest of all American League starting pitchers with 150 or more innings pitched.
One caveat provided by Fangraphs that certainly fits many of the above leage leaders in LOB% is that “pitchers that record a high numbers of strikeouts can pitch their way out of jams more easily than pitchers that rely upon their team’s defense, so they are able to maintain LOB%’s higher than league average.”
With the exception of Bartolo Colon each pitcher mentioned above is in the top 20 in the American League in strikeout rate . Yu Darvish ranking 1st at 32.9%, Matt Moore 10th at 22.3%, Hisashi Iwakuma 11th at 21.4%, Chris Tillman 11th at 21.2% , and James Shields 16th at 20.7%.
Bradley Woodrum refers to LOB% as one of two “Luck Dragons”. A unique video look at LOB% here:
Woodrum also relates the “expected LOB%” to describe those that stray from the average of 72%.
Indicator #3: BABIP
Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) measures how many balls in play against a pitcher go for hits. The typical average on balls in play is around .300.
In 2012 hitters BABIP against Moore was .293 but in 2013 this number fell to .259.
One important variable that can affect BABIP is team defense and in 2013 the Rays set a franchise record for fewest errors committed which may have helped lower this number a little bit.
His .259 BABIP against ranked 3rd in the American League of all starting pitchers with 150 or more innings behind A.J. Griffin (.242), Hisashi Iwakuma (.252), and tied with Max Scherzer (.259).
BABIP is characterized by Bradley Woodrum as Luck Dragon #2:
Indicator #4: Declining Velocity
According to Fangraphs.com Moore’s four seam fastball average velocity dropped from 94.1-mph in 2012 to 92.3-mph in 2013.
The good news is that the warning flags can be somewhat explained away. For LOB% the fact that Moore is a strikeout pitcher lessens the concern, with BABIP the Rays outstanding defense may be a lead contributing factor, but the real concern is the declining fastball velocity. A further drop in velocity in 2014 may lead to less strikeouts, more baserunners, and less ability to strand runners on base.
The bright side is that even with a lower velocity Moore proved in 2013 that he can pitch in and out of jams by utilizing his full arsenal.
The most important part of the offseason for Moore will be to build his arm strength back up and rediscover the velocity that he showed through the minors and into 2012.