Post-Hype Sleeper: Can Matt Moore Follow The Same Path As David Price?

by Dave De Wit

Matt Moore, a sleeper? OK, maybe he’s more of a napper, but between the magnificent debut of Mike Trout, the Stephen Strasburg saga and Moore’s Cy Young winning teammate, the Rays’ rookie didn’t get a lot of attention. Meanwhile, his pre-draft ranking has dropped this year compared to his over-hyped ranking a year ago.

Before 2012, ESPN ranked him the 19th best starting pitcher in fantasy, this year he’s ranked 22nd. His average draft position (ADP) entering last year was 76 at ESPN and looking at early mock draft data, his pre-2013 ADP looks to be in the 90-100 range. He’s not your typical sleeper, but given his upside and the growth he showed over his first season there’s reason to think that great things are coming.

Here are his 2012 numbers:

11 Wins
177.1 Innings
3.81 ERA
1.35 WHIP
175 Strikeouts (8.88 K/9)
81 Walks (4.11 BB/9)
.293 BABIP
72.9% Strand Rate

Moore was not able to put up the amazing rookie season that many expected, thanks mostly to his walk rate. A sub-4.00 ERA is solid, especially when coupled with the ability to strike out almost a batter an inning. What doesn’t show up in these stats is how inconsistent the 23-year old hurler was. Depending on the day, and sometimes even the inning, he either looked much better or worse than his final numbers.

Moore’s up and down year definitely started with a down. Through his first nine starts his ERA bloated to 5.07. Then, as the weather heated up, so did the young southpaw. In 16 starts during June, July and August he showed what he’s capable of by posting a 2.90 ERA. Unfortunately, he finished the season as bad as he started it with a terrible September. This kind of inconsistency isn’t unusual for young pitchers; in fact, you don’t have to look very far for another example. You just have to look in the same dugout.

In David Price’s first full major league season, he threw 128 innings with a 4.42 ERA and an elevated walk rate compared to his minor league numbers. In his first 11 starts he accumulated a 5.60 ERA and finished out the season with a 3.58 ERA in his final 12 starts. The next season, Price lowered his walk rate and managed to post a 2.72 ERA in 208 innings. This isn’t to say that Moore will follow the exact same path, but given that both pitchers went through the same development process and have the same impressive defense playing behind them, it would make sense that their major league development would be similar.

Unfortunately, Moore has more work to do with his walk rate than his teammate did. Last year he walked more than four batters per nine innings, which certainly didn’t do any favors for his WHIP or his ERA. The key was what he did with his first pitch. Moore managed to throw a first-pitch strike 60% of the time, about league average, but that 40% of first-pitch balls led to a lot of walks. In 1-0 counts, Moore had an 8.2 BB/9 as opposed to a mere 2.11 BB/9 in 0-1 counts. Such a high number of free passes in hitter-friendly counts is the sort of thing that tends to improve as pitchers gain experience, likely due to young pitchers trying to over-pitch when falling behind.

Meanwhile, Moore’s elite 8.88 strikeouts per nine innings from last year (12th best among qualified starters) actually has room to grow. He averaged over 12.7 K/9 throughout his minor league career and flashed an outstanding 11.8% swinging strike percentage in the majors (6th best in the MLB) during his debut season. The quick and dirty and surprisingly accurate way to determine expected K/9 from swinging strike percentage is to subtract 1.5 from the SwgStr% which would put Moore at an expected 10.3 K/9. Another year of missing bats like that, and he’ll add to his already exceptional strikeout rate.

The skills are there. Few pitchers in the game can strike people out the way Matt Moore can. The only thing keeping him from being a legitimate fantasy ace is his control. If he can improve his walk rate, even slightly, he’ll be an absolute fantasy weapon who can be had much later in drafts than most pitchers of his skill.

What are your thoughts of Moore?  Do you think he will emerge in 2013?  Why or why not?


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One comment

  1. duder says:

    This guy drove me nuts watching his starts last year. Pitches like crap with men on base.

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