Matt Moore didn’t post jaw-dropping numbers in 2016, but the year should be viewed as a success. He had a rocky 2015 season coming back from Tommy John surgery, and he set a new career high with 198.1 innings split between the Rays (130.0 innings) and Giants (68.1 innings) in 2016. Staying healthy enough to knock on the door of 200 innings is a success in its own right. The surface stats and ERA estimators weren’t great, and he finished 60th among starting pitchers, but I’ll once again be firing up the hype machine for the once highly-touted prospect.
There are a variety of reasons why I’ll once again be pursuing Moore in fantasy leagues in 2017. For starters, he’s made sizable gains with his control. Walks have long been the bugaboo of the talented southpaw. The lefty made his debut in 2011, and from 2011 through 2014, he walked a whopping 11.1% of the batters he faced. This year, he walked 8.6% of the batters he faced. The league average walk rate in 2016 was 7.7%, so his control remained below average, but it wasn’t dreadful and was a major improvement for him. His walk rate was just 7.3% with the Rays and ballooned to 11.1% in a dozen starts for the Giants. Back to the old Moore, right? Well, his 45.8% Zone% with the Giants was actually identical to his career mark, so maybe. However, he did the best job of his career of getting ahead of hitters tallying a 61.9% F-Strike%. Both his Zone% and F-Strike% with the Giants bested the league average marks of 44.6% and 60.3%, respectively, in 2016. The plate discipline numbers simply don’t line up with his gaudy walk rate, and Steamer is projecting him to make a small improvement to his 8.6% walk rate from 2016 to 8.5% next year. That’s a reasonable projection, but there might be upside for more (think his walk rate with the Rays to start this year). Outside of the walk rate swelling after changing leagues, the other changes were positive for Moore.
The 27-year-old’s strikeout rate jumped from 19.9% to 23.9% with a corresponding uptick in SwStr% from 9.9% to 11.2% (10.1% league average in 2016). His groundball rate rose more than 5% from 36.4% to 41.9%, and he cut down on hard hit balls allowed (32.4% Hard% with the Rays and 27.3% with the Giants). Moore’s stuff is easy to fall in love with starting with his fastball. His fastball’s average velocity of 92.8 mph was up from 92.0 mph in 2015, and it was almost a half tick up from his last mostly healthy season before going under the knife. Among starters who threw a minimum of 100 innings this year, Moore’s fastball velocity checked in 46th, and it was ninth highest among southpaws using the same minimum inning threshold. It’s an above average velo heater. He backs the pitch with a curve that sits in the low 80s, a change that sits in the low-to-mid 80s, and a cutter that sits in the low 90s.
The cutter is an intriguing pitch even if it’s the worst of the bunch. Colleague Jeff Zimmerman wrote about evaluating pitchers a few weeks ago and I’d advise reading that piece. Within it, he links to a pitch-type metrics table going back to 2010. Moving back to the cutter, the pitch earned a 41 grade on the 20-to-80 scale in the aforementioned pitch-type metrics table , thus, a below average grade. So why am I intrigued by the pitch? It’s relatively new to his arsenal. Moore first started throwing the pitch in 2014 before undergoing Tommy John surgery, He threw it in 2015, and then he failed to throw even one with the Rays this year, according to our PITCHf/x data. After joining the Giants, he ramped up his cutter usage and threw it 12.3% of the time. Brooks Baseball credits Moore with throwing two cutters with the Rays this year and 75 in his entire time with Tampa Bay dating back to its addition to his repertoire in 2014. He threw 50 cutters in his first month with the Giants and 153 overall. Maybe the pitch improves, but even if it doesn’t, the added wrinkle could help explain his SwStr% surge in the Senior Circuit. Last year with the Rays, Moore’s change-up whiff percentage was 13.84% and his curve’s was 12.12%, per Brooks Baseball. With the Giants, his change’s whiff percentage ticked up to 18.54% and his curve’s exploded to 20.31%. Moore’s cutter had the worst whiff percentage at 8.5% with San Francisco, and his fourseam fastball’s whiff percentage was a smidge under 9% (8.88%, to be exact). Overall, he had a four-pitch mix of offerings with whiff rates of 8.5% or better. He’s a legitimate strikeout asset.
Beyond the strikeouts, there might be a lot more to like about Moore next year. This will be Moore’s first full season in the National League. In 2016, American League hitters tallied a 20.7% strikeout rate and 99 wRC+ and National League hitters tallied a higher strikeout rate at 21.5% and a lower wRC+ of 94. The league change should benefit him. He’ll also be calling a supremely pitcher-friendly park home, too. According to the three-year rolling averages used at StatCorner, AT&T Park suppresses runs to left-handed batters by seven percent and to right-handed batters by three percent. AT&T Park is also incredibly difficult to hit dingers in depressing taters to lefties by 41% and to righties by 23%.
The pitch repertoires aren’t identical, but if you’re searching for what a breakout for Moore could look like, it doesn’t take too much squinting to see fellow hard-throwing lefty Danny Duffy’s 2016. Like Moore, Duffy struggled with control prior to his breakout this year and sported swinging strike rates that belied his high-octane stuff. Moore’s already turned his stuff into more empty swings, can he make control gains like Duffy? That remains to be seen. Duffy ended 2016 literally just outside the top-25 starting pitchers checking in as the 26th most valuable starter. It would be foolish to draft Moore expecting him to be a fringe SP2, but the upside is there. Brad Johnson ranked him 87th in the “Way Too Early Rankings” series. I’m far more bullish on Moore, but his ranking illustrates that not everyone is sold on Moore breaking out in 2017, and investing in his potential is highly unlikely to cost an arm and a leg. I’ll be targeting him around SP50 as that would require just a modest improvement from 2016 to 2017 for him to hit value and leaves ample wiggle room for profit.
You can follow Josh on Twitter @bchad50.