Many popular opinions of pitching prospects are formed from general scouting reports. While these reports are invaluable resources, they can’t always be trusted. Hundreds of minor league hurlers are credited with “mid-90′s velocity,” but very few MLB starters actually have that grade of heat, for example. It’s incredibly frustrating to hear about a pitcher with “a mid-90′s heater and plus curve,” only to have him come up to the big leagues and show a fastball that averages 90.5 mph and a slider.
When a pitcher come up to the majors, we can finally get a foolproof reading on what exactly his arsenal is comprised of, thanks to the great Pitch F/X system. In this series, I analyze just that–the “stuff” of recently-promoted MLB pitchers. Now that they’ve achieved their big league dreams and thus factor directly into the MLB picture, it’s high time that we know exactly what these guys are providing.
This time, I’m taking a look at Rays starter Matt Moore.
With the Rays officially eliminated from the postseason earlier this week, it’s probably a good time to look at their top pitching prospect, and, in fact, the top pitching prospect in baseball.
Matt Moore was nothing short of dominant in 2011, whether that came in Double-A, Triple-A, the big leagues, or even the grand stage of the playoffs. Like Stephen Strasburg the year before, Moore was the rare pitching prospect who stepped into the big leagues and immediately looked like an ace at age 22.
Of course, with the hype train running full speed ahead on Moore, now is an ideal time to distance myth from reality.
I’ll start with Moore’s fastball. Reports on his velocity are all over the place in popular sports media, as some say he “sits at 94,” while others say he “sits at 96,” and others talk about how his heater approaches triple digits.
In reality, as a starting pitcher, Moore’s fastest pitch went about 98 mph, and he averaged 94.8. As many have correctly noted, what makes him truly special is that he throws that hard with effortless, sound, repeatable mechanics.
What makes the pitch truly remarkable, however, is its life. Moore’s heater doesn’t sink, but it has all sorts of horizontal action up in the zone, with an astonishing 10-11 inches of horizontal run. That makes it extremely effective, and Moore drew empty swings on 9.3% of fastballs in his two starts, a very promising number. He also pounded the zone with the pitch, ultimately resulting in 69.8% of the fastballs being called strikes in those two starts. Overall, here are his fastball locations:
This is certainly not pinpoint accuracy, but Moore’s heater is so good that it’s less important for him to hit the corners than to simply throw strikes and avoid walks (and thus, unnecessary baserunners). He does seem to like to pound righties inside, which is tough on them because Moore can start the fastball off the inside corner and tail it back over. He then can work up and away for strikeouts.
Moore also throws a slurvy breaking ball at 80-85 mph and a changeup with tremendous fade at 84-87.
The lefthander doesn’t throw the breaking ball for strikes, as he only was able to get strikes on 25 of the 48 he threw. However, the pitch drew 20 swings, and ten of those swings caught nothing but air. Here’s a look at his slider locations, where you can clearly see that he buries it in the dirt a fair amount:
So, yeah. Lots of chase pitches. The interesting thing here, though, is that Moore, again, pounds righthanders inside with the breaking pitch; he’s not taking a defensive approach and trying to get a bunch of backdoor called strikes. Of course, that’s the luxury of being blessed with this exceptionally rare grade of stuff–in-zone location caveats apply less to Moore (no pun intended) than others.
Moore’s changeup has drawn an absurd 10 whiffs in 32 pitches, which tells you all you need to know about its prognosis. His slurve and changeup are so effective that I’d like to see him use them a little bit more–he’s using his fastball upward of 70% of the time, even as a starter–but at age 22, he has years to figure out how to optimize his arsenal. With stuff this good, it really won’t matter much, as long as he stays healthy, which he should.
So there’s the reality of this much-touted young pitcher–he actually throws his fastball at 92-98 and has two devastating secondary pitches, and it all works exactly as well as it should. Rays fans should be filled with excitement at the idea of getting to see this kid pitch in a Tampa Bay uniform for the next six years.
For more on the Rays, check out Rays Colored Glasses.