What’s Wrong With Tampa Bay Rays’ Matt Moore?
The 2013 season started off hot for Tampa Bay Rays left handed pitcher Matt Moore, who received eight winning decisions in his first nine starts to begin his year 8-0 with with a sparkling 2.29 ERA through that span. Moore started off the year with 14 consecutive scoreless innings until Baltimore Orioles’ center fielder Adam Jones took him deep in Moore’s third start of the year. In Moore’s tenth start of the year, he pitched well against the New York Yankees over six innings, allowing a single run and lowering his ERA to 2.21 in a no decision, followed by a scoreless, one inning, rain-shortened start against the Cleveland Indians that lowered his ERA to a dazzling 2.18.
Matt Moore sat at 8-0 for his 10th and 11th starts, and then the wheels came loose. In his start following the rain-shortened outing, Moore lasted a career-low non-rain shortened two innings when he gave up six runs to the Detroit Tigers on June 4th. The Tigers would go on to win that game 10-1 and hand Moore his first loss of the 2013 campaign. In that game, Moore was very wilding, walking six of the 19 batters he faced in the game while allowing seven hits in the short span.
During Moore’s next start, while he was able to make it through five innings, he gave up a career high 12 hits and nine runs, while matching a career high with eight earned runs allowed to the Orioles, who handed him his second loss in a row. Following this start, he took the mound against the Kansas City Royals, who scored five runs off of him in five and a third innings pitched while handing Moore his third consecutive loss.
Moore, who will turn 24 on Tuesday the 18th, seems to have hit a nasty speed bump. While Moore has never really been a “durable” starter in the Major Leagues, averaging right around 5.2 innings pitched over 46 career starts, the increase in walks and drop in strikeouts has to be a concern for the Rays. Moore has also been unable, for the most part, to keep his pitch counts low, usually close to or over 90 pitches through five innings in his career.
Over these last three starts, Moore has allowed 19 earned runs while walking 11 and giving up 26 hits [only one has left the yard], and he has hit two batters while only striking out 11 of the 75 batters he has faced, and due to these numbers, his ERA has skyrocketed from 2.18 to a rather pedestrian 4.12, all over 12.1 innings. Over this span, batters are teeing off, hitting .448 off of Moore, with a slugging percentage of just under .700 and an OPS over 1.200. Over Moore’s first 11 starts, including the rain-shortened appearance, Moore’s BAA [batting average against] was at .178, the slugging numbers against him were dismal at .324, and the OPS against sat under .600. Another stat here that has ballooned rapidly is the BABIP against him [batting average on balls in play] – in the first 11 starts, opponent’s BABIP was .206, while these last three starts have his BABIP at .500.
Other numbers over Moore’s last three starts are also very telling. The line drive rate on his pitches went from 18% to 33%, while the ground ball rate went down 9% from 0.64 to 0.55 and his pop-up rate has dropped from 11% to 6%. During the span of these three starts, batters appear to be much more aggressive against Moore, as the number of swinging strikes increased by 2% while strikes taken have dropped by 6%.
There are a number of possibilities as to why Matt Moore has struggled recently after such a hot start. Perhaps he attempted to warm up again after the rain delay in Cleveland and caused an injury. It could be the batters recent increase in aggressiveness against him. Maybe he’s tipping his pitches. Whatever it may be, if the Rays want a shot at the post-season, whether it be through winning the division (which is not out of reach for any team in the division at the moment as first and last place are separated by 8.5 games) or through one of the two wild card spots, their coaching staff along with Moore himself will have to sit down and figure out what’s wrong with Matt Moore and try to get him back to the form he had earlier in the year.