Matt Moore Rejoins the Rays
Matt Moore returned to the majors on Thursday. Here are some thoughts from his season debut.
- First, congratulations are due to Moore. The rehab process is difficult and Thursday’s start was never guaranteed. He made it back though, and no matter what happens, nobody can ever take that accomplishment from him.
- As is often the case these days, most of the focus will be on Moore’s velocity. Be careful about trusting Brooks Baseball’s 90.5 mph average on his fastball, however, because he threw a number of cutters that are classified for the time being as fastballs, thereby skewering his average. Granted Moore still topped out around 94 mph—or about where he used to sit—so his velocity isn’t as good as it used to be; of course it isn’t as bad as initially thought, either.
- The good news is those who watched Moore’s start without religiously checking his velocity saw signs for encouragement. Chief among them: Moore’s command and control. Rarely a strength in the past—he didn’t walk more than four batters per nine in each of his two full seasons by accident—Moore hit all his fastball targets in the first inning, and went on to locate the ball better than anticipated, given command is supposed to be the last component that comes back following Tommy John surgery. Moore’s geography wavered as the start progress, but he still finished with 74 percent of his fastballs (cutter included) registering as strikes; in his two starts last season, he threw about 60 percent strikes with his fastballs, in 2013 he sat a few ticks higher.
- Another plus about Moore’s fastball on Thursday: the pitch remains lively. Despite the reduced velocity, Moore’s fastball jumped over a number of bats, and dodged barrels throughout the game. The lost mileage ruins its chance at being known as the best pitch in baseball, but that doesn’t mean Moore is now reduced to Mark Buehrle status; he can still pitch off his fastball.
- Moore showed a better feel for his breaking ball than his changeup, with the latter’s poor placement costing him late versus Francisco Lindor. He threw his breaker for strikes and induced a few chases out of the zone. Mostly he used it to keep batters off the fastball.
- Moore appeared uncomfortably working from the stretch. It could be a coincidence, but it seems like the quality of his location is tied to his glove-tap timing mechanism. When he throws from the slide step, he doesn’t have the time to tap, lest basestealers run all day and night. Perhaps as a result, he spiked the ball a few times with runners on base.
- There’s going to be a rush to judge Moore and his chances at contributing; many will be disappointed because he didn’t look like the kid who dominated in the 2011 ALDS. While understandable—that Moore had the chance to become the best pitcher in baseball and franchise history—it’s time to update the expectations at hand, in part by becoming patient. Moore showed some pros and cons on Thursday; let’s give him a few more turns through the rotation before coming to some grand conclusion.