The Passing of the Dominating Lefty Torch

In a recent article Jeff Passan paused from bashing the Rays fanbase and attendance long enough to share one scout’s opinion with his readership:

One scout who saw Matt Moore toward the end of the season suggested, “Is going to be every bit as good as Price – soon.”

That’s a pretty bold statement, but the limb upon which this scout sits may not be as thin as thought. Moore’s history is hardly ancient between scouting reports throwing potential 70 (or plus-plus) grades on his fastball, curve, and change while backing that up with real results in the minors while still managing to fix the few flaws involving harnessing that tremendous stuff all the way up the ladder. In 2012 Rays fans saw this kid come up and may have seemed under-whelmed. Or maybe just whelmed, but certainly not over-whelmed, but I digress. Moore showed that the incredible stuff plays anywhere in the universe, but their were some hurdles that he needed to overcome. This is because pitching, is like, totally really hard, like, y’know? MLB hitters are really freaking good and the grind of pitching on the big stage every fifth day facing these hitters and dealing with the glitz and glamour of life on the road (since nobody in town goes to games or cares about the team) can be especially trying. Well, if Moore is going to be the next Price (AND HOW?  AND SOON?) perhaps it makes some sense to compare what we’ve already seen to what Price showed.

David Price was born a poor bl, wait that’s not it. David Price came up towards the end of 2008 with another highly acclaimed, fire-balling Southpaw already ensconced as ace of the Rays. Scott Kazmir was the reason that I became a die-hard Rays fan. Prior to his acquisition I mostly had a passing interest in the team even though I had moved to Florida in the summer of 2001. That all changed when the team finally had a player you could really dream upon. Kazmir brought the heat, much like the two aforementioned lefties, but he also had a slider that could only be described as devastating. He would back foot that thing to righties and all they could do was swing through it. Same-handers didn’t fare a chance with the pitch starting at their back and slicing into the zone like a katana through a melon. It should not be hard to understand, at this point, why I’ve chosen the pseudonym that I prefer to write under on these here webs. Scott Kazmir was a God and he was all ours.

Well, funny thing, Kazmir really only had those two really good pitches and his (lack of) work ethic left him as more flash in the pan than long-time face of the franchise. It’s really too bad, but for almost a full season over late 2008 and most of 2009 the Rays starting rotation contained both the future in Price and the now in Kazmir. Kaz went on to be traded, while it’s not hard to see that outcome in Price’s future, as well, but for this past 2012 and the upcoming 2013 season the Rays will once again find themselves with both the future and the present of left-handed dominance in their rotation at the same time.

With the image of the torch being passed from Kazmir to Price to Moore we can take a look at how each pitcher’s first 32 starts went as a Tampa Bay (Devil) Ray. As in past looks I’ll be using the Fangraphs gamelog data and we’ll be looking at the first 32 starts of each pitcher’s career because that’s how many starts Moore has and it’s just shy of all the starts you can make. Duh, arbitrary endpoints police. The first thing we can look at is the raw data so we can see what sort of sample size we’re looking at and how each guy compares to one another:

For the most part, green is good, red is bad, yellow is in the middle throughout the rest of this. For those that care about record you’ll see that David Price started his career going 16-8, while Moore was barely above water at 12-11, and Kazmir couldn’t carry some woeful Devil Rays teams going 9-11, never forget. Price led the way in inning pitched, but everybody is pretty close and Moore and Kaz actually faced the same numbers of batters. Everybody is pretty close in dingers given up and walks aren’t that far apart. The wild pitches are rather telling about the kind of breaking stuff that Moore and Kazmir possess, but we shouldn’t read much into that, or really any of this because we’re not adjusting for batters faced. Still, it’s very encouraging to see Moore blowing away Price when it came to striking out the competition and he also beat out Kid K by quite a bit. Let’s adjust these into rates to get a better idea of how these guys compare:

Note that niBB simply means that I’m talking about non-intentional walks plus hit by pitches. Most folks think of David Price and immediately conjure images of frustrated batters walking back to the dugout, but over his first roughly season of starts Price was “only” fanning a little over seven batters per nine innings. That’s still pretty good, so when you see Kazmir at just shy of a batter an inning and Moore actually striking out over a batter an inning it makes sense to start getting a bit jubilant. Add in that Moore was unintentionally walking and hitting, intentional or not, slightly more batters than Price and much fewer than Kazmir one should feel that it’s normal to start getting a bit of a fan’s stiffy. Put these two together and Moore’s K/BB ratio is best of the group at 2.2. Another area where Moore and Price are close is on giving up homers per nine. Kazmir blows both away, but getting hit was never really his problem back in those days as is reaffirmed when looking at the K and niBB rates as a percentage of all batters faced. We again see Moore blow away some really good competition when it came to sitting batters down, but he’s also not far behind Price when it came to the free pass, and look at all the progress Price has made in that department over his career:

Keep in mind that Price didn’t actually do much pitching in 2008 so focus should mostly be on 2009 and forward. Lick your lips as you fantasize about Matty Moore similarly refining his walk rate whether it’s likely to happen or not. Sorry I lost myself for a sec, getting back on track we can see that Price allowed the lowest average against with Moore in the middle and the same story can be told of WHIP and BABIP. All three of those must lend some credit to the seven guys behind the pitcher so let’s not go overboard with the praise here, but we also see that Moore stranded more runners than the other two guys which might be something that regresses in the future and could lead to ERA-inflation. Speaking of ERA let’s (finally) get to the more popular run estimators that are out there:

Here’s where we really start to see Price separate himself from the field. Moore slightly edges Price in Runs Allowed per Nine innings (RA9), but other than that it’s all Velociraptor Jesus. Moore is close to league average in ERA- and FIP-, but his xFIP- seems to imply that he out-pitched his peripherals a tad mostly due to giving up fewer than expected home runs. We can see that FIP and tERA are mostly in accord though SIERA seems to side with xFIP that Moore was a bit more lucky than we’re likely to give him credit for. Still, his marks across the board are pretty close to David Price, the reigning Cy Young winner and Lord of All The Realm, currently, and we start to see why scouts don’t just see Matt Moore as pretty good, but that he can get to that next level that Price currently sits upon. Let’s take a quick look at balls in play:

As stated prior and affirmed here, Kazmir’s problem was never balls in play. He got a bunch of ground balls, fewer liners than these other two and more than half of his fly balls stayed on the infield. Moore and Price actually profile pretty similarly when examining balls in play, but Price showed a significantly better ability to keep the ball in the yard upon taking flight over this first stretch of starts. Something that Kazmir really struggled with, comparatively. Let’s move on to the pitches that these guys threw over this early stretch of their careers:

Price and Moore threw a similar rate of strikes, but we see that Price was more fastball-dependent early in his career. Incredibly, Matt Moore actually had a faster fastball over this stretch than Price and Kazmir. It could be something as simple as Moore only throwing four-seamers while the other two would trade some velocity for run on occasion, or it could be that Moore’s velocity held up over the course of the year, let’s take a look:

Here we see the sizable gap between Moore and his competition. Moore does show some fatigue at the end of the year, but held up much better over the middle than the other two  with Moore mostly sitting between 94 and 95 for most of the season. Here’s how Price has progressed since his roughly first season:

Note that his second full season he showed steady pickup over the year and has mostly sat around 95 and above since then. Now Price is a physical specimen that works harder than just about anyone to stay that way, but is it possible that Moore could add another tick or two to his already extremely good fastball?

Moore doesn’t throw the slider, unlike Price (early in his career) and Kazmir, but he does a great job of mixing in the change (CH) and the curve (CU), not only more for each pitch compared to his peers, but also manages to use each pitch pretty evenly. This, again, goes to show that both the breaking ball and the offspeed pitch are incredible weapons that he can throw to all types of batters. This is backed up when you look at the values of his pitches (wFB, wCB, etc…) and the more useful value per 100 pitches (wFB/C, wCH/C, etc…) which I will focus on here. Price’s fastball graded out much better per 100 pitches by run values than Moore’s above average heater and Kazmir’s actually quite a bit below average offering. Meanwhile, Moore shows a real feel for the breaking ball with his well above average 0.45 run values (0=league average) while Price struggled mightily to reign in either of his breaking pitches. The change is where we see Moore really differentiate himself again with Price on the positive side of the ledger, but no match for Moore’s ability to change speeds, and we don’t even want to go into Kazmir who mostly teased over the years with his change, but never really put it together. Take notes Chris Archer, but that’s for another day. Lastly, I want to look at the plate discipline numbers for each of these guys:

We see that Moore got, um, more batters to expand their zone (O-swing or out of zone swing percentage) while also allowing the lowest contact rate within the zone. These are my two big indicators of how well a pitcher is able to crush hitters because if batters aren’t able to square up pitches in the zone and they’re chasing out of it they’re not going to have a good day. Really interesting is that Moore had the lowest percent of pitches in the zone of these guys, but he had the highest rate of throwing first-pitch strikes. This shows that he likes to get ahead of a hitter and then make that batter expand his zone throughout the at bat. The downside is when a batter refuses to expand or, even worse, when a batter jumps all over that first-pitch fastball like this Mike Moustakas jackjob. And check on the gams on that Swinging Strike rate (SwStr%) (insert wolfwhistle.wav). My only concern is the obviously impending law suit over this act of numerogyny.

Lastly, I want to take a look at a couple of my own inventions. As previously mentioned (between the ball in play and discipline charts) I like to combine the discipline terms to create my own statistic Good Approach Good Result (GAGR) and Bad Approach Bad Result (BABR).  Moore had batters displaying a bad GAGR more than his peers here while also having them display a bad approach about evenly between Price and Kazmir.

It makes some sense to say that Matt Moore could be the next David Price despite differences like repertoire, body build, and college experience. Of course, to take that leap forward Moore is really going to have to put in the work to get his body, arm, and shoulder in even better shape so that he can be a durable and dependable work horse to go with the other-worldly stuff that he possesses. Moore is also going to have to continue to refine his walk rate. There isn’t much room for improvement in his strikeout rates, but he can help his cause by inducing more democratic ground balls in front of a very good defensive infield. Moore might not turn into the next David Price, but there’s a chance, and that’s more than you can say about 90+% of pitchers in the rank and file.

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About Jason Hanselman

Rays fan.
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3 Responses to The Passing of the Dominating Lefty Torch

  1. Vintage Sandy. My only gripe:

    “In 2013 Rays fans saw this kid come up and may have seemed under-whelmed.”

    You mean 2012, right?

    • Jason Hanselman says:

      Absolutely, thanks for catching that and please always chime in if you find something like this. I generally proofread quick, publish, then read again and make corrections, but sometimes stuff does still slip by.

  2. I get that there was a bunch of hype coming with this kid, but if someone was actually underwhelmed by his rookie performance, man, I don’t know. I think some perspective is needed. It was a good year, and hopefully he builds on it like Price did with his not as good rookie season.

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