Is this a thing? Apparently this a thing. BaseballProspectus rolled out their Rays top 10 prospects today, and included was their “top 10 talents 25 and under” section, written by Jason Cole (the prospect list was written by Jason Parks, who notes in the comments he agrees with Cole’s rankings). The relevant section:
1. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP
2. Matt Moore, LHP
Despite their differing approaches, both Hellickson and Moore have the talent to become consistent no. 2 starters; Hellickson is much closer to that reality than Moore at present.
So. This seems to make the argument that Moore and Hellickson have different ways to get to identical ceilings, and Hellickson gets the nod because he’s closer. Ignoring the no-shit point that Hellickson’s entering his age-26 season and Moore is entering his age-24 season so of course Hellickson’s going to be closer to his ceiling, the basic premise here is flawed.
Look, Hellickson’s a good pitcher. 2.95 and 3.10 ERAs the past two seasons aren’t chopped liver, but come on. He pitches in the Trop in front of a very good defense so we can’t take ERA as a true representation. He struck out 15.1% and 16.7% in 2011 and 2012, while walking 9.3% and 8.3% respectively. His fastball is nothing special. His change-up is very, very good. His curveball is decent. He’s had 9.7% and 8.9% swinging strike percentages his last two seasons.
Now, how about Moore? His 3.81 ERA was worse. He walked too many guys, 10.7%, but the point is that Hellickson’s control and command aren’t so special that he has some massive edge here. In fact, Moore posted the better K/BB rate in 2012 (barely, but again we’re comparing Moore’s rookie season to Hellickson’s sophomore). Moore struck out 23.1% of hitters faced. Moore had an 11.8% swinging strike percentage. That ranks sixth among 88 qualified starters on FG’s leaderboard.
Hellickson’s 8.9% ranks 38th. Matt Moore had the third-highest fastball velocity among the same 88. Hellickson ranked 49th. Moore had some of the best minor-league strikeout numbers of the past decade. Hellickson has consistently been more homer-prone throughout his career. These numbers aren’t flukes. Moore got off to a rocky start before flourishing in the summer, finishing somewhat poorly in September. Did his rookie season live up to the exaggerated hype that came with his 2011 playoff start and being the third-ranked prospect behind a couple fellas named Trout and Harper? No but it’s not like it was bad. His fastball was still firm, his breaking ball was sharp, his change-up showed promise, and he didn’t walk an unacceptable amount of hitters.
Cole says in the comments:
Moore undoubtedly has the pure stuff of an ace, but the vast majority of the scouts I’ve spoken to (and this is an opinion that I agree with) believe the command and overall feel will never develop quite enough for him to be considered an “ace.” Sure, there’s always a very slight chance that he reaches that potential (as there is with Hellickson, given his youth and pitchability), but I see a #2 ceiling as much more realistic.
Given the definition of “ace” being the top 10-15 pitchers in baseball, there’s just no way Hellickson can be in that conversation. Moore can be, with his stuff, if his command and control improve some. He doesn’t have to be Roy Halladay painting corners (note: Hellickson is not this nor particularly close) because his stuff so far outweighs Hellickson’s. To not entertain the notion that Moore has more than a “very slight chance” at being a #1 is insane.
Hellickson ranks first because I believe he will be a better pitcher over the long haul. In terms of stuff and results, Hellickson is certainly better than a 3/4 type. His overall command is still improving…
and Moore’s isn’t? Moore doesn’t have the minor-league track record of control that Hellickson did, but again, his control doesn’t need to equal Hellickson’s to be the better pitcher because of the difference in stuff.
…and he can really manipulate and locate his entire arsenal. Obviously his changeup is fantastic. As I wrote above, Moore’s stuff is better than Hellickson’s (not that Hellickson has bad stuff; it’s plenty fine), but I believe a lot more in Hellickson’s overall feel for pitching. I think he’s going to be a very good major league starter for years to come.
If this is the league-wide perception of Hellickson, maybe the Rays should shop him. I’m not sure where this Hellickson-as-total-control-artist take is coming from. Hellickson’s BB% ranked 64th out of the 88 pitchers. Sure it’s improving, but at age 26 is it going to jump high enough to off-set the stuff difference? On that:
One of my questions regarding Moore is this: A lot of times, plus-plus fastball starters see their velocity begin to dip after a few years in the major leagues. If that happens to Moore and he becomes more of a low-90s guy who touches the mid-90s, does he have the command/secondaries to have staying power near the top of a big league rotation?
We can play the what-if game all day. Now it’s a comments section so I don’t expect a dissertation but is there a reason to expect Moore’s velo to dip other than “it happens to a lot of guys?” I’m not buying that, and neither did my ex-girlfriend. If the question is Moore or Hellickson, give me Matt Moore 101 times out of 100.