Driving through the desert this afternoon I was surrounded by peaks like shark’s teeth on the horizon. With plenty of time to contemplate my mind drifted to wondering what those might have looked like a million years ago before the effects of erosion and weathering reduced them to sharpened points. Similarly, I hope to look back in thirty years at archaeology like below to remember what Matt Moore looked like before time and erosion changed him from an exciting young talent into hopefully giving a speech at Cooperstown.
Before putting the cart before the horse it’s necessary to look at what he’s doing right now to praise him for his strong points and ascertain areas for improvement. Let us begin with the pitch mix he is using overall and to each type of batter over the course of the game:
L1 means first time through the order to a lefty, while R2 means second time to a righty and so on. The last columns to the right are total pitches to lefties, righties, and all batters. We see how fastball-heavy he is to righties, especially the first time through the order, while using the breaking ball as his secondary pitch. Against righties you see him back off the heater after they’ve seen him once leaning on the change the second time through and then switching some of those out in favor of his breaking ball. We can also look at this just focusing on the first pitch of the at bat:
Moore will never start an at bat with a change to a lefty, though after the first time through he’ll throw the breaking ball around a third of the time to keep batters honest. Righties can expect fastball the first time, but second time is a mystery with similar amounts of breaking balls and change ups, though the third time he will trade out the change for a slight uptick in breaking balls and more fastballs. No complaints here as long as that fastball is looking good. Speaking of let’s take a look at his velocity thus far:
This last start saw his best sustained velocity on the year. Early in the season you can expect not only diminished velocity, but also some unpredictability in what a pitcher will have on that day as arm strength is still being ramped up. Something to keep an eye on next start is if he’s still sitting mostly north of 93 or if there is any residual decline in velocity like start three, particularly coming off a career high 117 pitches.
Now that we’ve seen what he’s throwing we can start to get an idea of how effective he has been. For this we can use run values which weight the results of each pitch on the run scale while adjusting for the count. First off we can look at all pitches and then we’ll move on to focusing solely on the first pitch of an at bat:
You can click on the link to see an enlarged version in another tab. On the left we see the raw number and percentage of pitches which has been shown in the first couple of charts, but on the right we can see his raw run values and also an adjustment of those per 100 pitches. While results mostly range from good to really good there is one black eye. His breaking ball to lefties has not had much success. It has been his only bad pitch, overall, but does put into context just how very well he has pitched to righties. Granted, it’s only 33 pitches so far so this should not be construed as some sort of death sentence, and it’s entirely likely that even if it’s garnering negative runs for him it’s helping to make the fastball look even better. The numbers against righties, thus far, are mind blowing.
Let’s put those pitches against lefties under the microscope:
Note that the batter is not to scale, but I think it’s beneficial to give context here. The strike zone reflects both the rule book strike zone, and the one that umpires actually call against lefties. The pitches have been color-coded to reflect the pitch type, but I’ve made a few tweaks. Squares represent swings worth looking at. Those with an x reflect a ball in play out, while the “+” sign represents balls that went for hits. The x with a line through it shows his swing strikes. The breaking ball in the dead middle of the zone is the home run that Robinson Cano hit last game while the other hits are mostly on the fringes of the zone. The thing to really focus on is all of the outs. There is a large cluster of balls in play for outs up and in on southpaws and it makes a bit of sense. Perhaps this can help illustrate what I’m about to touch on:
This image, courtesy of Brooks Baseball, shows the movement of each of his pitches. You’ll notice the arm-side run on his fastball(s). For each of those outs to end up where they were shows fastballs that started on the plate and moved to the edge. There’s a reason why he has a batting average against of .194 to lefties. He’s got them putting a lot of pitcher’s pitches into play which reflects good process turning into good results. What I’d like to see is for him to throw that pitch even more inside. With the fastball starting on the plate and moving inside to lefties he’s likely to garner more empty swings and even weaker contact without running the risk of the pitch catching more of the plate than he’d like which is something that has happened quite a bit even if he hasn’t been punished for the poor location. If you’re going to miss your spot, much better to miss off the plate, and as batters adjust to start taking that pitch for a ball it makes the breaking ball even better as it sets up called strikes low-and-away. Let’s move on and take a look at his mix and results on the first pitch of the at bat:
I want to briefly go over this as the samples are pretty small here, but there’s still some interesting things to check out. We already know that he’s going to start most at bats to lefties with the fastball and it’s nice to see that that’s backed up with strong results. Matt Moore goes from a very good pitcher to an incredible one when he’s getting ahead in the count and that appears to be manifesting here. Unfortunately, he’s not seeing the same results against righties. He’s doing well the first time through, but not seeing the same effectiveness second time through, and the fastball is a big reason for that. It might make sense to continue to go to the secondary stuff to start these batters off, but that requires throwing the breaking ball and change for strikes when batters are looking for the fastball. Lastly, I want to touch on the results that he’s seeing for each pitch and overall:
On any given pitch you will see either a ball, a called strike, a foul ball, a pitch put in play, or a swinging strike. Here’s the breakdown for all pitches to lefties, righties and both. Note that the number outside the columns denotes the total number of pitches thrown to that handedness. Immediately, you can see that he’s not getting the swinging strikes that he’s getting against righties while southpaws are putting more balls in play, fouling off less, and seeing more balls, though they’re also taking more pitches overall. We can see each pitch in a similar regard:
Lefties have taken the breaking ball 69% of the time while righties have only taken the bendy stuff 61%. Rather interesting that when righties are swinging they’re seeing a feast or famine approach. They’re putting the ball in play or swinging through quite often, but rarely fouling it off. Lefties are seeing the opposite with very few empty swings. Let’s move on to the change up:
Moore is garnering a ton of whiffs with his change up and 38% of the time he’s getting a strike overall without even factoring in foul balls. It’s getting put in play slightly more than the breaking ball, but it’s also being swung on quite a bit more. How about the fastball:
Unsurprisingly, we’re not seeing many swinging strikes, but the big difference between lefties and righties is that lefties are putting the grade A cheddar in play while righties have only been able to foul off the pitch. This could simply be luck and you’ll see more righties putting the ball in play going forward, and likely more lefties fouling it off, but I think what we’re seeing is the effect of righties having to watch out for three pitches. Right-handed batters cannot sit fastball and then adjust to the breaking ball, because the fear of the change up haunting them must weigh heavily in the back of their head. Meanwhile, lefties have no such fear. They can sit fastball and adjust to the breaking ball and even though both pitches are very good from a stuff perspective they lose some value by becoming that much more predictable.
Matt Moore has looked incredible so far, but it’s natural to expect some regression from other-worldly to still really good. To offset some of that expected regression Moore can make a couple of adjustments that should help cover some of his largest demonstrated weaknesses thus far. By throwing the fastball inside more to lefties he can turn some balls in play into some empty swings with the downside of an increase in called balls, but also the upside of fewer pitches left over the middle of the plate. Additionally, this could help the breaking ball play up even more provided he can start it on the plate and run it off or even drop it down on the corner.
Secondly, he should up his change up usage to lefties from 4% to around 10% or even higher if he sees increased success. Pitchers don’t like to throw change ups to same-handers for good reason, but James Shields, Alex Cobb, and Jeremy Hellickson have each shown that it can be a devastating pitch to same-handers for a myriad of reasons. It forces batters to be honest that the pitch is in play and could be thrown at any time. His change up is a really good pitch and if he can keep it down and/or in off the plate it can change the batter’s eye level making the high fastball even more effective. With any sort of sea change there should be expected growing pains, but there’s a reason Joe Maddon thinks that as good as Matt Moore has been that he’s probably two years away from reaching his peak. The sooner he shows confidence in all of his pitches the sooner he will reach that point.