Update: 18:00 EST Due to mislabeled vertical components of strike zone, some data has been changed
A single bolt of lightning contains an unfathomable amount of energy in the form of electricity and visual light. It can illuminate a dark night as if it were day, but that single stroke of sight is as fleeting as it is beautiful. The ensuing thunderclap can give chills or increase heartrates as much as the back stretch at Churchill Downs, but makes the fastest two minutes in sports seem as long as a drive through some Appalachian switchbacks. When darkness is turned to light, even briefly, our brains extrapolate this tiny amount of information in an effort to understand the surrounding environment as much as possible. The blur of Matt Moore's fastball and the thunderclap of it hitting the mitt can lead us to wildly dream on a future mantle filled with shinies, but we must not let our brains fool us into thinking that tomorrow is today because in the nanoseconds of that flash it's easy to mistake a stand of trees as an endless forest.
It is no secret that Tampa Bay Rays phenom Matt Moore has struggled to get out of the gate in his first dip into the deep end. The finished product that whet the appetite of Rays fans over the final weeks of 2011 seems to be diminishing in the rear view. Last season he had an entire six months of adjusting and learning and honing before making his big league debut to the delight of the millions, but the start of this season has seen a different image. Like a hologram that seeks to approximate a dynamic personality as a static statue the flickering and wavering of light can tell us that we're being fooled. Instead of lasers the inquiring baseball fan can use the byproduct of encapsulated light to get an idea of whether Matt Moore has any obvious flaws.
Using data from Joe Lefkowitz and Brooks Baseball we can look at Matt Moore's ability to fool an army of professionals guided by the single task of not making an out. Starting with an overview of how he's pitching to each type of supersoldier foe can be useful:
Readily apparent is his 5:1 ratio of facing opposite-handed enemies. The discerning reader will notice that Moore has been a two-pitch pitcher to similar-pawed batters leaning heavily on his Grade A cheddar melt and sultry breaking ball. Against normies he's eschewing the breaking ball in favor of the change up. No surprises thus far. His Run Values (RV) do come with a bit of a sticker shock as his holiest of holies (Moore's average velocity of 94.2 trails only teammate David Price's 94.7 MPH among ALL qualified left-handed pitchers in MLB) has been battered worse than a Boston wife thus far. The breaking ball to lefties and especially the change to righties have been good and very good pitches, respectively, and he seems to be handling righties reasonably well compared to average.
His wOBAcon figures tell a similar tale with lefties actually hitting him around the yard on the back of his fastball, though the breaking ball gets confirmed as a solid pitch when we go from all pitches to just those put in play. His breaking ball to righties shows a similar broken jaw as seen by his RV, but we see a bit of a disconnect when it comes to the fastball. When RV and wOBAcon are in discord like this it shows that balls and strikes are working well for the pitcher, but batters are having success when they are able to keep it between the chalk. This especially shows up when viewing the five homers he has allowed to righties, all on the fastball, all belt high and over the dish. When he's not grooving the pitch, it appears that righties are getting frustrated by what should prove to be a great pitch.
We can get an idea of overall ability to mix pitches by looking at his results. Again, we see that our intuitive null hypothesis of owning lefties and getting killed by righties is proven false. Right-handers are taking the slow walk back to the dugout at a rate of one in four. Nine percent are taking the slow jog down to first and they're hitting him slightly above league average (.316) by wOBA. It is against lefties where we are surprised a bit. He's walking more than he's striking out, and that .469 wOBA leads us to believe that he's facing Josh Hamilton every time a lefty steps to the table and that just hasn't been the case. We can see that righties are hitting him better than we would expect, but lefties are absolutely owning him. We've all been somewhere we shouldn't, gotten caught, and thought, "This shouldn't be happening." For Moore, let's see if there's anything he can do to fix this. Here's a look at all pitches that have been taken for either a called ball or strike this year:
The chart is pretty self explanatory, though it can be particularly enlightening for it's negative areas as much as for the colored icons denoting pitch type, location, and outcome. The darker square shows rulebook strikezone while the grayer polygon gives an idea of the wide zone that takes into account umpire tendancy to call pitches off the plate. You may be drawn, initially, to the six fastballs that were called strikes out of the zone, but of more importance are the pitches thrown low and inside to righties within the rulebook zone and the assorted pitches within the wide zone that were called balls. This is a particuarly important area of the strike zone, because it is necessary for Moore to pitch to both sides of the plate. If he cannot get a call on obvious strikes on these pitches then he's likely to stop going to that zone allowing batters to get out over the plate without fear of getting jammed up inside.
Going over the table briefly, we see the raw number of pitches by outcome and pitch type as well as the percentage that each type of pitch was ruled a ball or a strike. The breaking ball is being called a strike at the higher rate of these pitches, but the next section of the table shows that EVEN MORE of them should be called strikes. It is important for all batters to respect Moore's ability to throw the breaking ball for a strike. The alternative is that anything with sidespin will be spat on and batters can just look for something a bit more straight. The chart shows that umpires have called eight would-be strikes as balls on his benders or roughly 29% of all breaking pitches have been wrongly called. Note that "wrongly called" means the pitch was within the wide zone, but called a ball. You can see that severall of these pitches are well within the rulebook strike zone, as well. Whether it be hazing or incompetence on the part of the umpire is up for dispute, though out of the purview of this look. The numbers for his fastball and change up seem more reasonable lending a bit of credibility that the umps are merely bad at their job, not that they're some sort of Hamels Boys' posse out to teach these whippersnappers what old school baseball is all about. Interestingly, the wrongly called balls and strikes balance out as umpires are giving him a heavy break on the fastball. Let's take a look at all pitches that were waved at:
This seems a bit more cluttered with all the foul balls added so peruse at your own pace. The fastball up seems like a real weapon with 23 swings above the zone. The change below the zone has also drawn curiousity, though to a lesser extent. Draw your own conclusions as we dig into the numbers. The breaking ball has been swung on 28 times with only one, ONE measly swinging strike. This is a problem as that should be a put away pitch. We can also see that six out of ten have drawn a piece, extending at bats and upping pitch counts when a batter should be having nightmares. The change is looking fantastic getting a swinging strike nearly 40% of the time while mostly being low and on the outer half away from righties. Batters have shown a propensity to put in in play while not fouling it off as often as his other offerings. The fastball is also getting an incredible swinging strike rate of nearly one in four, though batters are fouling it off and putting it in play close to a similar amount of pitches.
The last part of the table shows how many of these pitches were swung on (and the outcome) that were outside of the wide zone. Only five of his 28 breaking balls were swung on out of the zone and each of those were fouled off. The change up draws a ton of swings out of the zone at a ratio of nearly 29% with seven swinging strikes. The fastball has batters expanding their zone nearly as often (25%) as they get all geeked up to win them a prize swinging at the vaunted heater. Fifteen percent of his in play fastballs have come on pitches out of the zone while a whopping 39% of his fastball swinging strikes have come out of the zone. The fastball is doing a nice job of inducing hopeless swings, but it looks like the breaking ball is not faring so well. Lastly, it can be beneficial to look at the location of all of his strikes, both called and earned the hard way:
No reason to linger too long gawking at this 165 car pileup, but the salient point here is again that low and inside (away) to righties (lefties) section. This is a crucial part of the zone that can keep both types of batters batters honest and off balance, and yet, we can see that he is not poking this particular bear. It's not just a matter of strikes, or balls being put in play a bit as shown above, as this chart shows his run values by location for all pitches:
(Note: This does not include Moore's most recent start)
We confirm that Moore is not pitching glove-side and down as often as anywhere else in the zone and the bottom half shows that, within the zone, that area is second only to dead center in terms of lack of success on pitches. We are seeing the success that Moore is having up and middle-down, but if Moore could start pounding that area of the zone he may do a better job of keeping batters honest.
Between lack of command to his glove side and especially down, and failure to do much of anything with his breaking ball, Matt Moore is showing that flashes of lightning pale in comparison to a rising sun. If he can work on pitching in and down to righties and throwing his breaking ball for strikes (though part of this undoubtedly has to be placed on shoddy umpiring) then he can get back to being the incredible talent we only saw briefly in 2011.