Don't look now, but Tampa Bay's erstwhile struggling wunderkind Matt Moore might finally be turning into the ace that scouts and prospect hounds had long projected him to be. Moore beat the Blue Jays this morning to earn his ninth victory of the season, and the six shutout innings he tossed brought his ERA down to 3.73. Less than one month ago, it stood at not-so-stellar 4.42. It's indicative of an across-the-board improvement in one of baseball's most exciting young pitchers.
Moore was supposed to be high in the running for Rookie of the Year this season, but with his struggles and the awesomeness that is Mike Trout, his name has hardly been whispered in the conversation. Moore was projected to ride his late-season 2011 success right on into 2012, and emerge as one of the top young pitchers in the league for a strong Rays rotation. Instead, he got hit around right out of the gate. While he flashed hints of the brilliance that had made him such a hot prospect, he also showed subpar control and a penchant for giving up the long ball. In his first fifteen starts, he gave up thirteen home runs. Not only that, he wasn't striking out batters at the ridiculous rates that he showed in the minors, and it was enough to make prospect mavens sweat a little.
Fear not, though, as Moore has been on fire since the All-Star Break. Since the break, Moore has given up just five runs in 30.2 innings. His WHIP in that span has shrunk to a more eye-pleasing 1.14. Oh, and those gopher ball issues? Yeah, they've completely disappeared. Moore hasn't allowed a single home run since June, a span of seven starts. That's impressive for anybody, much less a young pitcher who was plagued by the long ball early on.
A lot of times it proves folly for fantasy owners to wish immediate stardom upon a young hurler. Moore's early rockiness is perfectly understandable for a 23-year-old pitching in arguably baseball's toughest division. I've said before in these pages that Moore's season reminds me a lot of David Price's 2009. They're eerily similar, in fact. Price got off to a poor start that season, if you recall (after beginning the season in the minors as part of some service time shenanigans) and carried a lofty ERA into August. He then turned it around, of course, and has been one of the league's top starters since September of that year. Since Price has been a mainstay on the All-Star team since 2010, many forget about early-career road bumps, but even he wasn't immune to the rookie adjustment period.
The next issue to tackle is his penchant for issuing free passes. Even with his recent turnaround, he's still handing out walks at a rate of 4.3 per nine innings, which is pretty unacceptable. That is something that I'm sure will get ironed out as he matures, but for now, it's essentially what is separating Moore from the elite starters in the American League.