Matt Moore: Worth the Hype

Eric P. Mull-US PRESSWIRE

Matt Moore was pegged by some to win AL Rookie of the Year in 2012. While he didn't live up to all expectations, there's still plenty to like from the young left-hander entering his second season.

Poor Matt Moore. As if the hype of Stephen Strasburg's major league debut wasn't enough in 2010, the Washington Nationals' phenom just had to out-hype Moore's 2012 rookie season with his highly anticipated first full season after sitting out the majority of 2011 with Tommy John surgery. And if that wasn't enough, there was the debut of Bryce Harper. And, of course, Mike Trout.

Heck. Even Jamie Moyer came back specifically to steal the spotlight from the (at the time) 22-year old rookie.

Alas, the timing just wasn't right for Moore, who entered 2012 with his own hype -- hype he helped create by striking out 15 batters in 9.1 innings in September to help the Tampa Bay Rays reach the postseason in 2011. He went on to start Game 1 of the ALDS against the Texas Rangers and blanked baseball's third-highest scoring team. In all, he threw 10 innings and allowed one run with eight punch outs in the postseason. Moore had finally arrived.

And then early in 2012, we thought, maybe Moore hadn't arrived. The left-hander -- the same one that never owned a K/9 of less than 11.52 in the minors -- got off to an unimpressive start in March, posting a K/9 of 6.12 with a 4.68 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP. The man with a 95 mph fastball who without blinking stepped onto the biggest stage in the postseason and picked up his first playoff win in his first career playoff start was now being overmatched by opposing batters. Just five months earlier, it was Moore who was overmatching opposing batters.

The high strikeout numbers we became used to seeing from Moore in the minors soon became apparent as the season progressed. After March, he had a K/9 of nine or better in four of the next five months, including a K/9 of 11.65 in May. Only five pitchers -- Cole Hamels, Edwin Jackson, Max Scherzer, R.A. Dickey and Jeff Samardzija -- finished the season with a higher SwStr% than Moore, who finished at 11.8 percent, and his Contact% was seventh best at 74.6 percent.

Moore finished the 2012 season with 175 strikeouts in 177.1 innings. If he reaches 200 innings in 2013, you should, at the least, expect 200 strikeouts. One projection out there that caught my attention was Bill James, who projects 232 (!) strikeouts in 202 innings. That's a tad optimistic for me, but I really do think we're looking at a 200-strikeout pitcher.

For Moore, the potential for high strikeout numbers was never in doubt. What ended up being a problem was a season BB/9 of 4.11. Moore displayed some erratic control early in his minor league career, but he consistently showed better control as he reached higher levels. It would have been nice if Moore showed improvement from month to month at the major league level, but that wasn't the case. Still, I think his high walk rate was a bit fluky. Moore's first pitch strike percentage ended up just above league average at 60.1 percent, but his walk rate was far above the league average of 3.05. First pitch strike percentage has been shown to have a pretty high correlation with a pitcher's walk rate, so I'd expect Moore's walk rate to better reflect that in 2013, which will shave off a healthy bit of his 1.35 WHIP from 2012.

Moore also struggled with the long ball in 2012, nearly giving up a home run every nine innings -- he finished with a HR/9 of 0.91. He never finished with a HR/9 of higher than 0.70 in the minors, including 54.1 innings in Rookie ball without giving up a home run and three seasons of Triple A below 0.51. Moore served up 18 long balls in 2012, but 13 came in the first three months. I don't think he suffers from the home run so much in 2013.

Moore doesn't crack the Fake Teams consensus Top 25 rankings, but I fully expect him to be a top 20 pitcher in 2013. The strikeouts will be there, his control should get better and his wins -- he finished last year with 11 -- should go up. Despite not having a stellar rookie season, Moore ended up with a 3.81 ERA. It's more than likely he gets his ERA below 3.50, and it's very possible he gets it to the low 3's. Because he wasn't all that he was hyped up to be in 2012, the possibility to snag Moore at a discount is very possible in 2013. In keeper leagues, he' one of the game's most intriguing young starters and you should jump at the chance to own him.

Statistics from FanGraphs.

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