Tampa Bay Rays SP Matt Moore is finally returning to his pre-Tommy John pitching status.

By Michael Beller
May 02, 2016

In 2013, a trio of starters aged 25 or younger helped the Rays win 92 games and get to the ALDS, and all looked primed for stardom at the top of the rotation. That’s when Tampa Bay knew their pitching rotation would be just fine when (not if) David Price bolted for the kind of contract the Rays cannot offer (though that day eventually came via trade).

Chris Archer turned into a bona fide ace last season, but he planted the seeds for that breakout in 2013, amassing a 3.22 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 23 starts. Alex Cobb took 22 turns and looked in that season like he had the brightest future of anyone in Tampa Bay’s rotation. His 2.76 ERA was the best among the team’s starters, he had a 1.15 WHIP, and he struck out hitters at a rate of 23.2%. Then there was the 24-year-old Matt Moore, who won 17 games with a 3.29 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 22.3% strikeout rate.

However, the period post-Price hasn't been without struggle, largely induced by injury. Cobb is on the DL now after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but it was Moore who first went under the knife to repair his elbow in 2014. He made just two starts that season and 12 more in ’15 after making his return to the mound in July. Staring down the possibility of playing is first full season in three years, Moore has picked up where he left off back in ’13.

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Moore made five starts in April that seemed to get lost in the shuffle of Drew Smyly’s heroics and Archer’s problems, but the 26-year-old deserves some recognition. In 32 innings, Moore has pitched to a 3.66 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. His FIP is 3.34, while his xFIP is 3.10. Moore is striking out 27.1% of the batters who come to the plate and walking just 5.4% of them. In other words, Moore just quietly put up one of the best Aprils in the league.

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The fashion in which Moore did that should give the Rays even more confidence about their rotation this year. Moore was never really a fireballer, with his average fastball velocity before the injury sitting at 92–93 mph. This season, it’s 94.02 mph, according to Brooks Baseball. After experimenting with a cutter last season, Moore has ditched it this year and is back to being a fastball-curve-changeup pitcher. All three have been excellent, evidenced by double-digit whiff rates, but the curve has really stood out for its ability to make hitters look foolish.

Moore has thrown his curveball 105 times this season, which adds up to 20.2% of the whole. Hitters have swung at one-third of those, but put the ball in play just 14 times, two fewer times than they have whiffed at the curve. When they do put it in play, they aren’t doing a whole lot with it. They have five hits—all singles—and a 64.3% ground-ball rate. Moore went an entire month without once getting burned by his curveball.

Let’s take a few good looks at the pitch in action. Moore fanned 10 batters in a win over the White Sox two weeks ago. The curve did a lot of the heavy lifting. Here it is confounding Dioner Navarro.

And here it is again spoiling Jose Abreu’s day.

It’s easy to see why the pitch has become such a nightmare for hitters with all that late, sharp break. Five of Moore’s strikeouts in that game came on the curve, with the other five on the fastball. It’s safe to say that made the report from the advance scouts.

That’s what made Moore’s performance in his next start, a tough-luck loss to the Orioles, so impressive. Moore fanned nine batters in seven innings in that outing, but just one came on the curveball, leaning on a different out pitch. For more, let’s go to Joey Rickard.

That is absolutely filthy. Four of Moore’s strikeouts against the Orioles were with the changeup, proving that it, too, can be an offering he relies on to put away hitters. With the curve and change working off a fastball featuring new life, Moore is turning into the starter it seemed he would become after the 2013 season.

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Pitchers to watch this week

Matt Harvey, Mets

Harvey got knocked around in his first three starts of the season, but he has started to turn things around in his last two trips to the bump. In 11 combined innings against the Braves and Reds, Harvey struck out 12, walked just two, and allowed four runs. Just as importantly, he racked 25 whiffs in the two starts, with 16 of those coming on his power fastball. Harvey will take the ball twice this week, squaring off with the Braves on Tuesday and Padres on Sunday. Those are a couple of juicy matchups.

Rick Porcello, Red Sox

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The Red Sox front office raised some eyebrows when it signed Porcello to a four-year, $82.5 million extension last April, but he has made them look quite good this season. Porcello, who has never been much of a strikeout pitcher in his career, has fanned 36 batters in 32 2/3 innings, notching at least six strikeouts in all five of his starts. He is, however, unlikely to keep up that level of performance. Nothing about his repertoire has changed this season and all of his peripheral stats are in line with his career numbers, which led him to a 15.2% strikeout rate before this season. In fact, his swinging-strike rate is lower this year (8.1%) than it was last year (8.5%). He might remain an effective pitcher, but that strikeout rate is going to come tumbling down sooner rather than later. His next start is scheduled for Friday against the Yankees.

Jose Quintana, White Sox

Speaking of pitchers surging in strikeout rate this season, is up to a 26.5% K-rate in his first 30 2/3 innings this season. What’s more, he’s actually getting some run support this year, and that has helped him pick up wins in three of his five starts. Like Porcello, Quintana isn’t likely to strike out more than one-quarter of the batters he faces this season, but his downturn shouldn’t be a sharp. Quintana may not be a strikeout artist, but his K-rate coming into this season was a respectable 19.4%. Long one of the most overlooked starters in the league, Quintana is finally starting to get his due. He’s slated to take the ball twice this week, starting Tuesday against the Red Sox and Sunday against the Twins.

Taijuan Walker, Mariners

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After teasing us with his talent since climbing all the way up to the Triple A level in his age-20 season in 2013, Walker is showing concrete signs of figuring out this whole pitching thing. His repertoire, pitch usage and velocity are mostly the same this season. What’s different is the 55.1% ground-ball rate and 22.9% hard-hit rate. The former is a marked increase, while the latter is a significant decrease. Both speak to a maturing pitcher. In 25 innings covering four starts, Walker has a 1.44 ERA, 2.05 FIP, 0.96 WHIP and 25 strikeouts against three walks. He has always had frontline stuff, and now that’s translating into results. Walker will get back on the mound Friday against the Astros.

Jordan Zimmermann, Tigers

Zimmermann is pulling off quite the reverse Arroyo. Bronson Arroyo, a perfectly average pitcher during his time with the Red Sox, turned in the best years of his career after leaving Boston and the American League for Cincinnati and the senior circuit. That’s the easier transition to make thanks to getting a pitcher at the plate three or four times per game, but Zimmermann is enjoying life in the AL just fine. He has a razor-thin 0.55 ERA in his first 33 innings with the Tigers to go along with a 1.06 WHIP and 23 strikeouts against seven walks. Having said that, it’s looking more and more that his 22.8% strikeout rate in 2014 was just an anomaly. Even when he’s at his best, his low strikeout ceiling will limit his fantasy value. Now might be a good time to consider putting his name out there in trade discussions. His next turn is scheduled for Friday against the Rangers.

Prospect watch

Tyler Glasnow, Pirates

We typically try to highlight a new pitcher in this space every week, but Glasnow has forced our hand. We’re not likely to have too many more opportunities to include him the prospect watch because he’s going to be in the majors soon if he keeps on doing what he has done thus far in 2016. The 22-year-old made his fifth start of the season on Sunday, tossing five shutout innings with seven strikeouts in a win over Norfolk (Orioles). He walked five batters, which helps explain the short outing, but no one in the International League has been able to catch up to him. The righty now has a 2.08 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 37 strikeouts against 12 walks in 26 innings this season. Juan Nicasio has mostly taken care of business this season, but Jeff Locke and Jon Niese are both sporting ERAs north of 5.00, opening the door for the Pirates to make a change and promote one of the best pitching prospects in the game. As we’ve said before, if you wait until Glasnow gets the call to add him, you’ll probably be too late.

GIF of the Week

Hector Neris earned his first career save on Sunday, filling in for Jeanmar Gomez. Even if Gomez holds down the job all season, Neris carries plenty of fantasy value thanks to his sterling rates and strikeout upside. It sure is easy to miss bats with a splitter like this.

Two-start pitchers

  1. Jake Arrieta
  2. Felix Hernandez
  3. Dallas Keuchel
  4. Matt Harvey
  5. Johnny Cueto
  6. Gerrit Cole
  7. Jose Quintana
  8. Matt Moore
  9. Michael Wacha
  10. Jason Hammel
  11. Gio Gonzalez
  12. Justin Verlander
  13. Aaron Nola
  14. Chris Tillman
  15. Luis Severino
  16. Adam Wainwright
  17. Collin McHugh
  18. Jose Berrios
  19. Edinson Volquez
  20. Tanner Roark
  21. James Shields
  22. Jeff Samardzija
  23. Marco Estrada
  24. Patrick Corbin
  25. Steven Wright
  26. Bartolo Colon
  27. Brandon Finnegan
  28. Jeremy Hellickson
  29. Jon Gray
  30. Nate Karns
  31. Kendall Graveman
  32. Jimmy Nelson
  33. Josh Tomlin
  34. Matt Wisler
  35. A.J. Griffin
  36. R.A. Dickey
  37. Andrew Cashner
  38. Martin Perez
  39. Jered Weaver
  40. Justin Nicolino
  41. Eddie Butler