NLDS Game 4 Preview: Excessively Breaking Down Matt Moore

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This blog almost exclusively focuses on Matt Moore and it’s extremely long. The focus on Moore is for a number of reasons. First, we already know how good the Cubs are so let’s not waste words or time on the obvious. Next, most coverage for game 4 (and most of the series in general) has been focused on what I find to be non-issues: the bullpen/Aroldis Chapman, Joe Maddon’s decision making, the threat of losing a 2-0 lead, etc. and that’s just not in my sweet spot. I’m not doubting the most dominant closer in baseball. I’m not second guessing the game’s best manager. And I’m not rehashing former collapses as if they’re somehow correlated to what’s about to happen in game 4 of the NLDS on October 11, 2016. It’s all noise.

So instead, we’re going over literally everything you can possibly want to know about the Giants’ starting pitcher. Because let there be know doubt = at some point tonight, you’re going to think to yourself who the FUCK is this guy? And I want you to have an answer that isn’t layered in graphs and nerd speak.

PS – Cubs win tonight 4-3


Matt Moore – Pre Giants

Almost every casual baseball fan has an equally casual opinion about Giants’ starting pitcher, Matt Moore.  It usually sounds something like: Matt Moore has ________ (insert phrase related to potential). 

On the surface, that’s a pretty fair assessment. Matt Moore… a major league starting pitcher, a former all star and once the #2 prospect in baseball… does in fact have potential.  But as you can imagine, there’s far MOORE  *pause for laugh*  to this equation than just his stuff. So let’s talk about it.

I think you can get a really good idea about a player’s makeup by examining their path to the big leagues. For Moore, it started in 2007 outside Albuquerque, New Mexico of all places. At the time, scouts liked his low 90’s fastball and its projectability relative to his size. But there were questions about his command and the development of his offspeed, which are extremely valid questions when you’re evaluating a high schooler from the outskirts of Albuquerque. That’s because development with pitchers is usually born out of necessity. So how developed does your command and offspeed need to be when you’re routinely throwing 92 mph fastballs to high schoolers in Albuquerque? Answer: probably not too developed.

Now, for comparison sake, consider that Kyle Hendricks went to California powerhouse Capistrano Valley for high school, where he played with 15 separate division 1/MLB draft players just on his own team alone. You can imagine what the rest of the competition in Southern California is like, so it makes sense when you think about how good Hendricks is with the changeup and command despite not really having overwhelming “stuff”. Again, pitching development is born out of necessity. If you’re routinely pitching against top talent, you’ll be routinely challenged to develop best-practices on the mound. That’s kind of how it works.

So that’s the basis for Moore heading into pro ball. Nice arm, projectable frame, undeveloped offspeed, mechanics and fundamentals. But enough talent there to be worth something in the long run, so the Rays picked him up in the 8th round of the 2007 draft for $115,000 and sent him off to short season rookie ball in the middle of fucking nowhere West Virginia for two years.

Once in pro ball, Moore exploded onto the circuit as a strikeout machine averaging almost 13 k’s per nine innings in his first four seasons. From there, Moore became the sweetheart of every single prospect and scouting publication known to mankind. Never mind the alarming walk rate (5.2/9) or his staunch refusal to develop a changeup. Matt Moore was striking hitters out with the heater, which is exactly what he had always done. So why would do anything different? You’re blowing up prospect rankings as an 8th rounder, on the cusp of making the big leagues, dominating AA hitters and all of this is going down without making any substantial changes from what you were doing at age 16 against Eldorado High School. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

As did it to Matt Moore, so he didn’t change anything. Just kept throwing fastballs (now getting into the 94-96 range as he got older and stronger) and kept striking hitters out. So he gets to the big leagues full time in 2012 and guess what? He was actually pretty decent! He went 11-11 with a 3.81 ERA over 31 starts and 177+ innings, which is even more impressive when you consider he had the 4th worst walk rate in the AL that year. But let’s go back to that development thing I was talking about earlier. Because sooner or later you need to have quality big league pitches to complement your fastball or else you’ll just end up being one of the thousands of bartending substitute teachers that couldn’t figure out their offspeed either. You need quality offspeed to have a career as a starter.

So Moore really started working on it. From 2011 to 2013, he doubled his breaking balls. He pronated the changeup more. He took velo off the fastball to improve location because – believer it or not – big leaguers square up dick-high fastballs at an alarming rate. So Moore tries to be more thoughtful and crafty about location, which meant the 95mph heater started to  drop to about 91-92. That of course meant, again, more breaking balls and changes and thus ultimate self destruction. (And let’s not forget that this evolution – the one where a pitcher is developing his offspeed to match the promise and electricity of his fastball – is all taking place in the major leagues. Not in the instructs or in the offseason or back in Bumfuck, West Virginia. But on a major league mound against major league hitters in the middle of a goddamn major league season. Just mind boggling stuff.)

So fast forward to early  2014 when Matt Moore’s elbow ligaments basically snapped in half. The stress of adapting and pronating changeups he never threw before and snapping off twice as many sliders added up like every other Tommy John candidate. Next thing you know, Moore’s sidelined for 16 months only to come back for 12 horrendous starts in 2015 before settling into a very pedestrian 2016 campaign. The Rays then traded him to the Giants in July of this year for 3rd baseman Matt Duffy.

Matt Moore – On Giants

That said, there’s been some positive changes to Moore since coming over from the Rays. Granted, it’s still the same lackluster results you see over an entire season – WHIP around 1.35 which compares favorably to Randy Wells circa 2011…. still walking over 4 hitters per nine innings (4.2 for since coming to the Giants, which ranks 70th out of 73 qualified starters)… and still routinely coming out in the 6th-inning (averaging 5.6 innings a start).  The difference now, though, is he’s pitching to Buster Posey in front of Brandon Crawford, and he gets to watch Bumgarner throw every 5th game. The end result is he’s been working on inducing far more ground balls and being more efficient, and he’s starting to get the hang of it.

In his last outing against the Dodgers (a near no-hitter), Moore threw 29 cutters (most he’s ever thrown) out of his 107 pitches and had tremendous success using it to set up his curve. It’s important to note that a standard cutter operates  like a hybrid between a fastball and a slider = it’s harder than a breaking ball, but it moves down and away from the pitcher’s arm side just enough to not be a traditional four seam fastball. Unsurprisingly, the Giants are big fans of the cutter. (You may have noticed Cueto’s on Friday or Bumgarner’s last night.) Moore used the cutter to clinch a must-win game for the Giants to get into the Wildcard game. I think we see the same mix tonight.

The cutter is very effective pitch early in the count to induce weak contact because it looks just enough like a fastball but breaks just enough like a slider. The intended result is not to generate a swing and miss. The result is to get weak contact early in a count. And then ultimately, the goal is to have a cutter that’s effective enough for the hitter to be up there thinking right before the pitch comes in is that a cutter or a straight fastball? That obviously takes a long time to develop that reputation, but that’s when you – as the pitcher – can really take control on the mound.

Perfect example of an effective Matt Moore cutter = 0-0 count, runner on 1st, 2 outs, solid LHH… uses just  enough of the strike zone to get the hitter to commit to a swing that he regrets at contact 

Outside of that, Moore now gets his swing and misses on a big knuckle curve. He has extremely limited control though because it’s a new pitch (imagine that, Matt Moore still learning two new offspeed pitches 10 seasons into his professional career) and it’s pretty effective. But it’s equally predictable when he’s throwing it… when he commands his fastball and cutter early and gets ahead 0-0, that probably means more confidence when he gets to two strikes to throw more knuckle curves. Then again, I imagine the Cubs lineup will be well aware of that heading into the game.

And then finally he’s got a schizophrenic change-up that some days shows up, and some days it doesn’t. Again, a lot of that is because his offspeed never HAD to be fully integrated into his repertoire, so he’s made a career from going out there and seeing what feels good for him on a game by game basis. And consequently, it makes it absolutely IMPOSSIBLE to develop any consistency in your changeup. The changeup is like playing an instrument – you can either do it or you can’t, but it’s next to impossible just to shred the guitar without practicing your dick off again and again and again. Yes there are savants with changeups and instruments, but that certainly does not apply to Matt Moore.

So there’s everything you need to know about Matt Moore.

Go Cubs.