Mariners Hold Onto Their Utility Knife, Extend Dylan Moore

Dylan Moore
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

While the Mariners’ front office has been rather quiet in terms of acquiring new free agents this offseason, they did plenty of work locking up their existing personnel before free agency opened, extending star outfielder Julio Rodríguez and starting pitcher Luis Castillo with combined guarantees up to $578 million. Now, they’ve agreed to a three-year extension with utility man Dylan Moore worth $8.875 million. This contract buys out his final two years of arbitration as well as his first season of free agency, keeping him in Seattle through his age-33 season.

Moore was a late bloomer, first making the Mariners roster in 2019 at the age of 26, and he’s primarily served in a utility and platoon role ever since. While his career wRC+ sits at exactly 100, that mark jumps to 112 against left-handers. The Mariners have done well to maximize his effectiveness by deploying him on his strong side as much as possible, especially last season, when nearly half of his plate appearances came against left-handed pitching, fourth-most among right-handed hitters.

Platoon usage rate often says more about a team than an individual player — plenty of everyday starters arguably should be sitting more against same-handed pitchers — but the Mariners have the right pieces to put Moore in advantageous situations, including a wide variety of left-handed counterparts like Kolten Wong, Jarred Kelenic, and Tommy La Stella.

Best Used Platoon Righties, 2022
Name % of PA With Platoon Advantage
Austin Slater 56.0%
Diego Castillo 54.1%
J.D. Davis 50.1%
Dylan Moore 47.8%
Darin Ruf 러프 47.2%
Evan Longoria 43.3%
Michael Chavis 42.5%
Chad Pinder 41.7%
Keston Hiura 41.0%
Tomás Nido 39.3%
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
min. 250 PA

It’s difficult to thrive exclusively as a right-handed platoon bat, though, given that a significant majority of pitchers are also righties. Players like Moore and Slater only got to face lefty opponents about half the time; sometimes a reliever comes in, sometimes a starter needs the day off regardless of who the other team has on the mound. Luckily, Moore also handles right-handed pitching decently well. His career wRC+ against them sits at 92, and last season, he had a .344 OBP and 117 wRC+ against fellow righties, a good mark for any big league hitter. He definitely has a stronger side, making more contact and drawing more free passes against southpaws, but he’s certainly not helpless on the other side of the platoon either.

Moore’s offensive performance has largely fluctuated from season to season, with excellent numbers in 2020 and ’22 but well below average production in ’19 and ’21. A quick glance at the stat sheet shows disparate results on contact between seasons: his BABIP was .326 last year but just .229 the season prior. While hitter BABIP is partially driven by luck, but there are many skill-based components that can allow a player to run a high mark: speed, a high HR/FB rate, and, most importantly in Moore’s case, launch angle tightness, which refers to the consistency with which a batter can hit balls with favorable launch angles.

Statcast measures launch angle tightness through the sweet spot rate metric, or the percentage of batted balls with a launch angle between 8–32 degrees. In 2022, batters slugged 1.039 on balls in the sweet spot but just .274 when they hit the ball too high or too low. Moore’s sweet spot rate last season was 39.4% (93rd percentile), but in 2021, when he had a career-worst 72 wRC+, that number was just 33.3% (about average). Keeping the ball in the sweet spot is especially important for Moore, who hits fly balls at a high rate. Sweet spot fly balls leave the yard with remarkable frequency, but high fly balls and popups are almost always outs.

Moore’s launch angle tightness has been inconsistent throughout his career, but one aspect of his game has been constantly improving: plate approach. A few months ago, Alex Eisert wrote about how Brendan Donovan maintains an elite OBP and chase rate by simply not swinging the bat, and Moore has adopted a similar mindset at the plate, ranking near the bottom of the leaderboards in overall swing rate. Since his debut, his plate discipline has transformed from patient to near-robotic; his 20.8% chase rate ranked third among hitters with at least 250 plate appearances.

While a reduction in swing rate often leads to an increase in strikeouts, as hitters lay off strikes as well as balls, Moore has also improved his ability to make contact, posting annual reductions in swinging-strike rate. The end result is that he has a solid offensive floor despite no projection system forecasting him to hit better than .220.

Dylan Moore Approach Metrics
Year O-Swing% Swing% SwStr% BB/K
2019 26.4% 44% 11.2% .27
2020 27% 41.5% 10.7% .33
2021 24.6% 41% 9.9% .36
2022 20.8% 38.4% 9.5% .45

On the defensive side of things, Moore is a great contributor due to both his slick glove and his ability to use his skills anywhere on the diamond. In the past four seasons, he is one of just a dozen players to appear at every position besides pitcher and catcher, and in that group, he ranks second in WAR behind Enrique Hernández. Being a designated utility player is difficult; having to maintain a feel for playing multiple positions and also juggling responsibilities as a hitter is far from easy. But Moore has made it work, mostly splitting time between second base and the outfield corners and performing tremendously, with 14 RAA in about 1,800 innings, or about 10.5 RAA/150. With 76th percentile sprint speed and solid instincts in the outfield, he has been a plus performer no matter which position he’s assigned to play on any given day. That speed also helps him on the basepaths, with a career rate of 36 steals and 2.1 BaseRuns per 600 PA.

Moore’s combination of positional versatility, plate discipline, and speed make him an ideal utility man, and the Mariners’ long-term commitment to him shows how well he complements their current position player group. Shortstop J.P. Crawford needs a day off? Moore is far from a Gold Glover there, but he’s not costing the team wins by getting a couple dozen starts per year at the six. Don’t want Wong or Kelenic starting against a left-handed pitcher? Moore’s your guy, along with switch-hitting lefty masher Sam Haggerty. Trying to preserve a close lead in the ninth? Moore can plug in as a defensive substitute nearly anywhere, but especially to give a rest to the less rangy Teoscar Hernández in the outfield.

A hitter with an above-average OBP, excellent hitting from one side of a platoon, and solid skills in the field and on the basepaths can almost always find a consistent roster spot. With this extension, Seattle guarantees that it won’t have to look for another diverse skillset for a little while, and Moore guarantees himself eight figures in career earnings and a paycheck through the end of 2026.

Kyle is a FanGraphs contributor who likes to write about unique players who aren't superstars. He likes multipositional catchers, dislikes fastballs, and wants to see the return of the 100-inning reliever. He's currently a college student studying math education, and wants to apply that experience to his writing by making sabermetrics more accessible to learn about. Previously, he's written for PitcherList using pitch data to bring analytical insight to pitcher GIFs and on his personal blog about the Angels.

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1 year ago

Wait, why would a high HR/FB rate increase BABIP? I didn’t think home runs counted as balls in play.

1 year ago
Reply to  BenZobrist4MVP

Not sure, but I’m guessing Kyle is equating FB that stay in the park as outs, which would increase the denominator of BABIP. I think that this would be offset somewhat by FB that fall for extra-base hits in the gaps, so I’d pull the HR/FB rate from Kyle’s otherwise good list, and substitute something like oppo/pull ratio that highlights a hitters ability to go to all fields and be more shift-proof than average.

Last edited 1 year ago by tz
1 year ago
Reply to  tz

I think it’s that FBs have the lowest BABIP of all batted ball types besides popups. The higher the HR/FB rates, the fewer FBs that are in the BABIP calculation. I agree that they effect is very minor though and I also question the stickiness of HR/FB rate compared to the rest of the batted ball metrics.