Matt Moore: Trade Deadline Upside Play by Jeff Sullivan July 7, 2016 At one point not too long ago the Rays were a game under .500 and hanging around the fringes of the developing wild-card race. It’s never easy for an organization to hover around .500 because it’s unclear in which direction you want to try to make the team go. Thankfully for the Rays front office, the team went and made things simple, suddenly playing like the worst team in the league. The Rays have bottomed out, and while there are still elements to like, the July approach is obvious: Sell. Sell for prospects, so as to accumulate prospects. Heaven knows there are organizations that practically run on prospects. As has been discussed, the landscape of available starting pitchers hasn’t looked very sexy. The Rays could conceivably change that. Odds are, they won’t be real interested in moving Chris Archer. Jake Odorizzi, though, has generated attention. And then there’s Matt Moore. Moore’s numbers don’t look great, and he hasn’t scratched his once un-seeable ceiling. If you glance at Moore, you might see something like a fourth or fifth starter. Yet it’s also easy to convince yourself that Moore’s on the rise. He looks like one player with legitimate upside. The Rangers are the team I’ve seen most strongly connected to Moore. Of course, they’re not the only party with interest, since Moore is 27 years old, with three consecutive upcoming club options. Remember Moore’s contract? Remember when it looked like such a win for the team? It hasn’t worked out as well as the Rays imagined, but there’s still a long ways to go. Julio Teheran is of interest in large part because he’s cost-controlled for a while. Moore is, too, and unlike with Teheran, Moore’s deal could be escaped if something went badly awry. Gives his employer more flexibility. Let’s focus on Moore the pitcher. I should explain where I’m coming from. Moore is now a few years removed from undergoing Tommy John surgery. In one sense, that’s too bad. In another sense, all right, it’s out of the way. Moore has a triple-digit ERA-. You don’t like to see that. He also has a triple-digit FIP-. You don’t like to see that. Completing the picture, he has a triple-digit xFIP-. The picture isn’t one of a successful season. Moore is part of the reason why the Rays are where they are. Upside, though. I’m arguing upside. To start with, he’s putting the surgery further behind him. Last year, Moore averaged 88 pitches a start. This year, he’s at 101. He’s averaging a career-best 6.1 innings a turn, so he’s rebuilding that arm strength. And also regarding the arm strength: Moore’s fastball is up at 92.8. That’s almost a tick higher than last season, and it’s Moore’s best velocity since 2012. I don’t know if there’s anything left to gain, so maybe this is where that process stops, but Moore’s stuff has ticked up. He still has pop, now that he’s moved past his operation. When Moore was younger, in the majors, one of the things that held him back was hit-or-miss control. His walk rates wound up inflated, costing him outs and costing him efficiency. The following plot might be the most encouraging thing yet. It’s another one of our rolling-average plots, and this shows Moore’s overall strike rate over the course of his career. It’s broken into 10-game segments. His last 10 times out, Moore has thrown a career-best 67% strikes. This is relatively new territory for him, suggesting an improved ability to locate, and maybe it’s a coincidence or maybe it’s not, but earlier in the year, Moore had a twist built into his delivery. Observe: Near the end of May, the twist disappeared. May was also Moore’s worst month. This is what he looks like these days: It’s a subtle thing, and it’s something Moore has messed around with before, but the current mechanics are simpler and more streamlined. It’s easier for Moore to keep his upper body and lower body in sync, and this way he’s more direct to the plate. Could have to do with the delivery. Could have to do with something else. This is just an observation, but what can’t be argued is that Moore has thrown strikes more than ever. That’s what’s truly promising. I’m also intrigued by this table. I looked at all starting pitchers with at least 50 innings. You’ll see Moore’s rank among them in each category. This doesn’t show everything, but I believe it’s meaningful. Matt Moore on the Season Stat 2016 Percentile Strike% 65.5% 77% Zone% 51.5% 88% Contact% 78.0% 67% Z-Contact% 83.1% 89% ERA- 110 41% FIP- 107 38% This is showing Moore’s whole 2016, not just the more recent run. You see he ranks in the upper fourth in overall strike rate. Not coincidentally, he also ranks high in zone rate, and his contact rate against has been better than average. Perhaps surprisingly, Moore really shines in terms of in-zone contact rate. On would-be strikes, Moore has allowed 83% contact. That ties him with, say, Justin Verlander and Noah Syndergaard. It’s a pretty good measure of dominance, if incomplete, and while it is incomplete, it’s hard to reconcile the numbers above with the numbers toward the bottom. If you looked only at the table, you might figure it includes numbers for two different pitchers. The guy who throws strikes and misses bats shouldn’t allow so many runs. Moore has allowed those runs. He’s allowed a bunch of homers, and if you examine his record, he’s never really been that reliable. All that — that’s the stumbling block. That’s why Moore wouldn’t be poised to score a total blockbuster. But right now, Matt Moore is showing improved strength and improved stamina, and he’s showing an improved ability to throw strikes. While he’s thrown strikes, he’s continued to miss plenty of bats, so that’s a promising profile. That’s why Moore’s so interesting. That’s why teams see upside, and that’s why Moore could command more than you might guess from his ERA alone. This might be a guy in the process of turning the corner.