Other Signs Of Decline

Matt Moore’s injury afforded an opportunity for his naysayers to point back to their predictions for him in 2014. Bradley Woodrum did a great job in pointing out Moore’s flaws in his Fangraphs+ player profile:

But Moore needs to improve his control and his swinging strike rate if he wants to develop into anything more than an innings eater who doesn’t eat innings. Add to the warning flags: He missed a month in elbow inflammation and his fastball slowed almost two miles per hour from 2012. On the merit of his tools alone, Moore is still worth keeping on a roster, but he has too many shortcomings at his point to expect much more than 175 innings and a league-average FIP. Whether he’ll beat his FIP or not depends on how you see his career-best .259 batting average on balls in play.

There were those issues, and there was no overlooking the fact that Moore’s velocity was in decline. However, that was not the only indicator in decline for Moore and it did not take this most recent injury to find a problem with him.

Velocity was just one of the many areas where Matt Moore was showing decline heading into the 2014 season. Moore’s rates were in a two-year decline in each of the following areas:

  • F-Strike%
  • O-Swing%
  • O-Contact%
  • Z-Contact%
  • Contact%
  • Swing%
  • Zone%
  • SwStr%

It all starts with strike one. As our own Eno Sarris told MLB.com last year, first strike percentage is important enough to explain almost half the variance in walk rate. He wrote a piece in January of 2013 that pitchers were throwing first pitch strikes at a higher rate than they previously had.  Getting that first strike gives the pitcher a distinct advantage in the count.

Since 2009, if a pitcher gets into an 0-1 count, the league has hit .226/.267/.345 after that point. In that same stretch, the league has hit .256/.323/.404 after 1-0 counts. That first strike is worth 30 points in batting average, 56 points in on base percentage, and 59 points of slugging percentage.

Once a pitcher gets behind in the count at 1-0, he has to come into the strike zone to get back even in the count. This is something Moore had to do quite a bit in 2013 as his first pitch strike percentage fell from 60.1% in 2012 to just 50.9% in 2013. Compounding his early command struggles was the fact batters made more contact against him both in and out of the strike zone, as well as cut down on their swinging strike rates. In fact, Moore’s numbers declined in each of the eight bulleted categories listed above. The declining velocity was one issue, but that much scaffolding falling down around him was going to make it tough for him to remain productive even before the injury crept up.

Moore is the only pitcher who declined in each category over 2012 to 2013, but he is not the only pitcher to decline in a majority of them.  This is the list of the pitchers who have declined over the past two seasons in at least five of the eight categories:

Pitcher O-Swing% Swing% O-Contact Z-Contact Contact% Zone% SwStr% F-Strike%
Matt Moore X X X X X X X X
CC Sabathia X X X X X X
Jon Niese X X X X X X
Ian Kennedy X X X X X
Mike Leake X X X X X
Paul Maholm X X X X X
Ryan Vogelsong X X X X X
Trevor Cahill X X X X X
Wei-Yin Chen X X X X X
Yovani Gallardo X X X X X

That list has a few candidates with some of the same issues that Moore struggled with physically. Sabathia and Niese have both fought through injury issues. Sabathia, Vogelsong, and Gallardo have had notable struggles with velocity over the past two seasons. Cahill was recently demoted to the bullpen after getting off to a poor start to the season, and then there is Kennedy. He is an odd name on this list as he has maintained an above-league average strikeout rate despite the fact the league has made more contact against him than it did in 2010 and 2011.

The decrease in velocity is certainly a factor in the struggles some of these pitchers have had. Struggles in the other area also speaks to a decline in life on the pitches as batters have an easier time making contact with the pitches. While we worry about what went wrong with Moore, let’s not overlook the fact that others are heading down very similar paths.

We hoped you liked reading Other Signs Of Decline by Jason Collette!

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Rainmaker
Member
Member
Rainmaker

Alright, so I’ll admit I don’t have an answer here, but there are times when you need to take off your sabremetric hat and put on your baseball scout hat — and I believe this is one of them.

If you watched Moore pitch, the reason he’s had such trouble with control is the extreme movement he gets on his fastball, and its pretty reasonable to assume that it was an active decision for him to take something off his fastball to get better control of the pitch. In fact, if you google “Matt Moore fastball control” I bet you’ll find a quote from Joe Maddon referencing they were working with Moore to take something off the fastball to throw it where he wants more often.

I’m just saying that until someone can prove a legitimate statistical correlation here, a lot of this is just speculation. Despite all the declining categories you mentioned, Moore had 17 Wins and 3.29 ERA, so I’m fairly certain he and the Rays would be quite content with him operating at those lower levels through the 2014 season.

cass
Guest
cass

Wins and ERA? Really? You know you’re at FanGraphs, right?

Chippchipp
Member
Chippchipp

Give him a break, he was still wearing his “baseball scout hat” 🙂

Emcee Peepants
Guest
Emcee Peepants

Photograph of Rainmaker in his “baseball scout hat”: http://bit.ly/1evfoPp

Johnston
Guest

Someone needs to tell him that it’s 2014.

MSpitz
Member
MSpitz

If he was taking something off his fastball to get better control, why did his F-Strike% and Zone% go down too?

stonepie
Member
stonepie

well his fastball appears to have gotten worse everywhere over the last few years. velocity, contact %, zone %, even movement were all heading in the wrong direction.

Ben Suissa
Member
Ben Suissa

scott feldman won 17 games too remember that? he was amazing right

isavage30
Guest
isavage30

I always view “he needs to take something off to get better control” as manager/player-speak for “injured and not telling anyone.” This was Justin Masterson’s explanation for his 85 mph sinker this year. Made me cringe. A major reason why the command may be degraded to begin with, is that an injury has impacted mechanics, and taking something off is just more compensation for the faulty mechanics which is compensation for the injury.

cavebird
Guest
cavebird

Rainmaker:

As for he and the Rays being quite content with him operating at those lower levels through the 2014 season, yes I am certain that, at this point, they would. Since he is having Tommy John surgery next week, however, the only operating involving him for the rest of this season will be performed by a surgeon.

Cory
Guest
Cory

So we should do a study on the correlation bewtween fastball movement and control issues? Surely that has been done before.

Rainmaker
Member
Member
Rainmaker

Essentially the same article was written last April when Moore first showed the velocity decline and predicted he’d regress sharply. Except his 2013 line basically matched his 2012 line:
FIP 3.95 vs. 3.93
K/9 8.56 vs. 8.88
BB/9 4.55 vs. 4.11

For this article it appears the author cherry-picked the plate discipline stats because they fit a storyline AFTER Moore got injured, failing to mention that Moore improved in several other areas, including HR/9, GB%, LD%, AVG, WHIP, xFIP, and SLGA. Imean a two season decline? Moore pitched 9 innings in 2011!

Its completely normal for a young pitcher (remember 2013 was Moore’s 2nd full season) to dial down velocity and learn to pitch vs. throw, whereas its a pretty far jump to use total sample of 186 IP before 2013 as a baseline for a regression of Moore’s skillset. And its an even further jump to say that the reader should take that logical leap and apply it to other pitchers. The author could very well be correct, but since this is FG, its expected that you collect the data and test your hypothesis before advocating applying broadly across the league.

And its very easy to make these sort of arguments after Moore gets hurt, since there’s no way it can be disproved.

Robert Hombre
Guest
Robert Hombre

There are a number of things one could discuss, but the following is the issue I encounter most and which, because it has some face value appeal, is somewhat dangerous if one’s looking for Truth.

You list the following statistics as areas as reasons we should believe in Moore: HR/9, GB%, SLGA, AVG, LD%, WHIP, xFIP. However, all of these statistics combined say only one thing certainly: Moore’s GB% improved.

LD% is an unstable stat year-to-year – no certain conclusions of improvement. WHIP, SLGA, and AVG have large BABIP components, driven much more by defense and luck than pitcher skill.

Yet the others – xFIP, HR/9, and GB% – reflect nothing more than the change in GB%. Look at his K/BB numbers. They got worse. If xFIP improved, it’s because he allowed fewer fly balls. xFIP, in this sense, is a function of GB%; because it improved, fewer fly balls were hit; in turn, xFIP would obviously decrease. So would HR/9.

So the first four could be just noise, and the last three are all just a restatement of ‘GB% increased.’ Which is good (unless you’re an Indians pitcher), but the improvement in this stat is hardly evidence of ‘Cherry Picking.’

Conclusion: number of statistics doesn’t matter, only what the stats say.

Bilbo Baggins
Guest
Bilbo Baggins

For my time, this is an excellent article. The reason is because Jason identifies a PROBABILITY (not necessarily a certainty) that certain statistics lead to certain outcomes. His info does not appear ‘cherry picked’ nor does it present any unusual or detrimental biases that ordinarily have the potential to undermine any analyses.

Indeed, articles such as this somewhat quantify certain intuitive correlations which provide ideal insight in choosing a staff.

Given the knowledge of above statistics, all else considered, I am certainly more willing to look elsewhere before Sabathia, Niese, Gallardo, Vogelsong, etc.

For this reason, I hope to see more articles such as this one.

Rainmaker
Member
Member
Rainmaker

I don’t disagree with you on the surface, but the argument does flip the other way too. A 0.02 decline in FIP is hardly a decline, same with a 0.02% decline in O-Swing%; the point is that its easy to call these very minor changes predictive AFTER Moore got hurt.

And given, there are direct quotes from the players manager stating Moore needs to work on dialing down his stuff to control it better, there is more than some doubt cast on any conclusion when you add context to the data. Without context, 99% of this analysis is useless. I’m just saying given the comments from Maddon, this is a case where context matters, hence what I meant by Sabre vs scout hat. If the Rays asked Moore to dial back his stuff, and he matched his 2013 line, why would they care about lower Plate Discipline stats? He achieve the same result at submaximal effort

bjoak
Member
bjoak

Rainmaker, you forgot to add something about the positive predictive nature of wins.