The Tampa Bay Rays are the team that every other team wants to be.
OK, maybe not this year judging by their spot in the standings (which shouldn't matter anyway because who knows what kind of tricks wacky Joe Maddon has up his sleeve. What? No one calls him that? So noted), but no other team in recent memory has had so much success while spending so little money. Maybe the Angels, Blue Jays and Dodgers should have been paying closer attention.
Their latest and greatest minor league graduate wasn't a first round pick. But, judging by his "stuff," Matt Moore looks more like an overall first choice, then an eighth-round selection.
After laying the groundwork for his legend with a stellar ALDS performance in 2011 against the Rangers, Moore put together a fine season in 2012. Nothing spectacular, but good for a rookie. Too many walks, a strikeout per inning, an ERA under 4.00, a good start.
Moore then came barreling through the gates in 2013, firing on all cylinders and rendering any hitter that stepped into the batter's box helpless. He posted a 5-0 record in April with a 1.13 ERA and a 10.7 K/9. He went 3-0 in May, but his ERA was nearly three times what his April marking had been. His K/9 also fell to 5.7 for that month. He was winning, but pitcher wins are silly, and his peripherals suggested that hitters were adjusting.
Or were they?
Matt Moore is a three-pitch pitcher (which is kind of necessary if you are going to be a successful major league starter). He relies mostly on his wicked fastball and wipeout slider. He has a change-up, but has always used that sparingly compared to the other two. And in the first two months of this season, Moore stayed with that approach. In June, well, not so much.
He used his change-up 14.4% of the time in April.
In May, he used it 15.6% of the time.
In June (over the super-duper small sample size of seven innings), he has used his change-up 25.3% of the time. He's still throwing his fastball more than 60% of the time, but his slider is the pitch that is getting shelfed in favor of his change-up. And hitters are teeing off on it.
And by "teeing off," I mean "torching."
Hitters are posting a .462 batting average against the pitch this month (which he has thrown 47 times already) and slugging a robust .615 against it. Probably because, well, he's throwing it too much. To illustrate how much the pitch is getting smacked around.
Here's a heat map of his changeup.
Yup. That's a lot of red.
Normally, Matt Moore's change-up is a decent out pitch. His slider is still his bread and butter though. Hitters hold a career OPS of .478 against that pitch. But a .674 OPS against on his change-up, is nothing to be ashamed of. It's just not a pitch that is meant to be thrown over and over and over and over...yeah, you get the point.
So, Matt, Pedro Martinez you are not. If we hope to see your crazy, two-feet-of-movement fastball hang around in the big leagues for a long time to come, keep the change-up in your back pocket. For your sake, and for ours.