The Rays glut of starting pitchers is no secret. People claim that the Rays have eight viable starting pitching options-James Shields, David Price, Jeff Niemann, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Wade Davis, Alex Cobb, and Alex Torres. Given that Alex Torres is, barring injury, a lock to start off the season in AAA, this still leaves the Rays with 7 legitimate potentially above average starting pitchers.
As Einstein once said, seven is two more than five. Because of this, even if the Rays keep Alex Cobb in AAA for another season or if they manage to trade someone they'll have one too many pitchers, and at this point in the off-season, with so few murmurs, it seems unlikely the Rays will be able to get what they perceive as fair value for one of their starters. As a result, it seems likely that someone will be stuck moving to the bullpen.
Even though people generally seem to think that Jeff Niemann or Wade Davis should be moving to the bullpen, on account of those being the two least reliable and probably least talented starters out of the main six contenders, Matt Moore provides an intriguing option for this movement. I'll examine why after the jump.
- Limiting Innings: Matt Moore pitched 174 innings last season, a fairly large jump from his previous high of 144. Although from this point he's probably ready to make the jump to 200+ innings, he's still a young starting pitcher, and the Rays would want to be conservative with his innings. Keeping him in the bullpen to start the year would be an easy way to limit his innings painlessly and let him pitch deeper into games later in the year.
- Trade Value: Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis are the two starters most likely to get traded. Moving either of them to the bullpen would tank their trade value. Given that the Rays are decidedly unlikely to sell low on either of these pitchers, starting them both off in the rotation would allow for one of them to start off strong and build more value.
- Effectiveness: Matt Moore is a really good starting pitcher. Good starting pitchers make better relievers. It's been shown that on average starters experience a one run drop in ERA when moving to the bullpen, and there's no question that Moore has the stuff to be effective in the back end of the bullpen, unlike other starting pitchers, who may not have the velocity to transition seamlessly. Zips projects Moore for a 3.72 ERA as a starter, which would correspond with a 2.72 ERA as a relief pitcher. Compared to Fernando Rodney's 4.32 projected ERA, the Rays would generate about .4 wins if Matt Moore pitches 20 innings out of the bullpen instead of Rodney. The Rays would swap a near-replacement pitcher for a relief ace.
The obvious argument against putting Moore in the bullpen is that his potent innings would be lost from the rotation. This argument has merit, but the Rays wouldn't be missing out on all that much. Assuming that Moore's starts would be replaced by Wade Davis (who has the most negative Zips projections out of any Rays starter), over 10 starts and ~65 innings the Rays would lose .5 wins, or an opportunity cost of about .1 win (subtracting the wins gained from him being in the bullpen).
Although one of the Rays goals is to optimize value wherever possible, starting Moore off in the bullpen for a couple months would cost the Rays a few runs at most. Given the potential benefits this presents in preserving his health, bolstering an already solid bullpen, and allowing the Rays to get significantly greater returns for Davis or Niemann, it seems without a doubt the most logical solution to the "problem" that every team wishes they had.