On Saturday night, Matt Moore took the hill for the Rays against the Blue Jays. In his past few starts, Matt had battled a string of issues, mainly his velocity and command. A good Matt Moore sits in the 93-97 range, but in the past few starts, the velocity maxed out around 94.
With Moore penciled in as the fourth member of the playoff rotation (should the Rays reach it), regaining his form is crucial to the Rays postseason hopes.
In the first inning, Moore was not sharp. The velocity ranged from 91 to 94, and his command was noticeably off. After walking the first batter, he surrendered a double and then a single. Following a coaching visit to the mound, Moore settled down and retired the next three batters. The velocity still was not at its typical level; however, mustered enough command and use of his offspeed pitches to limit the damage.
Things took a baffling turn after this.
With the Rays responding with a run, Moore emerged from the dugout to begin the second inning. The Rays needed a shutdown inning from Moore to keep the momentum in their favor: he delivered. In only 12 pitches, Moore pitched a perfect inning with two strikeouts, reaching 95 (mph) on the last pitch for a called strike three. Mathis, the first batter, went down swinging on three pitches.
For a while, the situation seemed under control. The Rays scored three more runs in the bottom of the second, taking a 4-2 lead. Moore retired the first batter of the third inning on a harmless groundball. Next, Rajai Davis singled on a soft fly ball to BJ Upton. Tt was a hit, but not one to be overly concerned with.
With Davis as a constant stolen base threat, Moore tried to keep him close by attempting three pickoff attempts. Getting ahead of Encarnacion to a 1-2 count, Moore threw the a ball while Davis easily stole second base. To his credit, Moore did not appear flustered or disturbed.
With a 2-2 count, Joe Maddon called for Moore to intentionally walk Encarnacion. While a great hitter, Encarnacion's statistics nosedive when down in a 2-2 count. In 2-2 counts, Encarnacion has a .307 wOBA. That certainly isn't something to overlook, but it is a far cry from his .400 wOBA on the season.
I have two main issues with Maddon's call to intentionally walk Encarnacion:
- A walk is worth a .720 wOBA. In a 2-2 count, Encarnacion only hits for a .307 wOBA. This isn't a small sample size issue either. The MLB average for a 2-2 count is a .471 OPS. By walking Encarnacion, Maddon was not playing the numbers. There was only one out, and Moore would next have to face the 4/5 hitters with two batters on.
- Brian Anderson made a very good point during the broadcast. Matt Moore isn't a robot out there. There still is a human element, and to any competitor, intentionally walking a batter in a 2-2 count (in the context) is a slap in the face to the pitcher.
It was a strange and questionable decision. But what followed was even more baffling.
Moore retired the next batter on a fly ball that was well hit, but still an out. Maddon responded by removing Moore from the game with batters on first and second in the third inning.
Statistically speaking, there might have been some wisdom in removing Moore so early in the game. The Rays have a plethora of available relievers, many who can pitch at a high level. If Maddon wasn't confident in Moore (for understandable reasons), then there might be some reasoning behind the decision. The Rays need to win games, and if that means pulling Moore early, then Maddon has some reasoning behind his decision.
But that same reasoning, the lack of confidence in Moore, is what makes his decision disturbing to me. For a moment, put yourself in Matt Moore's shoes. You have been struggling recently, and began the game poorly. However, you have rebounded and your offense is giving you the opportunity to win. Just then, your manager twice makes decisions that display an utter lack of faith in you. Now, I cannot be sure that there is not something else going on behind the scenes. There is a huge amount of information that most writers and fans are not made privy to. However, assuming this is not the case, I can not commend, agree, or understand the decision.
Matt Moore is not just another pitcher. He is the eventual replacement of David Price, and a future face of the franchise who is locked up in a team-friendly deal. This is a guy you build a team around, a guy who you display confidence in. The Rays did just that when they started him in the playoffs last year and signed him to a contract extension with less than 50 innings under his belt at the MLB level.
So why, oh why, do you toy with a player's confidence like that? Sure, this was a game the Rays needed to win. But Maddon did not pull Moore in the midst of a meltdown. He didn't head out to the mound and load the bases with no outs in the fourth inning when the move would have been perfectly understandable for both Maddon and Moore. No, instead Moore had rebounded after a poor first, and the game had the potential for a confidence builder after a poor stretch of starts. I'm not trying to portray Moore as a player with a fragile personality and mental strength who will break down if his confidence disappears. For all I know, Moore could wake up today with the matter gone from his mind. However, the move still happened, and confidence can be a fickle point.
I did not like the move. Brian Anderson sure as heck did not like the move. And I presume Matt Moore, from his expression, felt the same.
As of right now, Matt Moore is the fourth member of the playoff rotation, should the Rays make it. Seeing a lack of confidence from the manager sure can't rest well in Moore's mind should he walk onto the big stage in the playoffs.
The only similar situation I can recall was game #158 last year. Niemann wasn't at full strength, and confidence from the manager and the fans was lacking. Niemann looked shaky straight out of the gates, and the Rays removed him after one inning. Alex Torres assumed the role of hero, pitching 5 scoreless, season-saving innings.
However, these situations were not the same. While both games were close to "must wins," the pitchers differed significantly. Jeff Niemann, while a solid pitcher, was not a franchise pitcher. The Rays did not have reason to believe that he would rebound in the game. Niemann also didn't figure to slide into the Rays' postseason rotation. As previously stated, Matt Moore is expected to play a prominent role in both the playoffs and the Rays' future.
In the end, the Rays won the game. Some may say that is all that matters. I respectfully disagree. In a recent streak of questionable decisions from the Rays' skipper, this decision may be the most baffling.