Matt Moore And The Rookie Wall

J. Meric - Getty Images

Matt Moore has had a good season, but he's pitched more innings than he ever has before, and he may be hitting the rookie wall. Here's an examination of how his stuff has changed.

Matt Moore has had a fine rookie season, grinding out games when he's struggled with his command, and showing flashes of dominance when he hasn't. If he were any other rookie, we'd be singing his praises, and rubbing our hands together in anticipation of next year. But he isn't any other rookie. He's Matt Moore, Destroyer of Worlds, heir to and protector of the Rays' brand, and we're still locked in a playoff race. Over the past three games, Moore has only managed to pitch 4 innings, 3 innings, and 2.2 innings, respectively. Of course in one of those, he was prey to a seemingly early hook by Joe Maddon, but I think it's worth asking the question of whether or not Moore is hitting the rookie wall. He's already pitched 172 innings this season, more than he has in any previous season (164 was his total last year, everything else was below that).

For help, I turn to to the always useful Baseball Heat Maps for some LOESS regression curves. Thanks, Jeff Sullivan.

First off, here is Moore's fastball velocity:

Dgflq2ok8ehr5l0elm9gtt7le2519043start_speedwm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

And fastball horrizontal movement:

Dgflq2ok8ehr5l0elm9gtt7le2519043pfx_xwm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

And fastball vertical movement:

Dgflq2ok8ehr5l0elm9gtt7le2519043pfx_zwm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

Moore's seen a steady decline in his fastball velocity over the past several games. For this graph, I'm including everything labeled as FA, FF, and FT by MLBAM. I realize that this could result in the data simply picking up Moore throwing more two seam fastballs than four seam fastballs, but frankly, Moore's pitches are more on a continuum than clustered, so I don't trust the algorithms ability to differentiate in this case. The fact that Moore's velocity has changed significantly more than his movement (although the movement has gotten slightly worse) satisfies me that we have a real deterioration of the pitch, rather than simple a change in pitch mix.

What about Moore's secondary offerings?

Changeup velocity:

Dgflq2ok8ehr5l0elm9gtt7le2519043start_speedwm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

Changeup horizontal movement:

Dgflq2ok8ehr5l0elm9gtt7le2519043pfx_xwm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

Changeup vertical movement:

Dgflq2ok8ehr5l0elm9gtt7le2519043pfx_zwm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

The LOESS curves for Moore's changeup look remarkably like those for his fastball, if a bit more extreme. It's dropped off in velocity with the fastball, and it's horizontal movement has mirrored that of the fastball as well. The big difference is that while Moore's fastball has gradually lost vertical jump as the season has wore on, the difference in his changeup has been dramatic. Now I don't know if this should be attributed to tiring or not. Some players (like Jeremy Hellickson) have more of a rising changeup that hides inside their fastball, while others (like James Shields or Fernando Rodney) have diving changeups that fall off the table and dart away from hitters. There's more than one way to skin a cat (pretty sure this saying refers to catfish, not felines), and I do prefer the Shieldsian type of change, so this might actually be Moore improving the pitch, not losing his feel for it.

Finally, a look at Moore's breaking ball, where the change is most dramatic.

Breaking ball velocity:

Dgflq2ok8ehr5l0elm9gtt7le2519043start_speedwm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

Breaking ball horizontal movement:

Dgflq2ok8ehr5l0elm9gtt7le2519043pfx_xwm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

Breaking ball vertical movement:

Dgflq2ok8ehr5l0elm9gtt7le2519043pfx_zwm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

What we see here is a good pitch that has held steady through most of the year, and then has recently become pedestrian in a hurry. Velocity has jumped, and the pitch has stopped diving and sweeping. Now, of course, some will say that Moore is throwing a slider instead of a curve. I don't think so. He hasn't said as much, he hasn't thrown a slider before, and why would he change things up right at the end of a season when it seemed like he had found his groove? For me, this is a clear sign of fatigue. While we've recently criticized Joe Maddon's quick hook with Moore, Maddon is very possibly working off of some good, inside information. Moore may need to be protected from his workload, and the team's playoff chances may need to be protected from it's tiring young stud.

By the way, if any of the pitchers out there care to comment on how late season fatigue should be expected to affect individual pitches, I'd love to hear it.

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