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2012 Season Review: Matt Moore and readjusting expectations

The Rays rookie sensation did not have quite a sensational year. Is it time to expect less from the young lefty?

Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Moore enters the 2012 season with perhaps as much hype as any other rookie hurler in the last five to 10 years, save for a fella named Stephen Strasburg of Washington.

-Mark Hulet, February 28, 2012

Outside of David Price in 2009, I cannot think of any other Rays pitcher who entered a season with higher expectations than lefty Matt Moore. He wowed the scouts; he dominated the minors; and then he provided postseason heroics in the 2011 playoffs.

I, for one, was disappointed in Matt Moore's first full season in the Majors. He finished the years with a 3.81 ERA and 3.93 FIP over 177.1 IP. That above quote from Mark Hulet, the mere placement of Strasburg and Moore on the same line, had me expecting something at least a little closer to Stras' rookie 2.08 FIP.

But the problem was not Matt Moore. It was my expectations.

If Matt Moore had entered the MLB scene in the James Shields style -- mid season on a last-place Devil Rays team, without fanfare or intrigue or pedigree -- his 2012 numbers would have us drooling. But since he was ranked the Rays' top prospect, since he was the No. 2 prospect in all of baseball (ahead of Mike Trout, no less), and since he was coming off a bananas minor league season where he had a 34.8% K-rate and a 7.6% BB-rate, I expected -- simply -- too much from the 23-year-old.

Here is what I should have expected:

Pitcher ERA- FIP-
Matt Moore 98 100
Randy Johnson 126 106
Tom Glavine 126 103
CC Sabathia 98 95
Johan Santana 129 106
Andy Pettitte 91 89
Clayton Kershaw 102 96
Cliff Lee 120 113
David Price 104 109
Jamie Moyer 117 108

That is Matt Moore's first full season compared to the rookie seasons of the league's best lefties in recent memory. There is only one player who really shows great distinction from Moore's numbers, and that's the not-really-a-rookie-so-he's-not-included Yu Darvish (89 ERA-minus, 74 FIP-minus). UPDATE: Darvish is a righty, and I must have backwards eyes.

Outside of Darvish, and maybe Andy Pettitte, Moore had numbers better than or almost as good as any significant lefty rookie over the last 20 seasons. The only really troubling thing here with Moore's numbers is that, despite his 23.1% K-rate, he had a 10.7% BB-rate -- which puts him in the bottom half of the group, though not the worst.

Here is how the DRB staff rated his 2012 season:

Pitcher Command Control Stuff Stamina
Matt Moore 45 46 69 50

His "stuff," with a 69 rating, ranked second among the Rays starting pitchers. Michael Valancius, upon seeing my initial rating of just 60 for his stuff, called me in for questioning.

...Brad, how did you [give] 60 grades on Matt Moore's stuff? I was going through our rankings to see how similar they are, and that aspect really stuck out. I gave him a 75. He has dominant stuff, the second highest swinging strike rate in the AL, and the third lowest zone contact rate. I'm just curious of the rational behind that ranking (and I want to make sure I'm not missing anything!).

What he should have said was: "Brad, I noticed you wrote a frowny face with crayon in the Matt Moore section. I think your irrational disappointment with Moore is clouding your otherwise impeccable judgement. Here, have a cookie. (You pussy.)"

The truth is: In Matt Moore, the Rays have something special. The Young One may have hit a wall late in the season, but even with a slow start and a cold finish, his overall numbers rank just fine with the rookie seasons of some of the game's best lefties, as well as the projections for him entering the season.

I was disappointed with David Price's rookie season until I did almost this exact same exercise and came away with even higher expectations for the next season. Price obliged my hopes, and followed his rookie year with a 2.72 ERA and 3.42 FIP. He is now in Cy Young contention and possibly the best left-handed pitcher in the league. It is hard to see these kinds of developments on the horizon when it seems like Moore is walking every other batter and has half the control we thought he would -- half the control we saw he had in the 2011 season.

So we need to readjust our expectations for Matt Moore, not because Matt Moore is not as good as we thought he was, but because he might just be even better.