Matt Moore enters the 2012 MLB Season as the No. 4 starter for the Tampa Bay Rays. At the tender age of 23, Moore has already stymied hitters at every level of the minor leagues and diced two of the MLB's best lineups -- the New York Yankees and the Texas Rangers. He has not had a FIP above 3.00 since 2007, when he was an 18-year-old in the Rookie League.
Since 1992 (over the last 20 seasons), there have been 166 23-year-old pitchers to twirl over 100 innings in the majors. Of those pitchers, 58 were rookies. The 166 averaged a 4.19 ERA and 4.29 FIP with ~162 IP, while the 58 rookies averaged a 4.38 ERA and 4.45 FIP with about 142 and 1/3 IP.
Compare those numbers to the projections for Matt Moore:
|FG Fans (45)||168.0||3.26||3.23|
Each of these systems has their own strengths and weaknesses. At present, Steamer is widely reputed as the best pitching predictor, while years of correlations studies have shown the FanGraphs Fans predict playing time better than any other system. Marcel is by far the simplest of the systems, and it offers perhaps the purest, most unbiased information available because it merely looks three-year averages (thus the low playing time).
So the projection systems unanimously predict sub-4.00 ERAs, but one of the important distinctions here is that the run environment has changed pretty dramatically over the last three years. A 4.38 ERA used to be an admirable feet. For instance, in 1996, the league ERA was 5.12, but in 2011, the league ERA was 3.95.
For these instances, it's helpful to examine ERA- and FIP-, which adjust to league standards. In that 58 rookies group, the average ERA- came out to 99 and the group's FIP- comes out to 101. If the league ERA and FIP holds over from 2010-2011 into the 2012 season, then Moore's projections look like this:
|FG Fans (45)||168.0||83||85|
Using a 3.95 league ERA and 3.81 league FIP.
We can see two groupings here: The optimistic (RotoChamp and Fans) and the less optimistic (Steamer, Marcel, ZiPS). In the last 20 years, there have been only six 23-year-old rookies to manage a FIP- of 85 or better: Roy Oswalt (62), Tim Hudson (73), Aaron Sele (74), John Thompson (77), Tim Lincecum (80), and Travis Wood (84).
Can Moore be as good or better than this group? Certainly! Can he also be as good as David Price was in his 23-year-old rookie season (104 ERA-, 109 FIP-)? That's very possible too.
I believe there is a general consensus that Moore has all the ingredients necessary to be an even better pitcher than Price, but we certainly should not expect him to out-pitch Price this year. Looking at the Fans' predictions -- especially when compared to the Steamer and Marcel numbers -- I suspect that fans (read: we) may need to pull back our expectations a bit with Moore.
Is he great? In a big sense, yes. Will he great in 2012? Relative to his age, probably, but relative to the league, maybe less so. If he can maintain a FIP- under 100, stay healthy, and pitch 150 innings or so, then it will be a very victorious season. That's what I'm telling myself, so when he goes out and pitches 200 innings and wins the AL and NL Cy Young awards (just for his excellent interleague play), I will be all the more pleased.