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It seems like just yesterday that Matt Moore was destined to be Tampa Bay's next ace. After he was called up for the postseason run in 2011, there were immediate comparisons to David Price. Moore put up strong numbers in 2012 and 2013, and looked ready for a huge 2014. Then, in his second start of the season in 2014, Moore partially tore his UCL. He worked a couple throwing sessions to see if he could pitch through it, but, ultimately he ended up having Tommy John Surgery.
Moore returned last July from Tommy John Surgery, but never seemed to get comfortable, posting a 7.71 ERA in July, never lasting more than five innings, and recording more strikeouts than walks in just two of his five starts. After opening August with a three inning, six run outing in Boston, Moore was optioned to Triple-A Durham. Moore fared well in his five Triple-A starts, recording a 3.30 ERA and 43 strikeouts to just eight walks.
Moore rejoined the Rays on September 1's roster expansion. He made six starts in September and October, and posted a 2.97 ERA, a BAA of .237, and 29 strikeouts to 10 walks. It was a far cry from the Moore that Rays fans had seen earlier in the season
So far this year, Moore has picked up right where he left off last September, and appears to have regained (at least some) of his 2012-13 stuff. Is this a case of small sample size? Is it sustainable all season? Can both answers be true? Let's take a deeper look.
Moore's first start came on April 6 against the powerful Toronto Blue Jays. Moore kept the Jays in check, scattering five hits over five innings. One of the hits was a three run home run by reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson, that provided the Blue Jays with all the runs they were able to get off of Moore for the day. Moore struck out six and walked two.
Allowing three runs (on one swing, mind you) to Toronto over five innings is something you'll live with. It's not a "quality start", by definition, but those are somewhat arbitrary anyway. The real interesting thing to look at are Moore's second and third starts.
Moore's second start came on April 12 in home against Cleveland. The Indians were limited to just one run, coming off a Francisco Lindor home run. Moore lasted seven innings, allowed five hits, and struck out five while only walking one. His 104 pitches also tied a post-Tommy John Surgery career high. For Moore to be comfortable and effective in throwing that number of pitches is a great sign for all involved.
Finally, Moore's most recent start came on April 17 against the White Sox. He pitched 6.1 innings, allowed five hits, zero runs, and struck out 10 while walking zero. It's important to note that, while this was a very good outing, the White Sox find themselves near the bottom of the American League in most hitting categories at this point of the season.
In addition to those three starts, his velocity is hovering right around where it was in 2013. His fastball is averaging 92.6 MPH, where it was 92.3 in 2013. It was 91.8 last season. The return of velocity is another step in the right direction for Moore.
So, this is where we're at with Matt Moore: He's had three good to very good starts this season. All three have been at home. Two of the three have been against below average offenses (Cleveland & Chicago).
While his next start hasn't been announced (every Rays pitcher from Friday-onward is "TBD" at the moment), it will likely be in New York against the Yankees. That should prove to be a good test for Moore, as New York currently sits in the top half of the AL in most offensive categories.
While it's possible his strong start is just a small sample size, there are a number of things to like about Moore so far this season. He seems to have regained his strikeout ability (21 is fourth in the AL right now), his walks are down (just three on the season), and he looks comfortable on the mound for the first time since the injury. Time will ultimately tell, but it seems like Matt Moore is poised for a strong 2016.