Just prior to the start of the 2021 MLB season, I wrote an article detailing why we should be excited about free agent signee, Matt Moore. Coming off of a successful stint in the JPPL, it seemed that perhaps the Phillies had found a proverbial diamond in the rough in the oft-injured, but talented left-hander. Despite a largely inconsistent spring training, there was more good than bad in the majority of those outings. Prior to his final tune-up start on March 25th, Moore posted a 2.25 ERA in 12 innings, allowing only eight hits and, most importantly, four walks. By and large, the free pass has been Moore’s Achilles heel. Moore was showing much of what made him such an attractive pitching prospect when he broke through into the bigs back in 2011: a high strikeout rate buoyed by a low walk rate.
However, from his final spring training start on March 25th to the present, Matt Moore has been just plain awful. We’re getting to a point where it’s difficult to watch; Moore’s 9.82 ERA isn’t nearly indicative of just how terrible he’s been. Across 11.0 innings, Moore’s walk rate of 7.4 per 9 innings is almost double his career mark of 3.8 (which is not very good, to begin with). As a rotten cherry atop this crap sundae, the Phillies lefty is also giving up 13.9 hits per game. In a word: yikes. At this point, it’s going to take nothing short of a miraculous turnaround for Moore to stick around on the Phillies roster and it’s this that brings me to this question: what went wrong with Matt Moore in 2021 and how, if even possible, can he turn things around?
How Matt Moore Was Successful in Japan
While the Pacific League certainly doesn’t offer the same consistent quality as the MLB, it’s not as if Moore was blazing through a bunch of scrub players in Japan in 2020. It’s easy to see why the Phillies were willing to take a low-risk gamble on Matt Moore after he averaged well over a strikeout per inning whilst doing a fine job keeping the ball in the park (0.7 home runs allowed per nine innings). Akin to his heyday with the Tampa Bay Rays, he also kept his walk rate at a modest 2.8 per nine innings.
A lot of Moore’s success came from his ability to locate his fastball to both sides of the plate as well as his ability to fade his change-up low and away to right-handed batters. Moore’s curveball has always had a bit of a sweeping motion to it, making it difficult to locate consistently to righties (it’ll often start mid-plate and break into the right-handed batter’s box) thus making it unusable to those hitters. A changeup that fades away gave him a change-of-pace pitch that enabled him to be effective against hitters from both sides of the plate. Having that third pitch is what separates bullpen guys from starters; without an off-speed pitch to use against righties, Moore is nothing more than a bullpen lefty-on-lefty specialist (though, while he looked solid on Wednesday night, should we expect such a performance out of Moore on a consistent basis moving forwards?).
— Hunter Brody (@Brodes81) May 6, 2021
What’s Gone Wrong
Here’s the thing: as successful as Moore was at locating his changeup in Japan, he’s been equally as bad as doing so here in Philadelphia. Just take a look at the location of this changeup Moore hung vs. the Cardinals on April 17th:
(4/17 CARDINALS vs Phillies) The Cardinals plated 6 in the 3rd off Matt Moore and JoJo Romero(unearned). Kwang Hyun Kim reached base this inning for the 1st time in his career due to an error by Alec Bohm. pic.twitter.com/tiYpj0Zgba
— Mike Tauchman and Deivi Garcia Stan Account (@TauchDeiviToMe) April 19, 2021
There’s a distinct difference between down and away and, well, down and away. Sure, Moore’s changeups are low in the zone and on the outer third of the plate. However, they’re still in the strike zone. Furthermore, they’re at a height where hitters can either square up or get underneath the ball. Matt Moore just hasn’t been making enough quality pitches to succeed at the major league level. Need more proof? Believe that maybe it’s just Moore off-speed offerings? Check out the location on this fastball to Paul DeJong:
Phillies starter Matt Moore gives up back to back HRs to the Cardinals pic.twitter.com/TvQtmbfpEP
— Jeff Skversky (@JeffSkversky) April 17, 2021
I mean, come on! Try hitting a spot. Looking at the rest of Matt Moore’s arsenal, it’s hard to be impressed. Moore’s cut fastball is a pitch he’s thrown about 12.3% of the time and it’s virtually useless. Used almost exclusively against righties, he can’t catch that inside corner of the plate for a strike. When he does throw it for a strike, Moore hangs it right over the middle of the plate. Not a recipe for success given the pitch is humming in at just around 88.5 MPH. Sounds like batting practice to me.
Long story short, it’s coming down to execution and location for Matt Moore. He’s not going to be successful unless he starts locating his pitches both in and out of the strike zone. Swings and misses on pitches outside the strike zone are few and far between. Why? They’re so far off the plate (or, in this case, over the batter’s head) that it’s a no brainer for hitters to take them:
— Hunter Brody (@Brodes81) April 17, 2021
Is there time for Matt Moore to right the ship? I’m not so sure at this point; there’s plenty of season left to go, but how many more chances is he likely to get? I can’t imagine the answer is many. If Matt Moore wants to stick around in Philadelphia, he has to start executing his pitches better, he needs to limit opponent contact, and he absolutely has to be more consistent in hitting his spots in the strike zone. It’s time to shape up or ship out. What’s it going to be?