We’ve reached the point in the offseason where any additions off the free agent market represent improvements around the margins. They might not be flashy or exciting, but those types of supplementary moves hold significant value for a team gunning for at worst a division crown.
After serving as one of the team’s strengths throughout the regular season, the bullpen became a liability in the postseason after being decimated by injury. In particular, there is a concerning lack of left-handers following Lucas Luetge’s trade to the Braves, though my colleague Esteban Rivera rightfully pointed out in an insightful analysis that just having one lefty in the bullpen is not necessarily a bad thing. However, should the Yankees determine that they need another lefty to replace Luetge, they could take a look at Matt Moore.
2022 Statistics: 63 games, 74 IP, 1.95 ERA (203 ERA+), 2.98 FIP, 3.87 xFIP, 10.1 K/9, 4.6 BB/9, 1.3 fWAR
Previous Contract: Signed minor-league deal with the Rangers last winter. Contract selected to majors on April 16th, signed for one year, $2.5 million prorated.
I had to do a double-take, but this is indeed the same Matt Moore who Baseball America ranked as the third-best prospect in baseball in 2011 behind Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. The same one who started for the Rays for so many years back in the early 2010s. I have to admit I forgot he was still around, and then was even more shocked when I saw the renaissance he appears to be experiencing out of the bullpen. In his first season as a full-time reliever, Moore turned in a career performance from a run prevention standpoint and his most valuable season since his days as a starter in Tampa Bay, essentially equaling the fWAR accrued in his previous four seasons combined.
Moore was truly among the game’s elite at limiting dangerous contact in 2022. He placed in the 90th percentile or better in hard hit rate, barrel rate, expected batting average, and expected slugging because he limited batters to the seventh-lowest sweet spot rate of any qualified pitcher — less than a quarter of the time did opposing hitters achieve an ideal launch angle between eight and 32 degrees on batted balls against Moore. It represents a stunning turnaround from his previous handful of seasons, when he routinely found himself in the bottom 10 percent of the league in most Statcast categories.
There appear to be two significant factors at play in this second act of Moore’s career. First, his fastball has gained almost two mph now that he’s able to throw full-tilt for an inning or two at a time. Second, he simplified his arsenal, ditching the cutter to focus on honing the four-seamer, knuckle curve, and changeup. It’s a perfect example of how just because a pitch has certain eye-popping characteristics does not automatically make it a good offering. His cutter consistently placed in the top-five of all cutters in MLB when it came to vertical movement vs. average, yet was often one of his worst pitches by Statcast’s Run Value metric.
I like this harder throwing, simpler version of Moore. Thanks to his high-three-quarters arm slot, Moore gets an impressive amount of true backspin on his four-seamer and true topspin on his knuckle curve. This mirroring in spin direction makes it harder for the hitter to differentiate the pitches out of the hand and allows the pitches to tunnel toward the plate for longer before the breaking ball ducks under the plane of the fastball, thus also giving the hitter less time to react.
Matt Moore fastball/knucklecurve overlay pic.twitter.com/FAu7RpVEIc— Peter Brody (@PBrods7) January 11, 2023
However, is it possible his pristine top-level stats were a mirage? Is the regression monster lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce the moment he takes the mound in 2023? FIP certainly thinks so, as it stands a full run higher than his ERA, inflated no doubt by the 12.5 percent walk rate. And xFIP likes him even less, exceeding his FIP by almost another run as he maintained an unsustainably-low 4.2 percent home run per fly ball rate. With a BABIP 40 points lower than his career average and xwOBAcon almost 100 points lower, enough signs are pointing to Moore being the recipient of some good luck and probably due for movement back toward his performance from the last few seasons.
Thus, Moore is one of the more intriguing cases on the relief pitching market. How much of his reinvigoration was luck and how much owes to his reinvention as a pitcher? I wouldn’t begrudge the Yankees for attempting to find out — at the very least he would give them a second lefty in the bullpen.