Andrew Moore is one of the Mariners’ best stories of 2017. We should just get that out of the way. A PNW-born, slight, no-velo kid who starred at the region’s best baseball college, Moore is one of only a handful of 2015 draft picks to have already reached the major leagues. Most of the others (Andrew Benintendi, Alex Bregman, Dansby Swanson, etc.) are upper 1st round, consensus top prospect talents. What Moore and the Mariners have managed to do in successfully rocketing him to Seattle is a fine achievement, and we can all be happy about that.
The Mariners rotation is a disaster, and looks to be a disaster through at least the rest of the year. Moore is being asked to do more than he probably should, which is to arrive as a 23-year old rookie and shore up the rotation for a team that’s desperately trying to make the playoffs. With that in mind, even though it has only been three starts, let’s take a look see
CAVEAT ALERT: I am not a mechanics or pitching expert in any way, and if you want a place to learn the building blocks of Moore’s game I highly recommend reading Kate Preusser’s exhaustive breakdown here. I’m just here to do some Small Sample Size Sizin’ Up. So, through three starts, what has Moore done well?
Pacman, but innings
In two of Moore’s three major league starts, he has managed to go at least seven innings. This sounds like low praise, but it’s not an easy thing, and in the context of the 2017 Mariners rotation, it’s rarified air. Here’s the leaderboard for starts of 7+ innings:
Ariel Miranda – 7
James Paxton – 5
Andrew Moore – 2
Christian Bergman (!) – 2
Moore’s economy of motion, very quick pace, and well-advertised ability to pound the strike zone is a huge plus for this team, which features one of the American League’s scariest bullpens. No, not like the Astros bullpen is scary, the other scary.
Swing the bat or walk (back to the dugout)
Going in tandem with the previous point is Moore’s almost total unwillingness to walk anyone. After his first 21 major league innings he has only walked two batters, or a BB% of 2.4. Of all pitchers with a minimum of 20 innings that puts Moore 4th, behind only Kenley Jansen, Noah Syndergaard, and Roberto Osuna.
This is, again, as advertised with Moore. He has never run a BB% higher than 6.5% as a professional, and was running a rate of 3.9% in Tacoma prior to his callup. The dude throws strikes, and then some strikes, and then more strikes. You gotta swing it.
Ok, that’s some good stuff to build off. Let’s look at the concerning parts
Oh lordy please miss some bats
Major league hitters are terrifying, earth-destroying, pitcher-swallowing demigods, sent to this planet from the cosmos with the sole purpose of reconfiguring our perception of the atrocities that can be committed to baseballs. As such, it’s really in a pitcher’s best interest to just have them not hit the ball altogether. Thus far, Moore is one of the worst in baseball at this.
Through three starts Moore’s K% is 12.2% 12.2! That is 12th worst in baseball, two spots better than the tanning corpse of Jered Weaver, and three places worse than poor, poor Hisashi Iwakuma. This is a concern I expect to alleviate at least partially. Moore will never be even a league average strikeout pitcher, but his current MLB rate is almost half what it was in Tacoma.
I certainly hope it rises, because after factoring in the annually increasing league-wide strikeout rate Moore’s inability to generate strikeouts starts to look a lot like, um, well, you all won’t like this comp I know.
I’m sorry. You can stop reading now.
(Guy peeking out behind the building ASCII art)
Carlos Silva. It’s a lot like Carlos Silva. There, I said it. The thing with Silva, who actually scraped together a few 2+ fWAR seasons in Minnesota, despite striking out less than 10% of batters, is he ran above average to good groundball rates. And, well……
Bombs over Safeco
Andrew Moore’s inability to generate strikeouts is doubly concerning when we notice that over 70% of the balls hit off him are in the air. His GB% of 29.4% is 12th lowest in baseball, tied with AJ Griffin, and a few spots worse than Francisco Rodriguez. Here, Moore’s rates lineup with his minor league numbers very well. He has always allowed a very high number of fly balls, with a GB% under 35.0 in every level above A ball.
Not surprisingly, Moore has already allowed 5 home runs, and there has been plenty of hard contact hit foul or to the warning track in addition to that. The HR/FB% of 13.5 should theoretically decline, but allowing so many balls to get hit in the air is not a traditionally repeatable model for quality major league pitching.
Andrew Moore is smart, and probably knows everything I just said way better than I do. He knows his .188 BABIP is going to regress in the bad way. He knows his ERA of 3.86 is almost two runs worse than his FIP. He might even know his DRA is 6.34, which, yikes.
Moore is a tough, intelligent, savvy competitor. He has dedicated his life to gaining every bit of pitching skill out of his talent that he possibly can, and by all accounts has done so while remaining a grounded, humble, likable person who teammates adore. However, even with his ability to work deep in games, and refusal to walk batters, he will quickly need to show an ability to miss bats, or generate more groundballs.
It’s possible he could be an exception to the idea that a low strikeout, low groundball pitcher can succeed as a starting pitcher. Baseball’s greatness shines brightest when players gleam through the cracks in our ascertations and rigid stereotypes. However, I see no compelling reason to believe that at this time.
I have little doubt that Andrew Moore is one of the Mariners organization’s five best starting pitchers. He belongs in Seattle, even if that is partially due to the organization’s utter lack of MLB quality pitching depth. The primary concerns remain, however, and they are large enough to potentially overshadow everything else.
Without more strikeouts and/or fewer flyballs (which, again, could absolutely come. It’s three starts Nathan, you idiot) it’s very difficult to see Andrew Moore as anything greater than a useful, cheap backend starter at his very peak. To my admittedly layman’s eye, it’s hard to see much more than a Brian Bannister-style career.
As always, may I be wrong.