Matt Moore made an impact when he first debuted for the Tampa Bay Rays late in 2011. He made just one start in the regular season before taking the hill against the Texas Rangers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs and shut down one of the most potent lineups in baseball, pitching 7.0 shutout innings, giving up just two hits while striking out six. With a performance like that, the projections were off the charts for Moore in 2012.
In his first season as a starter, Moore did pretty well. It wasn’t transcendental like his playoff performance, but for a rookie, it was sneakily very good. Sure, some will nitpick his record, though 11-11 isn’t horrible and wins and losses mean very little anymore, and his ERA of 3.81 wasn’t amazing, but it was incredibly solid for his age and the league he plays in. There were some issues with his walk rate (10.7 percent, good for No. 107 among qualified starting pitchers) and some of his fastballs tended to sail on him, but it was still a very good rookie campaign.
The most important part was how much he learned about pitching. One AL evaluator said of Moore that he was a “typical power guy” with great stuff, “but he needs to learn to pitch.” That was what Moore did in 2012. The lefty jumped into the deep end, handling a veteran-sized workload and he figured things out as the season wore on.
He spun breaking balls for strikes at a league-average clip, which many young pitchers (especially power pitchers) struggle to do. He learned how to use his changeup as a weapon against right-handed batters, throwing for 67 percent strikes in fastball counts. Moore attacked the zone, throwing first-pitch strikes 60 percent of the time and getting ahead of counts to be aggressive with his pitches. And then there’s the power. He burned his fastball past hitters at a 24 percent clip, better than any other starter in baseball.
Moore put in his work in 2012, taking a couple of lumps along the way. But now he’s ready to step up as the No. 3 starter behind David Price and Jeremy Hellickson as the Rays try and replace the production of James Shields and Wade Davis. With the lessons he learned last season and the raw talent he brings to the hill every start, Tampa Bay looks to be in fine shape at the top of their rotation.