Fantasy baseball Pitching Report: Moore maturing on the mound
I talk about velocity a lot in this space, and of course, I'm not alone. Fastball velocity is indicative of dominance and strikeout ability, and that's what we care about most as fantasy owners. The last thing we want to see is a power pitcher or a young guy losing velocity; we're almost always disappointed when we talk about a young power pitcher ticking down a bit on the radar gun. However, that's not the case for Tampa Bay Rays' pitcher Matt Moore.
Moore impressed as a rookie in 2012, going 11-11 with a 3.81 ERA, 3.93 FIP and 175 strikeouts in 177.1 innings. He turned 23 last June and fit the profile of a hard thrower his whole professional career. His average fastball velocity last year was 94.4 MPH, fourth highest in the majors behind Stephen Strasburg, David Price and Jeff Samardzija. However, Moore's rookie year was not without its growing pains -- mostly connected with his proclivity to issue free passes. He walked more than four batters per nine innings, which led to the ninth-worst walk rate in the majors. Much of his wildness came from a lack of command over his fastball; despite featuring the fourth-hardest fastball in the majors, Moore's pitch value on his fastball was just 2.8 according to Fangraphs' calculations, which ranked him 43rd among pitchers who threw at least 100 innings. Meanwhile, his curveball was arguably his most effective pitch, registering a 3.0 value, yet he only threw it 17 percent of the time.
Needless to say, Moore has made a few adjustments this season. First of all, he's throwing the curveball 23.2 percent of the time, and it currently has a value of 3.2. His average fastball velocity is down to 92.2 MPH, but there's no cause for alarm -- its velocity has trended higher each start, beginning at 92 on the dot and inching up to 92.4 in his third outing this year. Secondly, his ground-ball rate has spiked to 52.5 percent in the early going. It's impossible to say this for sure without seeing every pitch Moore has thrown this season, but the higher ground-ball rate and lower velocity points to him pitching more to contact this season and using the elite defense he has behind him. Moore is maturing as a pitcher, and that's exactly what we want to see out of a guy in his age-24 season. Even if his velocity is down a touch, which I'm not convinced it will be as the season wears on and the weather heats up, the changes he has made to his overall pitching style will prove beneficial.
• Derek Holland, Texas Rangers -- Holland sputtered a bit in 2012, but he appears to have regained his 2011 form this season. He's throwing a ton more change-ups and sliders this year and getting great results out of both pitches, -- his changeup currently ranks as the third best in the majors. Their higher profile has come at the expense of his curveball, which he threw 14.5 percent of the time last year even though it had a value of -4.6. Unsurprisingly, his reliance on more effective pitches has dramatically cut his walk rate to 4.9 percent. It was 7.1 percent last year and 8 percent in 2011.
• A.J. Burnett, Pittsburgh Pirates -- Burnett resuscitated his career with Pittsburgh last season, and he has carried it right over into 2013. In 24 innings, he has a 2.63 ERA, 2.45 FIP and 35 strikeouts. He may be 36 years old, but he's still running his fastball up there at 92.6 MPH. His curveball remains devastating -- Fangraphs currently ranks it the best in the league -- and he's getting hitters to swing and miss 13.1 percent of the time. Last year's 3.51 ERA and 180 strikeouts feel like his floor this season.
• Garrett Richards, L.A. Angels of Anaheim -- Richards struggled against the Astros in his first start of the season, but bounced back to throw seven shutout innings against the Tigers, allowing just two hits while striking out eight and walking none. Richards is a power pitcher who leans heavily on his fastball, averaging 94.8 MPH this year, and his slider. Even with that repertoire, he had a 1.38 ground ball/fly ball ratio last year, and induced 12 ground-ball outs in the win over the Tigers. Owners in deeper mixed leagues should take notice.
• Dan Straily, Oakland Athletics -- With Brett Anderson back on the shelf with an ankle injury, Straily makes his triumphant return to Oakland's rotation. He was dominant in his one start this year, though it was against the Astros, allowing two runs on five hits in 6.2 innings with 11 strikeouts. He spent time at three levels last year and totaled 222 strikeouts in 191.1 innings. He benefited from a .225 BABIP and 90.7 percent strand rate in his short stint in the majors last year, but he's still worth adding in mixed leagues with at least 12 teams.
• James McDonald, Pittsburgh Pirates -- McDonald still appears to be resting on his 2012 first-half laurels, the only really significant stretch where he has been an above-average starter. He fell apart after the All-Star break last year, posting a 7.52 ERA in 61 innings. This season, his average fastball velocity is down more than 1 MPH, and he has 12 walks in 19.2 innings. He still has value because of his strikeouts, but it's not a stretch to think he could become expendable in shallower mixed leagues.
• Wei-Yin Chen, Baltimore Orioles -- Chen is pitching pretty well this season, though his 3.38 ERA belies a below average 4.20 FIP. However, the real red flag here is his 4.13 strikeouts per nine innings. The only way to strike out that few batters and retain any fantasy value is to post truly elite rates. I wouldn't be dropping Chen anywhere just yet, but if he doesn't start fanning more batters in the near future, you may be able to cut him loose.
• Order appears to have been restored in the Kansas City bullpen, where Greg Holland saved both ends of a doubleheader against the Red Sox on Sunday. That gives him four consecutive saves, the last three of which have been completely clean with eight strikeouts. On the other hand, Kelvin Herrera, who appeared to be threatening Holland's job security a little less than two weeks ago, had a couple rocky outings last week. He remains the primary setup man, but Holland has reasserted himself in the Royals' pen.
• The situation in Miami warrants your attention, as Steve Cisehk has allowed nine hits and two walks in eight innings this year. Understudy Mike Dunn has only been slightly better, letting 11 men reach base in 8.1 innings, but Cishek's troubles are in the spotlight of being the closer. Dunn could be in a position to slide into the closer's role should Cishek continue to struggle.
• Both Los Angeles teams provide us with intrigue in the closer's chair, as well. We'll start with the Dodgers and current closer Brandon League: He's five-for-five in save opportunities this year, but has struck out just two batters, not quite looking like a dominant closer. Setup man Kenley Jansen, however, has 12 strikeouts in 10 innings, and has clearly been the better pitcher of the two this year. Don Mattingly doesn't have any reason to make a change right now, but Jansen's presence likely means League has a short leash.
• The Angels got some bad news when Ryan Madson felt soreness in his pitching elbow after throwing a simulated game Friday. He appeared to be on schedule for a return in late April, but that is now unlikely. Ernesto Frieri has cashed in on both of his save opportunities this season, but he has allowed 10 baserunners in 6.1 innings. He does have 11 strikeouts and is unlikely to lose the job to either Sean Burnett or Scott Downs, but a WHIP north of 1.50 isn't going to cut it all season. Save speculators should keep their gaze fixed on Los Angeles.