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Here’s why signing Matt Moore was a good move for the Tigers

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Between Matt Moore’s numbers and the price of the contract, it was a very shrewd signing from Al Avila

MLB: Texas Rangers at New York Yankees Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Tigers reportedly came to terms with left-handed pitcher Matt Moore on Tuesday. Moore will be paid somewhere between $2-3 million for one year, as both sides hope he can rebuild some value after a few lost seasons. But you’re here to read about whether we at BYB think this is a sound move.

The good news about this signing is that he has been cheaper than almost every other fourth or fifth starter the Tigers have signed the past several years. He could easily provide quality innings in the fourth or fifth spot in any decent rotation, including Detroit’s... when healthy. He’s had his share of injuries over the years, including Tommy John surgery in the spring of 2014. He has been healthy the past three years, though, making at least 30 appearances in each of the past three seasons.

The first thing to know about Moore is that he’s not the type of high velocity, high strikeouts pitcher teams are hoarding these days. However, he can strike out quite a few batters comparatively to other pitchers at his level, with around 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings the past three seasons. He isn’t great when it comes to limiting walks, with 3.4 walks per nine the past three seasons.

The one benefit with Moore compared to many older pitchers the Tigers have signed over the past several years is he is still somewhat young and definitely still coachable. With fewer than 900 major league innings under his belt, he may still have time to adjust and adapt to the current landscape, which gives him an advantage over past lower-level starters the Tigers have signed.

Moore’s fastball averaged 92.3 miles per hour in 2018, so we know he’s not a high velocity pitcher. His saving grace is the movement on his pitches. He has above-average movement on all four of his pitches; his four-seam, cutter, changeup and curveball, as the graphic below shows. The above-average movement has allowed him to keep his batting average against at .269 and his home runs per nine innings at 1.13 the past three seasons.

Baseball Savant

Despite being above league average in pitch movement, one concern with Moore has been the sharp decline in vertical and horizontal movement on his fastball. His terrible HR/9 mark of 1.68 testifies to that issue. Previously mentioned by RJ Anderson of CBS Sports in a piece written about free agent pitchers, Anderson notes, “In 2013, Moore’s fastball had nearly 11 inches of “rise”; in 2018, it was down to 8.81 inches. The pitch’s horizontal movement has also suffered, and he recorded less ‘run’ last season than he had in any of his other full big-league seasons.”

Anderson seems skeptical that Moore will bounce back due to his poor performances in the 2017 and 2018. However, I am not as pessimistic. His splits at the pitcher-friendly AT&T Park in 2017 are promising, and he was hurt by a lack of run support in 2017 and 2018. Moore was a premiere starter from the beginning of his career, including being a top prospect and an All-Star in 2013 prior to fizzling out as a top-level arm. However there are still flashes of sheer dominance, including a seven inning, one-run performance last year with the Texas Rangers, and an eight inning, one-run performance with the San Francisco Giants in 2017.

Before we jump to any conclusions with respect to Moore’s signing, let’s take a look at the previous fifth starter role for the Tigers.

Tigers 5th Starters since 2016

Stat FIers Moore Sanchez Pelfrey
Stat FIers Moore Sanchez Pelfrey
wOBA .338 .341 .336 .370
FIP 4.85 4.61 4.64 5.75
xFIP 4.41 4.86 4.28 5.34
K% 19.9% 19.6% 22.0% 12.4%
BB% 6.7% 8.6% 7.3% 9.9%
K/BB% 13.2% 11.1% 14.7% 2.5%
Age* 33 29 33 32
Contract* $6M $3M $16.8M $8M
*Age and Contract in first/final year with Detroit; Moore’s contract is worth between $2 and $3 million

While Moore is not above and beyond previous fifth starters in the Tigers system, there are a few things that separate him from any previous fifth starter that the Tigers have had in their system the last three or four years. First, Moore is three years younger than any other Tigers fifth starter at the time of their signing over the past four years. Second, Moore is far cheaper than any fifth starter the Tigers have signed in recent memory, signing a deal worth less than $3 million; the previous cheapest fifth starter the Tigers had was Pelfrey at $6 million. Also, of the the previously mentioned starters, Moore has fewer innings on his arm than any of the other starters.

Of course, he may seem limited duty as a starter.

It’s possible with the plethora of starters the Tigers have available in the minors that Moore may be relegated to the bullpen, which might not be a bad thing considering how difficult it is to find solid left-handed relievers. Regardless of which role Moore is assigned to or whether that role changes or evolves throughout the season, he may post better numbers than were use to seeing from these lower tier signings. Look for Moore to make a decent impact with the Tigers, and provide solid versatility, next spring.