Andrew Moore was frustrated. He’d already had to wait for an hour and a half, for the rain to clear and the tarp to be rolled off the field. Then he had to wait for Kevin Plawecki to adjust his shin guard for a seeming eternity, perched impatiently on the mound, glove on his hip, foot tapping in annoyance. Now, the quick-working righty was locked in a ten-pitch battle against the Las Vegas 51’s catcher. After getting Plawecki to 0-2, Moore tried to get him to chase a changeup outside, which Plawecki declined to do. Moore came back at him with a high fastball that Plawecki fouled back; a changeup Plawecki thumped but foul; another high fastball hit foul that is probably caught in a park with more foul territory that is not patrolled by Dan Vogelbach; a fastball low and in called a ball; another fastball spotted to the outside edge that Plawecki spoiled, eliciting a grimace from Moore; and a change that missed low in the zone—on the 9th pitch of the at-bat, the count finally running full. Moore looked down. Adjusted his jersey. Took a breath, squaring his shoulders. He came back with a fastball low in the zone and Plawecki, the MLB veteran, flied out harmlessly. This is what Andrew Moore does: he competes on every pitch. He might get annoyed, but he does not rattle. At just 23, Andrew Moore knows what he wants to do every time he steps on the mound, and what he is able to do.
The Mariners have been aggressive with their young right-hander, skipping him from short-season Everett after being drafted in 2015 straight to the hitter-friendly California League in 2016. He made nine starts in the Cal League, posting a 3.18 FIP and a K-BB% of 16.2%, before being promoted to Double-A Jackson, where he was able to mirror his A-level performance almost exactly, even dropping his walk rate. It was surprising when Moore was re-assigned to the Double-A level for 2017; despite the aggressive nature of his promotions, he seemed to prove all he needed to prove at the level in 2016. Moore only pitched six games (34 innings) with Arkansas before being promoted to Triple-A Tacoma, and despite the difference in competition, he’s put up similar numbers at both levels. Neither are as sterling as his numbers in Jackson, but his FIP of about 3.7ish is consistent at both levels, although his walk rate in Tacoma of 4.2% seems more in line with his career numbers than the 6.5% at Arkansas (6.5% is still deemed by FanGraphs as “above average”; the scale doesn’t even go down to 4.2%). What Moore is doing differently, though, is striking out significantly more batters: at both AA and AAA, he’s running K%s of about 23-24%, his highest rate since A- Everett. Andrew Moore has always had superior command of his offerings, but this year he’s added a wrinkle to his repertoire that’s resulting in those higher strikeout numbers—and buying him a ticket to Seattle.
Moore throws three main pitches: a fastball, a straight changeup, and a curveball. He also has begun incorporating a low-80s slider in the last few years as well, although he doesn’t throw it very often.
The fastball is his primary offering and is known more for his pinpoint command than its velocity, which tends to sit 89-91, topping out around 93. In spite of this, Moore is aggressive in all parts of the zone, working inside and out. Moore will throw his fastball most of the time early in games as he establishes the strike zone, then mix in his secondary offerings as he works through lineups for the second and third time. Moore isn’t the tallest guy, listed at 6 foot, and is often described as a guy with a “high-effort” motion. Shorter starters with high-effort motions often get moved to the bullpen (think Dan Altavilla) but Moore’s command and variety of pitchers has allowed him to stick. Additionally, his arm slot and slightly funky delivery make for a fastball that’s hard for batters to pick up.
While the fastball is the pitch Moore leans on the most often, the changeup is the pitch he loves. Sometimes the command on it can get a little wobbly but when he can spot it to the outside corner it’s deadly, especially on the lefties that teams insist on running out against him:
Another look here showcases the significant drop on his changeup when located well.
Moore also has a mid-70s curve that he uses sparingly. Most scouts have rated it as his least impressive pitch. Moore can locate it well, but the lack of firm bite and late movement renders it more of a get-me-over pitch than a two-strike offering:
A RHP with an effective, but not overpowering fastball, a curveball that doesn’t turn heads, and a changeup that drops a lot but doesn’t have as much horizontal action seems like a potential feast for left-handed hitters, and indeed, the longer he’s been in Triple-A, the more lefty-heavy lineups he’s had to face. Some combination of Moore, the Mariners organization, and/or a specific pitching coach or teammate appear to have had an idea to address this problem. That idea looks like a circle-changeup. I wonder which longtime Mariners pitcher who made a career off that pitch has worked with Andrew Moore consistently the last few years...
Moore has recently thrown a few pitches like the one shown above against lefties, with similar results as what Hector Sanchez experiences in that clip. Whereas his normal changeup has a smidgen of run and a lot of drop and usually is around 82-84 mph, this pitch glides away from lefties, towards Moore’s arm side, and has been closer to 77-79 mph. We’ll see if this pitch continues to pop up, but the nature of a circle-changeup is that it is best as a platoon-breaking pitch (RHP uses it vs. lefty hitter, LHP uses it vs. righty hitter). As noted earlier, however, Moore’s strikeout numbers have crept up as he’s advanced levels, which is the opposite direction one might expect for a young pitcher facing tougher and tougher competition, and developing this pitch might have something to do with that.
Say, speaking of strikeouts, want to watch Andrew Moore strike out Cubs superprospect Ian Happ on three pitches? Here you go.
And a-two (also known as, would you like a scone with that jam?)
What Moore does so well is locate each of his pitches consistently. His middling velocity means he has to be pinpoint to have success, and at every level he’s been a marksman. The danger, of course, is that when you lack velocity, you are sacrificing room for error. In college and through the minors Moore has succeeded by limiting walks and limiting hard contact. Moore gets lots of fly balls and fits perfectly with the Mariners current defensive design. Player comps are fun but I don’t want to narrow the focus, especially when Moore is just 23 years old and still developing. Ian Kennedy and Marco Estrada are a couple possible profiles to look at in terms of pitch repertoire, velocity, batted ball profile, and BB%. Perhaps even 2016 Hisashi Iwakuma with fewer walks makes sense. Since being drafted, Moore has been projected as a back of the rotation starter with the ceiling to last in the middle of a solid rotation. To this point he has met those expectations while pushing towards that ceiling.
Right now the Mariners are twirling their drink, chatting nervously with contention as they rest awkwardly against a table that’s just a little too tall to be comfortable. Over contention’s shoulder, however, disaster is making eyes at them, and it’s hard to look away. The rotation has held together as well as could be expected with Yovani Gallardo and Ariel Miranda serving as the aces for much of the year, but at this moment it’s reasonable to argue that Moore is better than four of the team’s five starting pitchers. Earlier today, Jake Mailhot put forward some of the choices the team will have to make about their starting rotation with players getting healthy again, and Andrew Moore looks ready to be part of that conversation as well.
For a team that is 1.5 GB from the wild card and will be returning its All-Star shortstop, two starting pitchers in the next couple weeks, and another potentially in a month, competing demands putting your best foot forward. This is not a case of jumping Mike Zunino up too quickly and messing with his development. Moore has performed at every level and shown the ability to improve the Mariners in 2017. That doesn’t mean he has to be dominant. He only has to be himself.
Update 11:56 AM PT:
The Mariners appear to believe the answer is yes.