As we close in on the end of the season, several current Mariners pitchers are auditioning for spots in the rotation next year. Assuming a rotation of Paxton/Felix/Leake and hoping for at least one off-season acquisition (~sends silent prayer to baseball gods that Shohei Ohtani decides the Northwest’s climate suits him perfectly~) to slot in earlier in the lineup, that leaves the likes of Erasmo Ramirez, Ariel Miranda, Marco Gonzales and Andrew Moore all scuffling for the final slot or two. As Miranda has begun to run out of gas after pitching a career-high 158 innings this season, guys like Moore and Gonzales are being given a chance to show what they can do. For Andrew Moore, this has been a chance to rebound from a few rough outings in July and a dreadful performance during the ill-fated Deadgar weekend, and re-establish his status as one of the organization’s top young pitchers.
First and foremost you should start by reading Connor’s excellent FanPost about Andrew Moore after his last start against the Astros, detailing some of the improvements he made and outlining a plan for the future. Moore has pitched well against the Astros in two starts now, giving up just an unfortunate two-run dinger to Derek Fisher yesterday and holding the Astros to two runs over six innings at Safeco on the 6th. After struggling out of the bullpen against the Angels back on August 11th, Moore also had a strong appearance against Texas last Monday in relief of a flagging Ariel Miranda. The Mariners lost, but Moore turned in essentially a quality start, logging six total innings of one-run ball. The one run he gave up was on a home run, on a mistake pitch to Delino DeShields. Let’s take a look at it:
Moore puts the ball where Zunino asks for it, so it’s not exactly a mistake pitch, per se, although you could criticize the pitch selection of a belt-high fastball on the inside edge of the zone. DeShields is an average pull hitter, the count was 3-2, and this was the ninth pitch of the at-bat. With the lefty Choo due up next and power threat Andrus behind him, it’s understandable that Moore wanted to get DeShields and have the bases clear. It’s a “beat this” pitch, and DeShields did. MLB hitters will do that at times. (Moore would come back to get both Choo and Andrus to ground out softly.)
What this really illustrates is how crucial it is that Moore develop a pitch that can put right-handed batters away. Unlike Gonzales, Moore doesn’t suffer a times-through-the-order penalty; in fact, he’s been at his best when he’s able to make it to three times through the lineup, dropping his wOBA about 150 points, to .214. The problem more often comes when he gets into lengthy battles with hitters; when the count has run full, he’s allowing a slash line of .304/.370/.609. Although Moore’s numbers don’t show any significant platoon split between right-handed and left-handed batters—and, general caution, this is all small sample size, he’s pitched 50 MLB innings, etc.—he is able to use his curve to get lefties out, which is what he does to Joey Gallo here:
That’s Moore’s second time facing Gallo; the first time he had gotten him on a called strike 79 mph curve at the bottom of the zone followed by a changeup that Gallo tapped at for a weak groundout. This time, he reversed the order, starting with a 84 mph changeup he spotted right at the bottom of the zone followed by this 77 mph curve that Gallo was late on. This curve doesn’t have the sharpest break but what makes it effective is the location; it dives away from Gallo late and he winds up hitting it off the end of the bat. Moore can also throw that pitch to a lefty’s back foot for a swinging strike, which he does to Mazara here:
This was a lengthy at-bat that Moore won, giving Mazara almost entirely offspeed stuff well away before coming back with a 93 mph fastball high and tight that jammed Mazara, leading to an easy comebacker. That out might not have come on the curve, but being able to use the curve effectively set up the out. Moore must develop something that works equally effectively for right-handed batters to keep him from having to rely on his fastball and changeup alone to try to win the at-bat. As Connor pointed out, the slider has been not an MLB-quality pitch, and he’s shown the ability to move the curve around the plate to left-handed batters, so it seems like the groundwork is there to develop the curve into more than just a “show-me” pitch to righties.
Aside from lengthy at-bats, the other issue that has plagued Moore has simply been the stress of being 23 years old and pitching his first MLB innings. Moore will generally sit 91-92 comfortably on his fastball, often hit 93, and at times graze 94. He hit 95 a couple of times at Tacoma. But as he pitched more deeply into July, his velocity fell off across the board on his pitches:
In Texas on Monday, Moore was back up to his normal fastball velocity, sitting 93-94 in his first couple of innings before dropping back down to 92-93 for the rest of the game. That’s key for a lower-velocity pitcher like Moore, for whom every tick counts. His changeup velocity might not matter as much, but what’s important about that point is location, and there have been a few changeups he’s left hanging or missed high with, a sign of fatigue. Young pitchers wear down as their bodies absorb the stress of throwing MLB innings, as we saw with Edwin Diaz and Dan Altavilla last year after making the jump from Double-A to the majors, but after a brief dip, Moore’s velocity rebounded in late August and September. Yesterday, his fastball velocity fell down to 88-91 and Moore was clearly battling at times, but was able to work around trouble, bearing down every time he had runners on.
Moore also attributes his recent success to making a little “tweak” to his delivery, which has remained largely consistent since his college days. In a pregame interview yesterday, Servais said they’ve slowed Moore down in his delivery, but to me it looks like he is rotating his core more quickly, while hiding the ball a little longer before releasing it.
Here’s his delivery in late July, shortly before he was sent back to Tacoma:
Here’s from his ill-fated appearance as a reliever during Deadgar Weekend:
Moore’s seems to get lower over the rubber faster in the second image, with his shoulder dropping and his chest getting more parallel to the mound sooner, which is consistent with film I’ve seen of him from his pre-majors experience. He seems to be engaging his core more with a quicker torso rotation, which might account for his velocity perking back up after dragging some in July. His front foot is also driving into the mound harder as his weight transfers forward more quickly. There’s a new wrinkle in his delivery now, however:
In addition to getting over the rubber more quickly, Moore seems to be hiding the ball better, keeping his arm further back and behind his head more, aiding in his deception. That, combined with the uptick in velocity, might explain Moore’s improved performance over his last few outings. (It’s also worth noting that when Moore was called in for relief over Deadgar weekend it was the first time he’d pitched in relief since an emergency appearance in college. A Driveline client, Moore has a very exact routine as a pitcher, including long toss, none of which he was able to go through that day, the day he rejoined the team from Tacoma. I pin much of the blame for that performance on bullpen and personnel mismanagement.)
As good as it is for the team and fanbase to see Moore finish the season strong, it’s even more meaningful for the young pitcher, struggling for the first time in his career. Up until this year, every baseball team Moore has ever played on, dating back to high school, has made the playoffs, and that includes his run through Seattle’s system (Everett, Bakersfield, Jackson). As much as Moore’s recent successes might tell us about him as a pitcher, his ability to rebound from the worst stretch of baseball he’s ever played tells us even more about him as a competitor.