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This Dylan Moore could be here to stay

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MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

In 2019, Dylan Moore played in his fifth MLB game, in which he committed an error in the ninth inning. On the next batted ball after his error, he committed another error. And, wouldn’t you have it, on the third consecutive ball in play that inning, Moore had himself another damn error. All with two outs! After that day, I vividly recall placing Moore into the same box as Patrick Wisdom. Versatile, but not in a good way, and a bad bat. Thankfully, there’s a chance that I was horribly wrong.

I should note that if Moore is who I believe he may be, I’m delighted! I love underdogs. I didn’t believe in Austin Nola until I did, and I held my breath with Marco Gonzales until I really started to believe in him in 2018. The point is, I try to be optimistic as best as possible, but I also assure that it’s balanced with realism. I’ve been burned by Daniel Vogelbach, who could only hit fastballs, and I’ve been burned by Taylor Motter, who could only hit inside fastballs.

Here’s how Moore ranks, by a few pertinent statistics, by percentile:

  • xwOBA: 74th
  • Barrel%: 89th
  • Hard Hit%: 78th

By xwOBA, Moore has performed like Willson Contreras. By barrel percentage and hard-hit percentage, he’s hit like Eugenio Suarez and Franmil Reyes, respectively. All are very good company, and all are admittedly a bit cherry-picked. Nevertheless, over 38 games in 2020, Moore looks like he’s gone from a below-average hitter to a much better one. For me, I think this Moore is here to stay. It all depends on if you think he’s closer to a league-average hitter, or one that looks like something well above-average.

Consider Moore’s 2019 versus 2020, by various statistics, courtesy of Alex Chamberlain’s pitch leaderboard:

Dylan Moore, by Plate Discipline and Batted Balls

Year K% Max EV DHH% sd(LA) Barrel%
Year K% Max EV DHH% sd(LA) Barrel%
2019 33.1 106.4 8.6 30.8 6.5
2020 27.0 109.8 13.0 25.9 13.8
(EV = exit velocity; DHH% = dynamic hard hit percentage; sd(LA) = launch angle tightness) Source: Baseball Savant (via Alex Chamberlain’s pitch leaderboard)

I’ve hand-selected these metrics, but I did so for good reason. Moore has improved drastically across the board; cutting his strikeout rate, consistently hitting the ball harder, and at more consistent angles (i.e., launch angle). I care about a lot of different metrics, and I couldn’t fit them all in one table, but while it’s a small 38-game sample, Moore has clearly drastically improved.

Given that Moore spent the offseason working on something of a swing change, the first place that I consulted was Moore’s tape. Let’s examine a few key points in his swing.

First, Moore’s pre-pitch movement in 2019:

And then his pre-pitch movement in 2020:

Already, we’re seeing some differences. More rhythm and movement in his hands pre-pitch, and he’s got his hands cocked back with the bat head more toward the pitcher than in 2019. This is where it starts to get interesting.

Consider his leg peak in 2019:

And then in 2020:

Perhaps the most apparent observation from these screengrabs is that Moore has folded in a bigger leg kick. Before, he had a smaller leg kick; although I might call it more of an elongated timing step, not unlike Ben Gamel during his time with the Mariners. That’s probably helped him tap into some more power using his lower half, but that’s not what I’m after here.

After checking in Pitcher List’s Kyle Horton — one of my favorite people to consult about hitting mechanics — we started talking more about Moore’s rhythm and hand movement. Given his hand movement, hand placement, and leg kick, I made the connection to Mitch Haniger, who has pretty discernible idiosyncrasies.

Here’s a screengrab of the two at the peak of their leg kicks, courtesy of Justin Paradis:

I’m not sure there’s a player that has quite as unique of hitting mechanics as Haniger. In Moore’s case, his moves aren’t as big, but there’s plenty of overlap, whether it’s in their hand movement and placement, barrel tip, and leg kick. In an interview with David Laurila, Haniger talks about, well, a lot of things, but a few keys that are applicable to Moore are in his newfound hand movement and elasticity.

The hand movement serves a few purposes to me. Horton mentioned that it should create more consistency in his swing, which I’m obliged to agree with — especially since his sd(LA), or launch angle tightness, so drastically improved — but dropping his hands also creates more elasticity in his swing and likely creates better angles to the ball, as well.

And so, Moore? I’m buying into his changes, despite the limited sample size. At least for now. It’s not just that he’s become more similar to Haniger, it’s that his changes are in line with his outcomes. Several of his tweaks point to potential gains in consistency and power, and over 38 games we’ve seen those things actualize.

Of course, with adjustments come counter-adjustments. The league has tentatively made a big adjustment to Moore.

Here’s a graph of Moore’s 15-game rolling zone percentage:

Pitchers started off 2020 by pitching to Moore like he couldn’t consistently hurt them, but by the end, they seemed to be treading more carefully. Moore’s zone percentage jumped off a cliff, which corresponds to an uptick in changeups thrown to Moore in September. Teams may have seen a trend and it was in his scouting report, or perhaps it’s natural variation in seeing different pitchers, and thus not a purposeful adjustment at all. Regardless, this nosedive in zone percentage is unprecedented in Moore’s young career.

Moore is looking like he’s in great shape, but his work here isn’t done. One thing to note is that he destroyed fastballs — he ranked in the 95th percentile in xwOBA against fastballs — but he also ranks in the sixth percentile in xwOBA against offspeed and breaking pitches. If pitchers start adjusting by throwing fewer fastballs and more slow stuff, he could be in for quite the headache.

For now, it’s hard not to feel good about Moore. While I just gave you a few reasons not to feel as strongly about him — not to mention he’s never had any pedigree to speak of — he’s nonetheless outperforming Kyle Lewis in several key categories. At least for now. Not long ago, Dylan Moore was a candidate to be designated for assignment. Now? He might be an integral piece of the Mariners’ playoff window.