With the 2022 regular season over, it is that time where we go back and take a look at the players who appeared for the Texas Rangers this past season.
Today, we look at lefty reliever Matt Moore.
Well, I certainly didn’t see that coming.
When the Rangers signed Moore to a minor league deal in mid-March, I was dismissive, viewing him as AAA roster filler at the most.
When the Rangers called up Moore to replace Josh Sborz in mid-April, I said that the Rangers just wanted someone who could give them innings in a garbage situation, noting that Moore didn’t even have to be added to the 40 man roster since Dennis Santana was on the COVID-19 injured list. I sagely opined:
So this isn’t a true “return of Matt Moore” type situation.
Nailed it, huh?
It was Moore’s second stint with the Rangers. Long coveted by the Rangers dating back to his days as a top prospect with the Tampa Bay Rays, Moore was acquired by Texas from the San Francisco Giants prior to the 2018 season. Moore was coming off a bad year for the Giants, and Texas was presumably buying low on him. Moore ended up doing even worse for the Rangers in 2018 than he did for the Giants in 2017, putting up a 6.79 ERA in 102 IP.
So there wasn’t exactly fond memories of Moore’s time in Texas.
He started the 2019 season in the Detroit Tigers rotation, allowed no runs in his first two starts, then needed season-ending knee surgery. Moore spent the 2020 season in Japan, having a solid year for Softbank, then came back to the States with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2021 and was terrible, logging a 6.29 ERA between the rotation and bullpen.
All told, from 2015 through 2021, Moore registered a 5.26 ERA and an 80 ERA+ in 620 major league innings, with a stint in Japan mixed in. Not the sort of thing that would lead one to believe he was poised for a breakout year in his age 33 season.
Yet, break out in 2022 he did. His 2.4 bWAR on the year was the second-highest of his career, as he barely missed surpassing his 2.5 career best from his All Star season in 2013. With a 1.95 ERA and a 2.98 FIP in 74 innings, Moore was one of the best relievers in the majors.
Usage-wise, Moore was deployed a fair amount in a multi-inning role in the first half of the season, though later in the year, especially once Tony Beasley took over as manager, Moore was used as a one inning guy. Moore had 27 appearances from August 1 through the end of the year, and only one of them, a 1.1 IP outing against the Astros, went for more than one inning.
An adjustment to the grip on his curveball, suggested by the Rangers’ then-co-pitching coach Brendan Sagara* in spring training, was largely credited for Moore’s improvement in 2022. Moore was a three pitch pitcher in 2022, utilizing a fastball, curve and changeup, as he junked a cutter that opposing hitters destroyed in 2021. All three pitches showed significant improvement in results from 2021 to 2022, with his fastball showing the most improvement — after allowing a .392 wOBA/.361 xwOBA on his four seamer in 2021, 2022 saw hitters put up a .302 wOBA/.289 xwOBA. His fastball heatmap was much tighter in 2022 — while 2021 saw Moore struggle to locate his four seamer, oftentimes leaving it over the plate, 2022 saw him consistently throw it for strikes up and gloveside, which provided for good contrast with his curveball and change.
* Sagara is no longer on the major league coaching staff, but is still in the organization for 2023 with the title of “pitch design specialist.”
Moore isn’t a fireballer — his fastball velocity is a shade above average, and likely below average if we limited it to just relievers — but his combination of high spin rate and ability to locate it up in the zone means batters weren’t able to square him up last year. Batters slugged just .275 off Moore in 2022, tallying just 14 extra base hits — including just three homers — in 304 plate appearances.
Moore’s one significant weakness in 2022 was his walk rate — he issued a free pass to one out of every eight batters he faced, a rate that put him in the 4th percentile in walk rate among major league pitchers. While Moore has had control issues throughout his time in the majors, his 12.5% walk rate in 2022 was the highest of his career. An above-average K rate and an ability to avoid hard contact meant Moore had success despite the walks, but also means that he doesn’t have much margin for error.
The Rangers didn’t trade Moore at the deadline, expressing a desire to try to extend him instead. Texas did not, as we know, extend Moore, and reports have indicated that they moved on from efforts to sign him as a free agent fairly early on in the offseason. However, with spring training not far off, Moore is one of a number of lefty relievers who still haven’t signed with anyone. It may be that the asking price on Moore that led the Rangers to move on from him was too steep for the rest of the league, as well.
Were I to guess, I’d say that Moore’s profile — good K rate, terrible walk rate, success predicated on avoiding loud contact — is something teams are leery of. I suspect teams have concerns about whether that is sustainable, and thus are not willing to pay as much as they would for, say, a pitcher with fewer walks and more hard hit balls, which they may view as more predictive of future success.
Regardless of where Moore ends up, I will be curious to see what the future holds for him — whether 2022 was an aberration, or the beginning of a successful late-career run as a reliever.