Position Roundtables: #3 Starter
Derek: I’ve walked the line on Moyer so far — he could be done, but we thought
that before. He might have lost a bit of control, but what if it’s only
a matter of adjusting? What if there’s a delivery flaw he, or Price, can
find? Or if it’s a problem of approach?
But all the while, I feel like I’m driving around with the engine light
glowing ominously and the car making a weird whacka-whacka-whacka sound,
knowing that what I really should do is pull over and call a tow truck,
because if it’s not something trivial, it’s something huge and I’m going
to be renting a car while Europa special-orders a new engine block from
Sweden or wherever replacement Volvo engines come from.
I think Moyer’s done. I don’t think he’s going to return to ace form,
and the best we might expect is that the things I’ve been hoping would
get him there — adjustments, study, mechanics, whatever — will make
him a little better this coming year, and that will still be bad.
This makes me sad. One of the greatest joys of being a Mariner fan has
been watching Moyer be so effective with his modest stuff. Watching him
was almost hypnotic. Without being overpowering, he’d cruise through a
game, as if he was facing the 7-8-9 hitters over and over, and then I
would look at the scoreboard and it’d be the 8th inning, and he’d have
struck out 7 on his way to a shutout. I loved that, and I don’t think
I’m going to get to see that Moyer again.
Jeff: Don’t worry, Derek! Steve Kelley says Moyer is primed
to explode! Because he has looked good to Kelley in spring
training, you see.
Spring stats are like rorschach tests: we see in them what we want to
see. Moyer boosters see hope, and point to what shoud be a
dramatically improved defense as a point in his favor for 2005.
Unfortunately, fielders don’t often bring back home runs — and Moyer
gave up an average of two home runs every nine innings last year. He
also allowed 12.5 baserunners per nine, so those weren’t all solo
The real case for Moyer is that he’s a heady player who doesn’t rely
on his fastball. If he throws a little slower, so what? He makes
hitters miss with his game plan as much as anything. His strikeout
rate also didn’t fall much between 2003 and 2004, so he’s still
getting the ball by people.
Ultimately, I do think Moyer will rebound a bit, simply because
another season of allowing home runs at a historic rate seems
unlikely. Like Derek, though, I imagine that the rebound won’t be
enough to constitute a good season.
Derek: On the strikeout rate:
2002: 931 TBF, 147 K, 16%
2003: 897 TBF, 129 K, 14%
2004: 888 TBF, 125 K, 14%
It’s true that Moyer’s strikeout rate hasn’t dropped, and yet the
argument, that he’s a “heady” pitcher doesn’t wash for me. If being
smart could have helped him, where was it last year during the season?
Does that make sense?
I will admit that Moyer’s come back from bad years before, but I look at
that 44 home-run line and…
It’s worth noting that the PECOTA forecast for Moyer has a similarity
index of “15” — which is low low low, like Ichiro! low. The system’s
guess is that Moyer rebounds just slightly this year and then is awful
in 2007 and on. If I had to make a guess, and this hurts me to type
this, I think Moyer will get through this season one way or another and
that’ll be it for his Mariner career. Either he’ll serve out his days
elsewhere or join the organization as a pitching coach or roving
instructor. If things go really badly — there’s no bounce at all — we
could see this turn into a repeat of the Olerud situation.
Jeff: It’s no secret that the taterama was responsible for Moyer’s
disastrous year. The question is, why is he suddenly so susceptible to
the long ball?
In 2003, he only gave up 19 homers in 33 starts. Suddenly that
ballooned to 44, despite the fact that he’s still striking people out
at the same rate he did when he was the Mariners’ best starter.
Is it mechanical? Is it physical deterioration, affecting his command?
Most crucial, can it be fixed?
By “heady” I meant that Moyer relies more on wit and guile than stuff.
If someone that relies on heat loses four or five miles per hour, that
goes a long way to explaining what happened. I wouldn’t expect to see
the type of total, complete collapse from Moyer that you might see
from a pitcher who got by merely on fastballs.
I don’t know why Moyer gave up 44 home runs last year when his
previous full-season high was 28. If he can’t figure it out, though,
you’re probably right about his eventual fate.
Dave: Jeff Sullivan pointed out that while Moyer’s home run basically
doubled, his doubles and triples allowed went down last year. The
overall increase in extra base hits is there, but certainly not as
striking as you might think from just looking at his home run rate.
Without further study, we can’t say for sure how well this kind of
thing is predictive, but it seems intuitive that perhaps Moyer just
was the victim of some poor luck; a gust of wind here or a favorable
clank off a foul pole there turning what had been doubles into home
runs. Or perhaps he really did lose just enough command to make those
long fly balls leave the park? I’m not sure, but I think its at least
feasible that some of those homers bounce off the wall this year,
rather than going over it, and that could lead to a marginal
Of course, the overriding fact here is that Moyer is still probably
done as any kind of impact starter. Really, we’re hoping that he can
just be kinda sorta useful, sporadically fooling people with his
slow-slower-slowest repertoire, giving the rotation 180 usable
But I, like Derek, have a lot of fond memories of Jamie on the hill.
During the first round series against Cleveland in 2001, Jason called
me the morning of Game Three and said he had a spare ticket if I could
make it to the park. Of course, I had to work that afternoon, so I
paid someone $30 to take my shift and made a beeline for Safeco. And
there we watched Moyer just mow through the Tribe’s murderers row.
Alomar, Gonzalez, Thome, Burks, whiffing at this 70 MPH meatball. In
his prime, Moyer was a joy to watch.
But he’s just not that guy anymore.
Derek: That’s true, but I’m not sure it’s meaningful.
Doubles, 2002-04, as a % of TBF: 3.5%, 4.3%, 3.7%
His career rate is 4.3% (538 doubles, 12,473 batters faced). So it’s
been this low before without a HR spike, and I’m inclined to look at it
If DIPS teaches us anything, it’s that even a pitcher like Moyer who (as
Tippett showed) has shown a pretty consistent ability to depress the
rate of hits on balls in play doesn’t have all that great an effect on
what happens to a ball once a batter gets a hold of it.
What if we figure that Moyer’s HR rate drops to league average next year
— looking at the AL statistical profile, starters gave up 129 HRs in
… crud, no batter faced on that split… (2859 outs… 1025 hits…
329 walks…that’s 4,213 w/o HBP, call it 4,250) — 3% rate, a little
higher than Moyer’s career average. Last year it was 5%. Keep everything
else the same.
~18 dingers come back so instead of 44 home runs, it’s 26. So Moyer
pitches 200 innings. 60 walks…strikes out 130 (why not?), 200 hits, of
which 26 are home runs… I’m just guessing further along that line, but
that’s probably a 4.25, 4.50 ERA… maybe more 4.25ish in Safeco. I’d take that.