Thursday night, the newest member of the San Francisco Giants, Matt Moore, nearly no-hit the Dodgers, but Corey Seager ruined the fun with two outs in the ninth. Moore was locked in, but more than that, he had a new weapon: a cutter. According to John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle, Madison Bumgarner taught Moore his own grip and Buster Posey convinced him to throw it.
Moore is throwing new pitch, cutter. Bumgarner showed him grip, Posey encouraged it. Used it 12-15 times last night, got some outs with it.
— John Shea (@JohnSheaHey) August 26, 2016
This wasn’t a new thing for Moore, as he started throwing it in 2014 about five percent of the time and then six percent of the time in 2015. But this season, he had thrown six total cutters before he threw 29 Thursday night (22 percent). He threw 26 percent cutters to lefties and 20 percent to righties. He recorded zero swings and misses, but all 11 balls put in play were outs.
Check out this cutter to Seager in the first inning:
Moore told Eno Sarris of FanGraphs that the pitch stayed off the barrel, which induced weak contact. Here are two examples of that: Justin Turner rolling over a 3-2 grooved cutter and Rob Segedin chasing a back-foot cutter (a missed location).
FanGraphs PITCHf/x values per 100 pitches has the cutter as Moore’s best pitch since 2015 with limited usage, but it’s a good sign. Per Brooks Baseball, he’s averaging 90.94 MPH on the pitch, which gives him a different look from his four-seam fastball, change-up, and curveball. Over 60 percent of his pitches average 93 MPH or more, 59 percent four-seam movement, so he needed a new look, especially with his struggles since Tommy John surgery in 2014.
Moore, 27, was a young phenom with the Rays and posted a 3.53 ERA, 3.92 FIP in 347 innings pitched from 2011 to 2014, before he underwent surgery. Since getting back in late 2015, he has posted a 4.37 ERA, 4.53 FIP in 224.2 innings pitched. He has the stuff, but his control has been an issue as he is walking over five per nine innings since being acquired by San Francisco. This dominoes the problem as he is above average in contact rate on pitches in the zone, but he can’t consistently throw strikes. With a higher than average zone percentage, it seems he just tries to throw a strike whenever he pitches. If he can mix his four pitches up well & throw more strikes, even if they hit the zone too much, he will be effective.
Here’s a 3D trajectory from Baseball Savant that shows his cutter this season, a cool look at the perspective of the catcher:
Moore threw the cutter against the Mets in his previous start, but only four times (three for strikes). In this start, the RPMs were down, but were up against the Dodgers. In 2015, in the small sample, he never reached above 2500 RPMs and was similar to the sample against Los Angeles.
Here are the RPMs in 2016; most of the lower pitches came from his former start against New York:
With convincing from his catcher and apparently a new grip from Bumgarner, he was able to flash the cutter and then improve it five days later. The RPM numbers are similar to last year’s small sample, but movement has improved and exit velocity off the bat has as well. He hasn’t given up a hit on 42 cutters (per Baseball Savant) or 35 cutters (per Brooks Baseball) and the average exit velocity is tied for lowest with his four-seam fastball (88.1 MPH).
If he’s able to throw these four pitches every start, Moore might be able to improve his o-swing, which is swing percentage on pitches outside of the zone. And while his velocity isn’t at his peak before surgery (95-96 MPH), it’s improving from his return in 2015.