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Is Matt Moore a known quantity, or does he still have ace potential?

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Matt Moore used to be one of the most coveted pitchers in baseball. How will he pitch for the Giants in 2017?

Division Series - Chicago Cubs v San Francisco Giants- Game Four Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Confession: Sometimes I’ll look at the Giants’ roster and imagine it with Matt Duffy and without Matt Moore, then I’ll look at the actual roster, and I’ll compare the two. I’ve done it several times, and at no point have I thought that Duffy and, I don’t know, Bartolo Colon would have made for a better baseball team. Does that make me a bad Duffy superfan? It probably makes me a bad superfan. I can’t apologize enough.

But it’s clear that the Giants didn’t just make the Moore trade for the second half of 2016. It was a deal that allowed them to stay away from the miserable market this offseason, and it might have been made with Johnny Cueto’s opt-out in mind, too. The Giants were looking for a young pitcher they could count on for a couple of years, and those suckers aren’t cheap.

The question is if Moore is a young pitcher the Giants can count on. The last time we saw him was when he was dominating the Cubs in the NLDS. I had to pick up my kid, so I’m not sure how that turned out, but he looked fantastic, and there’s some recency bias that comes with that. On the other hand, he finished with an ERA+ of exactly 100, which made him a slightly above-average starter. His ERA with the Rays was 4.08 last year, and it was 4.08 with the Giants. So if you’re complaining that he should have finished the NLDS start, just know that he would have given up 2.08 runs in the next inning.

Which still would have been enough to win.

Man, that game.

ANYWAY, hopefully, we can talk about Moore soon without remembering how he left his last game. That is, maybe we can talk about how he pitched well in baseball games that we just watched. A brief review of his career so far:

2011
The top prospect in baseball, give or take. A 100-mph arm with some of the best strikeout rates in the majors. After 10 impressive postseason innings, he agreed to a contract extension with the Rays, which is the contract that Giants will still enjoy for a couple years.

2012
A solid, if unspectacular, rookie season. The walk rate was up, but his stock was still high.

2013
An All-Star appearance and a ninth-place Cy Young finish. This was the pitcher the Rays thought they were getting. It’s at this point that Moore’s contract helps him become one of the most valuable players in the game.

His ERA was 3.29, and his FIP was 3.95, though. Keep that in mind.

2014
Two starts and Tommy John.

2015
Twelve starts back from surgery, and few of them were very impressive. His strikeout rate was below average. His velocity was down in the low-90s in his first start, but it ticked back up toward the end of the season.

2016
You watched half of it, I’m guessing. After having some dinger problems with the Rays, Moore walked a whole mess of people in his first five starts with the Giants, but he settled down after that. His overall numbers were crushed by two disaster starts that were two weeks apart, but it’s not like that means you should give him extra credit. The Giants lost both games because those runs counted, after all.

Add it all up and you have one of the most confusing pitchers in baseball. He gets a lot of swinging strikes, as you might expect, but he hasn’t repeated his 2013 breakout season. Considering his FIP that year, that might not have been a true breakout, too.

Think of Moore as something like a younger Jeff Samardzija, then, where people keep waiting for the stats to catch up with the stuff. While that’s an imperfect comparison for several reasons, including the history of health, it fits when you talk about the difference between value and potential. Samardzija and Moore have helped their teams win more baseball games than the average pitcher over their respective careers. Whether or not they’ve underperformed relative to their stuff is another question, but they’ve been solid, even as they’ve usually left their teams wanting just a little bit ... more.

If you’re expecting ... more ... then your faith lies with Moore’s arm. FanGraphs brought up a Danny Duffy comparison, which works in a couple different ways if you’re looking for a recent success story to bolster your optimism.

If your faith lies with the stats, well, note that ZiPS isn’t predicting anything different. More ... of the same, if you will. The innings pitched (125) would be a pretty substantial disappointment, but those darned computers have to factor that in. Because of “science” and “past injuries possibly predicting future injuries” and hokum like that.

I’m expecting a fine season from Moore, though, because of a simple truth: I’ve shot high on my projections with him for the last six years, and I don’t see why I should stop now just because he’s on the team I follow. He’s always been just about to break out in my book, and it’s not like I’m going to borrow a new book.

Other, evidence-based components to my relatively bullish projection:

  • The move to the National League
  • The subtle improvements in his walk rate
  • AT&T Park should quash that dinger problem he had with the Rays
  • Buster Posey’s framing and/or musk
  • Those eyebrows

Enough to give the Giants a three-headed monster that would terrify teams in the postseason? Not quite ready to go there, considering that of those bullet points, Moore has control of only the walk rate. And I guess the eyebrows. So it’s not like he’s guaranteed to turn the stuff into stats. Another season just like the last one makes the most sense, really.

I’m thinking there’s going to be just a little more, though.

Matt Moore, 2017 projected
IP: 188
ERA: 3.49
BB: 68
K: 168
HR: 17
WAR (Baseball-Reference): 2.8

That’s a fine pitcher. Maybe not one who will help win the division on his own, but part of a functional, almost-not-quite spectacular rotation.