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Reyes Moronta has been great but somehow disappointing

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Moronta was supposed to decimate the league with his changeup. Instead, he’s decimated the league with his fastball and slider. For some reason, that’s less fun.

Colorado Rockies v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

If I never looked at Reyes Moronta’s line, I would think he’s having a worse season than he is. In reality, his numbers have only taken a slight downtick from where they were last year. A 2.89 ERA, 28.6 percent strikeout rate, and 0.64 HR/9 are all very good and basically what he did in his first full season. They’re also a lot better than what I would think if I never got to look at his FanGraphs page until this year.

Relievers aren’t necessarily volatile, but the fact that they pitch so few innings makes them seem that way. It’s easy to let our eyes deceive us. Even the die-hardiest of die hards aren’t going to watch every reliever’s outings closely. There’s always a chance one could happen to tune into the handful of rotten outings a reliever might have. Even if one does watch all or most of a pitcher’s innings, other nasty psychological tricks can shatter our trust.

With Moronta, I’ve fallen victim to the primacy/recency bias. Humans tend to remember the first things and last things while forgetting everything in between. In Moronta’s last four outings, he’s given up three runs in three innings. He couldn’t lock things down in two one run games the Giants lost: the 12-11 slugfest in Chicago and the recent 3-2 loss to Arizona. In Moronta’s first four outings, he gave up three runs in 4 2/3 innings (though his first game was stellar). That homer he gave up to Franmil Reyes stuck with me, and it needles my brain every time Moronta takes the mound.

In between those eight outings bookending his season thus far, Moronta had a 2.20 ERA while striking out 61 batters in 49 innings. He’s been nearly as good as he was last year, but unfairly, I’ve been disappointed.

The primacy/recency bias is real, but I think I set my expectations unreasonably high. During the spring, we heard a lot about Moronta’s changeup and how good it looked. In 2018, Moronta thrived as a two-pitch pitcher, but the idea of him adding another plus offering had me salivating.

When Moronta commands his changeup, it’s a devastating pitch. Andrew Baggarly described it as a backwards slider. Here it is destroying Brett Gardner:

And Charlie Blackmon:

And Alex Verdugo:

On the season has wore on, the changeup hasn’t been as good. By pitch values, it’s been worth -1.5 runs, and it’s not stealing the souls of hitters. They’ve learned to lay off of it.

Part of this is how Moronta executes the pitch. Moronta isn’t exactly known for his command, and the changeup is especially squirrelly. Here are the locations of Moronta’s changeup through the end of May.

Moronta wants to throw his changeup low and away to lefties. He didn’t pound his spot, but he mostly got it in the right direction. Here are his changeup locations since June 1:

Very few of them found the strike zone and it’s hard to get hitters to chase a pitch that can’t be thrown across the plate or close to it.

The changeup remains a work in progress. Even without it, Moronta is a great pitcher. If Moronta ever learns to fully harness it, the rest of the league is in big, big trouble.