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Wednesday, March 21, 2012
30 Questions: Tampa Bay Rays

By AJ Mass
ESPN.com

Rays

Can we really believe in Matt Moore?

First there was Tebow-Mania. Then came Lin-sanity. Prepare yourself for Moore Madness.

Maybe the hype surrounding Tampa Bay Rays rookie Matt Moore is not quite at that level just yet, but would anyone truly be surprised if it gets there? After all, some people are already talking about a pitcher who has thrown just 9 1/3 innings of major league ball in the regular season as if he were a legitimate Cy Young candidate.

Tampa Bay's Matt Moore
Matt Moore has already shined in the postseason spotlight, but can he hold up for an entire season?

Moore has certainly been impressive since being drafted by Tampa Bay in the eighth round in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. He's steadily risen through the Rays' organization, and last year he earned the 52nd annual J.G. Taylor Spink Award as the Topps/Minor League Player of the Year. He went 12-3 with a 1.92 ERA in Double-A and Triple-A combined, and even threw a no-hitter in the process.

His success in the minors not only earned him a late-season call-up, but in a surprise move, manager Joe Maddon tabbed him as the Rays' starting pitcher in Game 1 of the American League Division Series. There are few situations that are more pressure-filled than that, and all Moore did was pitch seven shutout innings, leading the Rays to the only victory they would get in the series against the Texas Rangers.

So, we understand the reason for excitement and optimism, even if the hometown fans have only actually seen him take the mound once at home -- in relief -- an outing where he served up a gopher ball to Adrian Beltre in the final game the team would play in 2011.

But in a world where hype sometimes gets the better of us, and where the phrase "innings cap" has become commonplace to be mentioned anytime a young pitcher with talent gets added to a major league rotation, exactly what kind of season can we expect from Matt Moore?

Currently, Moore is slated to be the No. 4 starter in the Rays' rotation, behind David Price, James Shields and last year's AL Rookie of the Year, Jeremy Hellickson. Yet, he's being selected in the top 20 of all starting pitchers in ESPN Live Drafts, with an ADP of 75.5. Have people lost their minds?

The obvious comparison to make with Moore is his teammate David Price. Like Moore, Price took center stage in the playoffs after getting his first taste of the majors during a September cup of coffee. In 2008, with only 14 innings under his belt, Price finished three games in the American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox, earning the win in Game 2 and the save in the deciding Game 7. He also closed out two games in the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, striking out four hitters in his 3 1/3 innings of work.

Price is currently a very successfully pitcher with an ADP of 50.6 in 2012 drafts, but he didn't get to that level right away. After his postseason success, expectations were high for Price when he joined the rotation in May 2009, but his results were average at best. Price was rarely allowed to complete seven innings and ended up going 10-7 with a 4.42 ERA. It wasn't until the following season that it all clicked, as Price was given a much longer leash. As a result, he finished second in Cy Young voting with a 19-6 record and a 2.72 ERA.

Of course, it would be simplistic to say that this one example necessarily means that Moore will also struggle this season and shine in 2013. However, this will be the third time in the past four years that the Rays are taking a rookie and slotting him into their rotation. That should give us some idea on how much work Maddon and his staff will put on Matt Moore's plate this season.

While there may be some sort of "kid gloves" treatment given to Moore early in the season, it doesn't seem that Tampa Bay's philosophy will result in any sort of diminished workload over the course of the year. Assuming Moore doesn't flame out entirely, I think it's reasonable to assume he'll be allowed to face at least as many batters over the course of the season as Hellickson did in 2011.

If we assume, based on Moore's September stint, that he'll face approximately 4.29 batters per inning, then that translates to 180 innings pitched. Given recent history, Tampa Bay's No. 4 starter likely will be asked to make 29 starts, so that would mean Moore would be averaging just over six innings per start. Again, that's consistent with the usage of both Price and Hellickson as rookies.

So, let's take a closer look at the ESPN projection for Moore in 2012:

The workload certainly fits into what we've already discussed, and as Keith Law wrote in his blog this week, Moore "could accidentally strike out 180 batters this year." So I think this projection is a perfectly reasonable one. In fact, it's incredibly impressive if you put it in historical context.

Let me ask you a question. Since 1980, how many rookie pitchers do you think there have been who have posted numbers similar to what we're predicting for Moore in 2012? The answer might surprise you:

Plain and simple, rookie pitchers tend to not do well. Yet, fantasy players always want to play with the bright and shiny new toys. As a result, there's a tendency to overvalue young players like Moore who come into the league with that dreaded word "potential."

In this case, we do honestly believe that Moore has the tools to succeed in the major leagues, and he may well end up having one of the best rookie seasons of the past 30 years. But as you can see, that's really not saying all that much.

By all means, grab Moore for your fantasy team. Just do it with your eyes wide open. Don't expect him to anchor your fantasy squad in 2012. He may well end up being a Cy Young winner in the next few years, but that doesn't mean you have to pay for those future accolades today.