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Friday, May 25, 2007

The Incomparable Jamie Moyer 

When Jamie Moyer broke into the Major Leagues in 1986 with the Chicago Cubs, future teammate Cole Hamels was just three years old. Ronald Reagan was President of the United States and a massive wall in Berlin divided the free world from that of the oppressed. Twenty-one years, 3,408 innings, 527 starts and 220 victories later, there he will be tonight, taking his place in the rotation again to throw to the Atlanta Braves. The Incomparable Jamie Moyer, about to pitch another game.

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA
FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching: (13*HR+3*BB-2*K / IP) + League Factor Evaluates a pitching by how he would have done with an average defense behind him by keeping track of things that a pitcher can control (walks, strikeouts, home runs allowed) as opposed to things he cannot (hits allowed, runs allowed).
DER – Defense Efficiency Ratio: (Batters Faced – (Hits + Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) / (Batters Faced – (Home Runs, Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) How often fielders convert balls put into play into outs.
G/F – Groundball-to-Flyball ratio.
HR/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings: (HR * 9) / IP
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP

When the Phillies traded for Jamie Moyer in September of 2006, I was extremely skeptical about the move. The Phillies had a decent rotation and have a lot of pitchers on their way up to join the team. Why bring in this 43-year old pitcher from the Mariners who was in his 40’s and had a record of just 6-12?

Turns out that Pat Gillick was, with respect to this decision, much wiser than myself and the rest of the Phillies blogging universe. Bringing Jamie Moyer on-board was a very smart move. Very smart. Let’s start with the veteran component. Moyer has been around for 21 seasons and has hurled for six teams before joining the Phillies. He pitched in the playoffs for the Mariners in 1997 and 2001, rare experience on a Phillies team whose best pitchers, Brett Myers and Cole Hamels, have never been in the post-season. Hamels in particular has apparently sought out Moyer’s advice and has been considered to be his protégé.

Moyer wasn’t a slouch on the field either. Moyer started eight games for the Phillies in 2006, going 5-2 with a 4.03 ERA. Thus far this season Moyer is 4-3 in his eight starts with a 4.37 ERA. Take a quick look:

2006 / 2007
4.03 / 4.37
FIP: 4.64 / 4.60
HR/9: 1.40 / 0.83
BB/9: 1.22 / 2.82
K/9: 4.56 / 5.30
K/BB: 3.71 / 1.88

So what is Moyer’s secret? His secret is the reason I wonder why he even got into the major leagues to begin with – unlike Cole Hamels, with his nasty fastball – Jamie Moyer confounds the opposition with some of the slowest fastballs in baseball along with changeups galore. In an age where you can’t attract the attention of major league scouts unless your fastball tops out at 95 mph, Jamie Moyer makes a living throwing lots of off-speed pitches. In his Historical Baseball Abstract, James placed Moyer in the Warren Spahn Group of “Easy-Motion” Left Handers comparable to Spahn, Tom Glavine and others. (See, page 896.) Moyer and Glavine and the rest are lefties that relied on precision and skill more than brawn to get the job done. According to the 2006 Bill James Handbook, Jamie Moyer had the lowest percentage of fastballs thrown (40.1%) of any AL pitcher except knuckle-baller Tim Wakefield (11.9%) in 2005. Moyer’s average fastball that season was also slowest of any AL pitcher (81.8 mph) except the aforementioned Wakefield (76.1 mph). He threw 1,169 pitches of less than 80 mph, third in the AL after Barry Zito (1,205) and Wakefield (2,305). The numbers from 2004 tell pretty much the same story: Moyer was second to Wakefield in throwing pitches under 80 (1,448 to Wakefield’s 1,750), he threw the second-slowest fastball (81.6 mph) to Wakefield (75.9 mph), and he led the A.L. in changeups with 31%. Just 45.7% of his pitches were fastballs, the fourth-lowest in the A.L. Interestingly, his then-and-now teammate Freddy Garcia was also an infrequent fastball pitcher, throwing just 45% of his pitches as fastballs: 20% of Garcia’s pitches were sliders and 16.2% were curveballs in 2004.

If you are wondering how Moyer ranked in 2006, I haven’t a clue because Moyer threw just 160 innings with the Mariners and 51 & 1/3 with the Phillies, falling short of the 162 needed innings to qualify in either league. With Barry Zito now a Giant I am certain that Moyer will be challenged as king of the off-speed pitch in the N.L.

Jamie Moyer is an illustration of the principals that I thought might lead Jon Lieber to have success as a Phillie: batters want to see fastballs generally. Pitchers with fastballs get a lot of strikeouts, but they also surrender lots of home runs. Pitchers that rely on changeups and sliders tend to get a lot of batted balls that stay in the park. To my disappointment, Lieber has struggled in that role with the Phillies. He was a pitcher who relied heavily on sliders to get outs – in 2006, for example, 35.4% of Lieber’s pitches were sliders, the highest such percentage in the major leagues. Lieber’s heavy slider ought to have been difficult to hit for a home run, and yet teams hit 1.44 home runs off Lieber every nine innings he pitched in 2006 and 1.36 in 2005. So much for that theory.

Moyer has been having remarkable success though. If you add up his 2006 and 2007 stats so far as a Phillie, he’s surrendered 1.10 Home Runs per nine innings, 2.04 walks, and 4.94 strikeouts. His 2.41 K/BB ratio is pretty darn good for a control pitcher. How is he doing it? Unlike Lieber, Moyer is getting guys to pop-up weakly and ground-out occasionally. The interesting thing to me was that in 2004 and 2005 Jamie Moyer had one of the lowest groundball-to-flyball ratios in the A.L.: 0.91 and 0.90 respectively. Theoretically, a pitcher like Moyer ought to be a dead man at Citizens. In 2004 Eric Milton, in his sole campaign as a Phillie, had the worst groundball-flyball ratio in the N.L. and surrendered a whopping 43 home runs (23 on the road, so don’t blame Citizens … I’m talking to you, Billy Wagner). So far this year Jamie Moyer has a 0.79 G/F ratio and yet he’s doing pretty well. Moyer, unlike Lieber, is that rare pitcher who can help his fielders get to balls put into play. According to page 92 of Baseball Between the Numbers (written by the staff of Baseball Prospectus), Moyer is that rare pitcher who does influence the balls put into play and deserves credit for the performance his defense turns in. Last season Moyer saw the fielders behind him convert .753 of the balls put into play into outs. The Phillies team Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER) was an absurdly poor .683 in 2005. This season the Phillies are struggling again in the field, with a .686 DER, while Moyer once more is watching his fielders convert .753 of the balls put into play into outs.

Oh, and Moyer is leading the Phillies in Quality Starts with seven in nine games started ... His disasterous start on Saturday against the Blue Jays doesn't qualify, as a quality start is a start where the pitcher goes at least six innings and gives up three or fewer earned runs.

Moyer has clearly been a huge boost to the Phillies battered rotation and has helped the team contend this season. He is 44 this season, but I hope that he can pitcher until he’s 50, because the positive effect he’s had on the Phillies rotation cannot be understated. I can't wait to watch him tonight as he strides to the mound and spends the game confounding Chipper Jones with his changeups and barely-over-the-speed-limit fastballs.

See everyone on Tuesday!

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