Matt Moore and Julio Teheran are two of the top pitching prospects in baseball. (AP)
We all have questions about the 2012 season and Alex Remington luckily has some answers. The Stew's resident stats guru will address some of the big ones as the year progresses.
The Situation: Earlier this week, ESPN's Keith Law released his top 100 prospect ranking, and the two highest-ranked starting pitchers who saw action in the major leagues were Tampa Bay's Matt Moore and Atlanta's Julio Teheran. Both have been suggested as strong candidates for rookie of the year in their respective leagues, as both are good candidates to make their team's rotations out of spring training.
Moore was brilliant in two playoff appearances last year, allowing just one run in 10 innings against the Texas Rangers. The Rays then signed him to a terrific, Longoria-esque contract three months ago. Meanwhile, the Braves rotation has a series of question marks. They paid the Indians to take Derek Lowe off their hands, staff ace Tim Hudson may begin the year on the DL, and Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens are both rehabbing from 2011 injuries. So Teheran will get a good chance to demonstrate why he was the top pitching prospect in baseball just a year ago.
The Question: Will Julio Teheran or Matt Moore win rookie of the year?
The Analysis: This year, Matt Moore is the No. 3 prospect on Law's list, while Teheran is #18. But last year, it was the reverse: Teheran was No. 6 while Moore was No. 16. Why the flip? Basically, while Teheran was better in 2010, Moore was better in 2011.
But not by a great deal.
Actually, it's really, really close. Here are Teheran and Moore's combined minor league numbers across 2010 and 2011 — and keep in mind that both began 2010 in A-ball (in Moore's case, High-A) and both ended 2011 in Triple-A, so I'm aggregating results across numerous leagues and levels of competition.
They're not completely identical: while Moore has a much higher strikeout rate and overall a better strikeout-to-walk ratio, Teheran has a better walk rate and a lower home run rate. Moreover, while both got started at the same time, Moore was drafted in 2007 as an 18-year old and Teheran was signed in 2007 as a 16-year old, so Julio is nearly two years younger.
But if all you saw was those stats, you would think that they were remarkably similar, and both destined for greatness. This offseason, however, Teheran's stock has fallen while Moore's has soared. Why is that? Because of the 19 innings and change that both pitched in the majors last year.
There's no question that, in those 20 innings, Moore was better than Teheran. And that's the way it looked to the naked eye, too: Teheran appeared tentative around the strike zone, while Moore appeared confident. Their major league experience can't be completely ignored, but it should probably be heavily discounted: 20 innings is only 20 innings, after all. Because of his superior strikeout rate, and his left-handedness, Moore is a slightly better prospect, but the difference between the two is minimal.
Scouts have articulated mild concern about Teheran's lack of a killer breaking ball. In his list, Law wrote: "Teheran's biggest shortcoming is the lack of an above-average breaking ball, although his mid-70s curveball was shorter and harder this year than it was in the past." That was reminiscent of a scout.com article from July, which quoted a scout who had seen both Moore and Teheran. He called them the "1A and 1B" pitching prospects in the game, but then said: "Teheran is really good, but there is still a chance he ends up in the bullpen. He's a two-pitch guy. He may run out of time to develop a breaking ball, because he'll be pitching in the big leagues soon." He certainly will be in the big leagues soon. But I believe he'll get greater confidence and feel with experience.
Moore has earned some comparisons to another power lefthander the Rays drafted in 2007: David Price. The difference between Moore and Price is that Price was the first overall pick in the 2007 draft, and the Vanderbilt product wasted little time proving that he was ready for the big leagues. He made it to the majors and established himself with his own dominant playoff performance in 2008, the year the Rays made their first playoff appearance in team history. But then he had a sophomore jinx. He began the 2009 year in the minors and simply couldn't find a rhythm at the major league level, finishing with a 4.42 ERA in 23 starts. Of course, in 2010, he finished second in the Cy Young race. If Matt Moore pitches on a comparable level as David Price, the Rays will be happy.
Of course, the Rays already have the reigning rookie of the year winner, Jeremy Hellickson, who improved from a fine 2010 cup of coffee to a stellar 2011. So the sophomore jinx is hardly assured. Hellickson is a very different pitcher than Moore: he pitches in the low 90s rather than the high 90s, and last year he mainly appeared to benefit from very good luck on balls in play and in stranding runners on base. So Hellboy may be headed for a slump if he isn't careful.
The Braves also have the reigning rookie of the year winner, Craig Kimbrel, and their pitchers have a fairly good history with hardware. (Hard to believe it's been 14 years since a Brave won the Cy Young award, Tom Glavine in 1998; Glavine's win capped an incredible run in which Braves pitchers captured six Cy Youngs in eight years.)
The key for Teheran will be missing bats. His successful Triple-A season in 2011 masked a much-reduced strikeout rate, as his strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) declined from 10.0 in 2010 to 7.6 in 2011. And it was much worse during his brief time in the majors, striking out just 10 and walking eight in 19 2/3 innings. In the minors, he averaged nearly a strikeout an inning. If he can edge back toward that, he'll be a solid bet to be in award contention. But if he struggles to get swings and misses, then he may need an extra year to get established, just as David Price did.
The Forecast for 2012: With everything we know right now, Moore is clearly a slightly better pitcher, and a good bet to be better in April 2012. But Teheran is 19 months younger and has dominated the minors for three years running, so it would be a mistake to underestimate him.
So what should we expect? Two of the leading projection systems, ZiPS and CAIRO, project them to have reasonably similar seasons of very good but not spectacular ball. Both believe that Moore's ERA will be slightly lower, and based on my above analysis, I think that's reasonable: ZiPS believes the margin will be 3.72 to 3.85, and CAIRO believes it will be 3.95 to 4.00. (Remember, Moore will be pitching in the AL East, where he will face a DH and better competition, so the margin between the two is a bit more substantial than the numbers might first appear.)
An ERA between 3.75 and 4.00 is good enough to put a rookie on the map, but most years it isn't quite enough to win him an award. Moreover, I think a bit of the Moore-mania may need to be tempered. He's a phenomenal pitcher, beyond any doubt. But even phenomenal pitchers don't often dominate right away. (For example, Tom Glavine was a below-average pitcher in each of his first four seasons. Then, in his fifth season, he won a Cy Young Award.) Moore and Teheran may have a Cy Young award in their future. But there's a strong chance that they won't win a rookie of the year award in 2012.
Other Ask Alex questions for 2012
• Will Alex Avila be an All-Star again?
• Can Michael Pineda keep his ERA under 4 in the AL East?
• Can Adam Dunn return to 30 home run territory?
• Can Jason Heyward return to his rookie form?
• Can Matt Kemp go 50/50?
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- Julio Teheran