Joe Maddon might be an inventive genius who will go down in history as one of the greatest managers of his time. Or the Rays might have to send Martin Sheen down a river after him one of these days. We're not sure yet. But in one of his crazier/more inspired moments, he gave Matt Moore his second start in the playoffs.
Moore pitched seven innings, allowing just two walks and two hits. It was an inspired move.
The folks in the Rays' front office are inventive because they don't have a choice. The franchise can't afford to wait around and see if Moore is going to be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, and then give him a Matt Cain-sized extension. If they wanted Moore beyond the six years of control they already had, they knew they'd have to get creative. So they gave him $14 million guaranteed over the next five years, and in exchange for that guaranteed money, Moore gave the Rays three team options that could bring the total value of the contract to $40 million. It was an inspired move.
So now Moore had a playoff start and an eight-year deal. All he needed to do was make another start in the majors during the regular season.
Which is a subtle way to say: Hold on, there, folks. Hooooooooold on. Moore is a preternatural talent. His mother dipped him in the River Styx. He has a left arm that comes along but once in a generation. But he's still a young pitcher. He's still just 22 years old. It might not be a great idea to assume Matt Moore, playoff hero and long-term solution, is automatically going to push the Rays toward a division title.
This isn't an overreaction to two iffy starts. Well, it partially is, as Moore has walked nine batters in 13 innings, with the Rays losing both games he's started. But it's more of a reminder that we haven't given Moore a lot of time to be a young pitcher. Young pitchers are a curious species. It probably doesn't do a tremendous amount of good to compare Moore with pitching prospects of yore -- he's an elite prospect, not just some guy scouts kinda sorta like -- but it's somewhat illuminating to look back at the left-handed pitching prospects who made Baseball America's top-100 list five years ago:
10. Andrew Miller, lhp, Tigers
24. Clayton Kershaw, lhp, Dodgers
30. Franklin Morales, lhp, Rockies
31. Scott Elbert, lhp, Dodgers
37. Jacob McGee, lhp, Devil Rays
52. Donald Veal, lhp, Cubs
54. Chuck Lofgren, lhp, Indians
56. John Danks, lhp, White Sox
58. Troy Patton, lhp, Astros
59. Jonathan Sanchez, lhp, Giants
66. Glen Perkins, lhp, Twins
70. Jaime Garcia, lhp, Cardinals
72. Gio Gonzalez, lhp, White Sox
90. Matt Harrison, lhp, Braves
96. Sean West, lhp, Marlins
You have three pitchers who helped their teams win pennants, a couple of mid-rotation guys, some pitchers who still have ace potential, a Cy Young winner, and a couple of guys who are currently looking through Craigslist job postings. But the top two on the list are probably the best possible dichotomy when talking about Moore.
He could be Clayton Kershaw, holding his own in his first season in the majors, working on his control, and then progressing to a dominant force of nature.
He could be Andrew Miller, who was supposed to be ready for the majors until he very much wasn't.
He's a pitching prospect.
That isn't to say the Rays don't know this. They're well aware there's a risk/reward component will all young pitchers, and even though this one was special enough to risk at least $14 million before he started his second regular-season game, he's still something of an unknown quantity.
And that isn't to say Maddon doesn't know this. He let Moore start in the ALDS because he thought the young pitcher would succeed, and he was right. He put Moore in the rotation because that was his best option. He isn't doing anything that would suggest he's putting undue pressure on Moore, or moving him too fast.
This is a message to the great unwashed Internet, the fans. The people who, when sizing up rotations in the AL East, think things like, "Well, the Yankees have Sabathia, the Red Sox have Lester, but the Rays have Price and Moore, so they're probably deeper." Moore might soon be in the same conversation as those three pitchers. He might be in that conversation by the end of this month, or by the All-Star Break. But he's not there yet.
Matt Moore is going through some command funkiness right now. That kind of thing happens to young pitchers from time to time. Reminder: Matt Moore is a young pitcher.