Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Correlation does not always imply causation, but in Tampa Bay rookie starter Matt Moore's case, I think it's pretty clear what's going on.
The left-hander is 4-2 with a 1.93 ERA in his last eight starts, completely turning around what had been a dismal season ripe with struggles and staking a claim to be the guy who finishes after Mike Trout in the AL Rookie of the Year voting.
The key to Moore's success? Throwing strikes, commanding his fastball and relying on his devastating stuff to get hitters out. In other words, less walks equals more wins.
Moore's BB/9 was an ugly 4.73 over his first 18 starts this season. It's actually a tribute to his talent that he was able to keep his ERA as low as 4.39 in that span despite issuing so many free passes.
Since July 22, Moore has walked just 2.45 BB/9, and his K/9 is 9.29 in that span, up from 8.5 in his first 18 starts.
According to PITCHf/x, Moore also eliminated his sinker from his repertoire in August, instead relying mostly on his four-seam fastball, which he threw 66 percent of the time. Moore also threw his sinker less in his second best month this season, June, when he went 3-0 with a 3.16 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in five starts. He threw his sinker just seven percent of the time in that month.
But what really made the difference was his fastball command. The PITCHf/x tool shows that in August, Moore got a called strike 20.5 percent of the time with his four-seamer. He didn't top 15.31 percent in any other month.
Moore's new strategy will get a major test in September, as the Rays will solely play AL East opponents in eight of their final nine series of the season. Moore is 1-1 with a 2.70 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in three starts against Toronto this season, but he has had mixed results against other intra-division foes.
The rookie is 2-1 with a 1.15 ERA against the Orioles in 2012, but his 1.72 WHIP (17 H, 10 BB) suggests he was relatively lucky in those starts. He beat the Yankees with seven innings of three-run ball in his only start against them this season, but the Red Sox have tagged him for nine runs on 13 hits in 12 1/3 innings in two starts.
Still, Moore's talent is tantalizing, and now that it seems like he has a plan on the mound, he should spearhead fantasy rotations in September.
Moore's up-and-down season mirrors that of another prodigy, 19-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals. Harper burst onto the scene in late April and looked like an NL Rookie of the Year frontrunner and legitimate rival to Mike Trout, but he has faded with a .207/.273/.373 line since the All-Star break.
However, Harper has been hot as of late, going 14-for-46 (.304) with five homers, 11 RBIs and nine runs in his last 12 games. Harper had his first-career multi-homer game Wednesday and followed it up with another round-tripper Thursday.
While the young outfielder is still striking out a ton and has stopped taking walks (15/1 K/BB in his last 17 games), there are likely few players currently available in the free agent pool with the type of upside he possesses.
If you have him, keep him, and if you don't, try to acquire him if the trade deadline hasn't passed yet or if another owner discarded him in frustration that he hitched his wagon to the wrong rookie. In September, Harper will be just right for you.