Decisions at Starting Pitcher: Strasburg vs. Moore

WASHINGTON - AUGUST 10: (FILE PHOTO) Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the Florida Marlins at Nationals Park on August 10 2010 in Washington DC. According to reports August 26 2010 Strasburg has a torn ligament that will require Tommy John elbow surgery. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

There is no debate over the top two starting pitching prospects in baseball; the Tampa Bay Rays' Matt Moore and the Washington Nationals' Stephen Strasburg are in a league of their own. Both fans of those teams and the baseball world in general are in for a treat, as both starters will begin the 2012 season in their respective rotations. Both Strasburg and Moore throw absolute heat (average fastballs ranging from 96 to 97 mph), dominated minor league hitting, and have bigger contracts than pitchers with similar limited major league experience. Strasburg burst onto 2009 as a National collegiate phenom at San Diego State. He was electric in his short time in the majors in 2010, before missing almost all of 2011 because of Tommy John Surgery. Moore was not as famous while in the minors; his minor league starts were not televised like Strasburg's and he was also not a number #1 overall pick. Moore may not have received as much "hoopla" as Strasburg, but after his performance in last season's ALDS, he has received a good deal more National recognition.

There may be no debate over whether or not Moore and Strasburg are the top-2 starting pitching prospects, but there is definitely a question of which starter is #1. In the same manner as my last post, I'm going to not only use projection models to predict which starter will have a better 2012 campaign, but also postulate which starter would be more coveted by an MLB GM in not only 2012, but also going forward into the future.

Note: To give a full picture of what’s possible for the two players in 2012 I used both Fangraphs’ ZIPS projections and Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections. Also the projected 2012 fWAR's based off of ZIPS are my own, because ZIPS does not project WAR, and Moore's career numbers include his 10 IP in last year's post-season.

Strasburg

Moore

Career

2012 (ZIPS)

2012 (PECOTA)

Career

2012 (ZIPS)

2012 (PECOTA)

IP

92

75.2

138

IP

19.1

145

138

GS

17

14

23

GS

2

27

23

Wins

6

6

10

Wins

2

10

9

QS

8

N/A

16

QS

2

N/A

13

ERA

2.54

2.85

2.38

ERA

1.89

3.72

3.59

FIP

1.87

2.78

2.81

FIP

3.10

3.81

3.63

fWAR

3.7

2.5

N/A

fWAR

0.4

3

N/A

bWAR

2.4

N/A

4.2

bWAR

0.2

N/A

1.6

HR/9

0.49

0.59

0.72

HR/9

0.94

0.87

0.85

BB/9

1.86

2.73

2.02

BB/9

2.83

4.28

4.63

K/9

11.4

9.27

9.33

K/9

10.8

9.31

10.5

BABIP

0.297

0.303

0.295

BABIP

0.226

0.302

0.295

GB%

45%

54%

49.3%

GB%

40%

49%

45%

OPS

0.759

N/A

N/A

OPS

0.791

N/A

N/A

FRA

2.85

N/A

2.75

FRA

3.91

N/A

3.87

Stephen Strasburg

Strasburg has more major league experience than Moore, but he still hasn't thrown 100 major league innings. Strasburg's 92 career IP's have been spectacular though. For him to be a 2.5+ win player (depending on what WAR system you prefer), in such a small amount of time is pretty incredible. His career K/BB ratio of 6.11 is out of this world, only Roy Halladay posted a better K/BB ratio (6.29) in 2011 among qualified starters. Both ZIPS and PECOTA project Strasburg to not throw even 150 innings in 2012; this is most likely due to the fact that Strasburg missed so much of 2011 that the systems don't trust him to stay healthy over the long haul of a major league season. Both systems agree that Strasburg's ERA and FIP will both be below 3, with a BABIP hovering around .300, a strikeout rate above 9, and a walk rate below 3. It seems safe to assume that Strasburg will be dominant in 2012, the only question is for how many innings.

Honestly, I disagree with the systems and think that Strasburg will throw 150+ innings in 2012. There have been rumors of Strasburg having an innings limit somewhere around 160 innings for this season, but even if he is held to that limit he would still be extremely valuable. In just 138 innings PECOTA projects Strasburg to have a WAR of over 4, and if given the chance to throw 20 more innings, or around 3 more starts, his WAR would in all likelihood reside above 5. The reason I believe Strasburg could throw 150+ innings is because he showed no signs of being a different pitcher after the surgery. In his five starts last season, Strasburg did not allow a home run, had a walk rate below 1 (0.75), had a FIP and ERA below 2, and also didn't see a significant decrease in velocity of his fastball (97.3 in 2010, 95.8 in 2011).

Matt Moore

Moore's major league experience is so small, 9.1 regular season innings and 10 post-season, that it's tough to even take into serious consideration any of the numbers he put up in 2011. Yet I can't help but at least discuss them for a little, Moore's K-rate was almost 11 and he had a ridiculously low ERA; however, his FIP was much higher because of the two home runs he gave up, as well as, his very low BABIP. But again the sample size of any of these statistics are just much too small; thus, his projections give a better picture of what Moore may bring to Tampa Bay this season.

Both projection systems predict Moore to throw just under 150 innings, and have a FIP and ERA that hover in the mid to high 3's. Also, it looks like Moore will continue to strike out batters at a very high-rate, at least above one strikeout per inning, but his projected walk rate is the biggest concern here. Both projections have his BB/9 well over 4, which is not very good at all. But is this projected walk rate legitimate, or is it an incorrect projection along the lines of Strasburg's low IP?

In five minor league season's Moore's walk rate was just below 4, 3.84, which lead to his major league projection being over 4; however, in 2011 Moore's walk rate was 2.67 between AA and AAA. This leads me to believe that Moore had control issues in the early stages of his minor league career but probably has figured them out. Which is why I believe his projected BB/9 should be around 3, instead of the numbers projected by ZIPS and PECOTA. This 1 walk per 9 inning decrease would do wonders to Moore's already solid projected stats.

The Comparison

Strasburg's projected peripheral statistics are better than Moore's in every category. If Strasburg is able to throw as many innings as Moore in 2012, it seems safe to assume that he'll be the more effective and valuable starter, even if Moore's walk rate is lower than projected. Some would say that is a rather large "if" based on the surgery Strasburg went under, but as I mentioned before I don't think it will have any effect on the amount of innings Strasburg throws in 2012, or rather however many innings Davey Johnson allows him to throw. But just because Strasburg will have a better 2012, does that mean he is the better starter for the future, especially if you include the two pitcher's contracts in the analysis?

Moore inked a 5 year/$14 million deal with 3 club options that would raise the total contract value to $39.5 million, and lock him up through all 6 of his club controlled seasons, as well as two free agency seasons. The Tampa Bay Rays have Moore for cheap over the next 8 years, and this contract is one that makes many idolize the ability of Rays' GM Andrew Friedman. Strasburg signed a 4 year/$15.1 million contract after being drafted in 2009; which means he has already made a lot more money than Moore, and will cost much more than Moore in 2012. Strasburg will also be under Nationals' team control through 2016 and interestingly, when he comes off the original deall next season he'll be under a rookie contract for one year before his three arbitration years. Thus, Strasburg has made more money than Moore so far, but will most likely make only $8-12 million more than Moore over 2013-16. If you use Fangraphs' linear dollars per WAR model then Strasburg would only need to be 2 WAR better than Moore across those four seasons to be just as valuable. I think Strasburg will be over a 2-win better pitcher than Moore during those seasons, which is why if I'm a GM, Strasburg is my guy; Moore is very good and will continue to be, but even when cost is included in the equation Strasburg is a more valuable starter and could be the best in the game by 2014, possibly even 2013.

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