What Are the Secrets to Jamie Moyer’s Success?

Jamie MoyerI originally posted this on the Flushing University forums, but I figured it was extensive, informative, and interesting enough to repost here. I was asked how Moyer, nearly at the age of 46 and throwing a fastball that barely tops 82 MPH, was able to find so much success this season.

I’ll just copy-paste my response:

. . .

He’s had a 5% increase in ground balls as compared to last year and his 44.2 GB% is the highest it’s been since at least 2001 (FanGraphs only tracks batted ball percentages as far back as 2002, though we can manually calculate them using Baseball Reference’s Hit Trajectory splits). As a result of throwing less fly balls in a stadium that helps push a lot of fly balls a lot further than they justifiably should have flown (Ed.: This is mostly due to the winds, not the dimensions of the ballpark), Moyer’s home run percentages have gone down as well. His HR/FB is at 9.2%, which is the lowest it’s been since 2005, when his home stadium was Yellowstone… excuse me, Safeco Field.

Moyer’s also been a little bit lucky on balls in play. With a 20.8 LD% and considering the 5% increase in ground balls, we’d expect a BABIP in the .325-.335 area, but it’s only at .295. He’s faced 739 hitters, so we’d expect the following amounts of hits…

.295 BABIP: 218 hits
.325 BABIP: 240 hits
.335 BABIP: 248 hits

So, he’s saved between 22-30 hits on the season because of his lower-than-normal BABIP.

Looking at FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), which looks only at events that the pitcher can directly control, we’d expect his ERA to be around 4.30. Compare that to his current 3.64 ERA and we see that the Phillies’ defense has saved Moyer about two-thirds of a run per game. That’s 19 runs over his 29 starts.

Lastly, Moyer has been throwing a lot more fastballs, believe it or not. According to FanGraphs, Moyer has had a 5.2% increase in the use of his four-seam fastball from ’07 to ’08 and a 5.7% increase in the use of his cutter. It looks like he ditched his slider, and he’s thrown his curve ball 2.0% less and his change-up 7.6% less.

So, based upon my research, I conclude the following have been factors in Moyer’s success:

  • More groundballs, less HR
  • Fortunate BABIP
  • Good defense behind him
  • Modified pitch selection

There’s a good chance that Moyer will be returning to the Phillies in ’09, so it will be interesting to see if these numbers hold, considering that the Phillies will generally be fielding the same defensive team. Burrell will probably be back, but if he isn’t, it only makes the defense better.

. . .

I’d like to add to that by pointing out that Moyer has given up significantly fewer extra-base hits. Moyer is on pace to allow 201 total hits: 138 singles, 39 doubles, 5 triples, and 20 home runs (.408 SLG). Last season, he allowed 222 hits: 131 singles, 57 doubles, 4 triples, and 30 home runs (.483 SLG).

And going back to the Hit Trajectory splits, I think it’s interesting to note the difference between 2007 and ’08.

Fly Balls, 2007: 39.4% .855 OPS
Fly Balls, 2008: 35.1% .731 OPS

Ground balls, 2007: 39.4% .492 OPS
Ground balls, 2008: 44.2% .459 OPS

Line Drives, 2007: 21.2% 1.765 OPS
Line Drives, 2008: 20.8% 1.644 OPS

The OPS is down across the board this season. The difference is at its highest on fly balls, most of which is due to the decreased home run rate, but as mentioned, hitters aren’t getting too many extra-base hits off of him. Surely the plus-arms of Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, and Geoff Jenkins help in the prevention of singles being stretched into doubles and doubles stretched into triples, but overall, hitters just aren’t hitting Moyer very hard, as evidenced by the 16.8% infield fly balls (IFFB) he’s induced, a 4.3% increase from last season and about 3% above his career average.

While it is surprising to see a 46-year-old up among the league leaders in ERA (16th in NL), Moyer’s success isn’t fluky. Considering that he’ll have essentially the same defense behind him in ’09 (assuming he doesn’t retire and returns to the Phillies), there’s very little that would cause Moyer to have a clunker of a season, considering that he doesn’t rely on much more than location and intellect when he’s on the mound.

. . .

I was just notified of an interesting and useful website: FirstDibz.com is a place where season ticket-holders sell and put “dibz” on post-season face value tickets for their particular team. Here’s the Phillies section.