Moyer More Unlucky Than Bad in Game 3

Philadelphia Phillies @ Los Angeles Dodgers, Game 3 of the NLCSOne look at his pitching line in Game 3 of the NLCS in Los Angeles against the Dodgers and you’re forced to conclude that Jamie Moyer was absolute garbage. He’s no stranger to the garbage start either, as he tends to have one every once in a while: September 16, August 26, and May 10, for instance. But if you look a little deeper, you’ll see that Moyer’s failure was due less to his lack of “stuff” and more to bad luck and a successful aggressive approach by the Dodger offense.

Rafael Furcal led off the bottom of the first inning taking a ball and a strike, then swinging at the third pitch, an inside slider that skidded just past the outstretched glove of third baseman Pedro Feliz, too far to the right of shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

Andre Ethier, a left-hander, came up and swung at Moyer’s first pitch. It was a high and inside fastball (not a good location if you’re a left-handed hitter) that Ethier drove into the ground and it was, once again, just outside the outstretched glove of a diving Phillies infielder, this time Chase Utley.

Manny Ramirez continued the first-pitch swinging, offering at a get-it-over fastball and smoking it into left field, driving in Furcal. Not a lucky hit.

Russell Martin took the first pitch, an outside change-up. Moyer then threw two strikes, a cutter and a four-seamer that Martin also took. Martin swung at and fouled off the fourth pitch, another four-seamer. In trying to cross him up inside, Moyer’s fifth pitch, a change-up, went in too far and hit Martin on the knee to load the bases for Nomar Garciaparra.

Nomar took four of the five pitches he saw, the fifth one a cutter on the outside corner for strike three.

Casey Blake took the first pitch, then fouled off a curveball to fall behind in the count 0-2. Moyer’s third pitch an outside fastball, and Blake served it into right field to drive in Ethier on a great piece of hitting of which he deserves full credit. You can’t fault Moyer for it, since he made a good pitch.

Matt Kemp took three straight balls at which point Phillies fans were feeling a big inning for the Dodgers coming up. Maybe not. Moyer bounced back in the count to bring it to 3-2, then got Kemp looking at his sixth pitch, an inside fastball for strike three.

Blake DeWitt went down in the count quickly 0-2. Moyer tried to get him to offer at two straight change-ups in the dirt, but it was to no avail. With a 2-2 count, Moyer threw a high slider, but it caught too much of the plate and DeWitt hit it down the right field line, just in fair territory for a bases-clearing triple to bring the lead to 5-0.

Finally, Moyer ended the awful first inning by retiring the pitcher Hiroki Kuroda on a grounder to third baseman Pedro Feliz.

Moyer came out for the start of the second inning. Continuing with the aggression, Furcal swung at the first pitch, a change-up over the plate (another get-it-over pitch to get ahead in the count) and it cleared the left field fence for a solo home run and the Dodgers’ sixth run.

Manager Charlie Manuel let him stay in to pitch to the left-handed Ethier, who also swung at the first pitch and flied out to shallow center field, before replacing him with Clay Condrey.

Moyer’s line: 1.1 IP, 6 ER, 6 H, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 HR. 11 batters faced, 32 pitches (2.9 per batter).

A recap:

  • Furcal: Ground ball hit
  • Ethier: Ground ball hit
  • Ramirez: Line drive hit, RBI
  • Martin: HBP
  • Garciaparra: K looking
  • Blake: Ground ball hit, RBI
  • Kemp: K looking
  • DeWitt: Fly ball triple, 3 RBI
  • Kuroda: Weak ground ball out
  • Furcal: Home run
  • Ethier: Weak fly ball out

Only two of the six hits were well-hit (DeWitt’s triple was not well-hit). Against Moyer, the Dodgers’ BABIP was .714 with only one line drive.

Compare their average on the batted balls to that of the NL average BABIP:

  • Ground balls: 3-for-4 (.750); NL average: .232
  • Fly balls: 2-for-3 (.667); NL average: .145
  • Line drives: 1-for-1 (1.000); NL average: .717

Be aware of the small sample size, but you get the point.

As they say, “baseball is a game of inches” and had Furcal and Ethier’s hits been an inch or two closer to Feliz and Utley respectively, it’s an entirely different inning.

That’s why I am not hasty in faulting Moyer for his poor outing. The only mistake he made was hitting Martin with the change-up. Otherwise, you have to credit the Dodgers with their aggressive approach. Moyer has a tendency to throw hittable junk in an attempt to get ahead in the count (as a pitcher without much “stuff,” it’s an important strategic endeavor). It’s likely the Dodgers realized this and that’s why they were successful.

This start, coupled with his four-inning stint in the NLDS, will lead a lot of fans and media people to lobby that Manuel hand the ball to Joe Blanton (essentially pushing him up a day) or even J.A. Happ, should Moyer’s spot in the rotation come up again. This is misguided, however, as Moyer didn’t even pitch terribly against the Brewers in Game 3 of the NLDS, so it’s a knee-jerk reaction. His mistakes then were two lead-off walks to Mike Cameron and Bill Hall (Cameron scored on a Prince Fielder sacrifice fly, Hall scored on a J.J. Hardy single); other than that, he shut the Brewers down.

If Moyer’s spot comes up again in the NLCS, you hand him the ball and realize that luck simply wasn’t in his favor in Game 3 against the Dodgers, and that his opponents had a successful approach — certainly not all his fault. Watch some videotape of the game, make some adjustments (don’t throw first-pitch cookies), and try to halt the slide.

Game graph courtesy FanGraphs.