Which is why when things started to go wrong for him early this season, especially after Sunday’s 6-4 loss to Boston, in which Moore gave up six runs and eight hits in 6.1 innings. Even as that game unfolded, team brass tried to figure out what was going wrong.
Their first thought: Tipping. As in, Moore was telegraphing the type of pitch he was about to throw, just before he threw it. From the Tampa Bay Times:
In acknowledging how “locked-in” [the Red Sox] were, Rays manager Joe Maddon mentioned, open-endedly, that “it’s like they know what’s coming almost.” He noted how “they’re on everything right now,” no matter what type of pitch it was, and how they were “spitting on”—taking—certain borderline pitches.
What raised the specific pitch-tipping concerns about Moore were the aggressive swings the Red Sox were taking, particularly unexpected given their limited previous exposure to him.
By the fifth inning, pitching coach Jim Hickey was meeting with Moore and catcher Chris Gimenez to try to figure things out. Gimenez said they thought that Moore might be “tapping his glove on his fastball.”
To guard against the possibility that it was something else entirely—like Boston hitters peeking at signs—Gimenez began setting up as late as possible, just before Moore was ready to pitch.
Their concerns were assuaged after reviewing video of the game, which showed that the hammered pitches were all out over the plate—hittable because they were bad, not tipped. Moore seemed all too relieved to eliminate tipping as a cause of his woes.
“Maybe [I tipped some pitches] years ago when I was in rookie ball or something like that,” he said in the Times. “But not as far as I can remember.”
The thing is, such frailties can manifest even in veteran pitchers with no such history. In the last couple of seasons alone, we’ve seen similar issues with Tim Lincecum (who quickly corrected things), Johan Santana and Ben Sheets. From The Baseball Codes:
Tells can be as simple as a pitcher keeping his glove snapped tight when throwing a fastball but ﬂaring it out for a breaking ball, or coming set with his glove at his belt for one type of pitch but at his chest for another. Matt Morris, for example, was lit up by the Braves during his rookie season in St. Louis after they noticed that the exposed index ﬁnger on his glove hand pointed upward whenever he threw a fastball, but lay ﬂat for curves. Once he pinpointed the trouble, Morris quickly ﬁxed it by attaching a ﬂap to his glove that covered the ﬁnger.
Examples like this litter the game’s history. When Babe Ruth ﬁrst came to the American League as a pitcher with the Red Sox, he curled his tongue in the corner of his mouth whenever he threw a curveball—a habit he was forced to break once enough hitters became aware of it. Kansas City’s Mark Gubicza was cured of his tendency to stick out his tongue when throwing a breaking ball under similar circumstances. Ty Cobb regularly stole bases against Cy Young, abetted, said the outﬁelder, by the fact that Young’s arms drifted away from his body when he came set before throwing to ﬁrst; when he was preparing to pitch, he pulled his arms in.
Pitcher Todd Jones dished similar dirt on several competitors in an article he wrote for Sporting News in 2004: “When Andy Benes pitched, he always would grind his teeth when throwing a slider. In Hideo Nomo’s ﬁrst stint inL.A., he’d grip his split-ﬁnger fastball differently than his fastball. Randy Johnson would angle his glove differently on his slider than on his fastball. I’ve been guilty of looking at the third-base coach as I come set when gripping my curveball. When hitters see this, word gets around the league. In fact, my old teammate Larry Walker was the one who told me what I was doing. He said he could call my pitches from the outﬁeld.”
We’ll see tonight if all this deliberation has made a difference, when Moore makes his first start since Boston, against the Twins.