No more for Moyer?
The final chapter of one of the season’s great human interest stories may have been written. On Wednesday, the Rockies designated 49-year-old lefty Jamie Moyer for assignment, potentially bringing to a close a 25-season major league career that began in 1986 and saw him pitch for eight different teams. After sitting out all of last season while he recovered from December 2010 Tommy John surgery, Moyer cracked the Rockies’ rotation out of spring training, and on April 17, in his third start of the year, he became the oldest pitcher in major league history to record a win.
Alas, such moments in the sun were few and far between. Moyer went just 2-5 with a 5.70 ERA for the Rockies, and only three of his 10 starts were quality starts (six or more innings, three or fewer runs). His 5.3 innings per start added to the strain on a bullpen already covering for a rotation in which no pitcher is averaging even 6.0 innings per turn. For youngsters such as Juan Nicasio, Jhoulys Chacin, Christian Friedrich, Alex White and Drew Pomeranz, all between 23 and 25 years old, that’s excusable. Those pitchers are part of the Rockies’ future, and they’re still honing their craft at the major league level, though the fact that only Pomeranz has an ERA below 5.11 is fairly damning, as is the fact that the team is allowing a major league-worst 5.59 runs per game en route to a 20-29 record. Even given their ballpark’s mile-high altitude, that’s unacceptable.
As a flyball-oriented pitcher, Moyer appeared to be a particularly poor fit for that environment, since the thin air makes balls carry farther. Then again, eight of his 11 homers were allowed in road games, including four at the Reds’ homer haven earlier this week. While his strikeout and walk rates (6.0 and 3.0 per nine, respectively) were respectable, his home run rate of 1.8 per nine was not, and it didn’t appear likely to regress significantly given two- and four-seamed “fastballs” that averaged 78.6 MPH, and rarely grazed 80, not to mention an arsenal where only his admittedly baffling changeup generated swings and misses more than 7.0 percent of the time.
So is this the end of the line? It ought to be. While Moyer might fit better in a pitcher-friendly park such as the Padres’ Petco Field or the Twins’ Target Field, those teams are either rebuilding or awaiting the realization that they must, with innings that would be better distributed to youngsters than to 49-year-old novelty acts. A career as an ageless lefty specialist — the new Jesse Orosco — would appear to be out given that Moyer has actually shown a slight reverse platoon split over the course of his career (.266/.318/.424 versus righties, .273/.333/.434 versus lefties) and has been tattooed by lefties (.333/.350/.603 in 81 PA) in 2012.
If this is it, Moyer finishes with a 269-209 record and a 4.25 ERA, three percent better than the park-adjusted league average. Despite the high win total, Moyer has no real case for the Hall of Fame; his ERA would be nearly half a run higher than Red Ruffing’s 3.80, the highest of any enshrined pitcher. Moyer made just one All-Star team, never finished higher than fourth in the Cy Young voting, never led his league in any of the Triple Crown categories of wins, strikeouts and ERA (he did rank second in wins twice, and cracked the top 10 in ERA five times) and didn’t have any Jack Morris moments in the postseason. He was simply a plowhorse who averaged 202 innings a year and a 4.11 ERA from 1997 through 2009, and it’s no mistake that he reached the postseason four times during that span.
Moyer’s career isn’t about whether or not he makes it into Cooperstown, anyway. It’s about perseverance. He was released by the Rangers after the 1990 season, by the Cardinals after the 1991 season and by the Cubs in the spring of 1992; he didn’t even pitch in the majors that season. To that point, he was a 29-year-old with a 34-54 record and a 4.56 ERA. He resuscitated his career in Baltimore and Boston, then served as a mainstay with the Mariners, for whom he pitched 11 seasons, compiled more than half his total numbers of starts, innings and wins, and made his first two playoff appearances. After being traded from Seattle to Philadelphia at midseason in 2006, he pitched in two more postseasons for the Phillies, winning a World Series ring in 2008 and becoming the oldest pitcher since 1929 to make a World Series start along the way. He earned numerous awards for character and community service, by all accounts an even better person than a pitcher. For a guy who spent more than a quarter century on the major league scene, that’s an impressive enough accomplishment.