Baseball’s original “Georgia Peach” was legendary Detroit Tiger and Hall of Famer Ty Cobb. But based on his play for the Yale baseball team this season, right-handed pitcher Chris Moates ’16 is the latest sensation out of Georgia.
In his first season working exclusively out of the bullpen, Moates has been the Elis’ ace reliever, making 13 appearances on the season and posting a sparkling 2.25 ERA. The 6’5” righty has been particularly effective when pitching in the friendly confines of Yale Field, allowing just a single run in 11.2 innings while whiffing 12 batters.
“He’s been great in the reliever role,” catcher Robert Baldwin ’15 said. “He’s really been a bulldog in the late innings. He throws a heavy two-seam [fastball], so we can put him in a jam and expect him to get a ground ball and a double play.”
Moates matriculated to Yale from the Deerfield-Windsor School after leading the Knights to the state finals, and he completed a stellar freshman campaign in 2013. He tied for second on the team with 29 strikeouts and finished with a 2.98 ERA in 42.1 innings of work spread across 13 appearances, four of them starts.
But with four other starters on this year’s roster, Moates shifted to middle relief situations and has been the fireman out of the pen, coming in to snuff out opponents’ rallies. His recent outing against Harvard, in which he earned his third save of the season, saw his scoreless innings streak snapped at 9.2. It remains the second-longest streak of any Yale pitcher all season.
“When you start a game, you get out there and you know that you’re expected to pitch six or seven innings,” Moates said. “When you come in at the end of the game, you can see the finish line, two or three innings [away] at the most. You can leave everything out there and go at the hitters with everything you’ve got. You can really empty the tank.”
Much of Moates’ success is due to his ability to avoid putting runners on base. He has walked just eight batters all season, the fewest among all Yale pitchers with at least 17 innings pitched.
Moates attributed his low walk total to his willingness to pitch to contact, as well as the stellar defense behind him in the field.
“I just challenge the hitters with my best stuff and I hope my best beats their best,” Moates said. “The reason I can have success throwing strikes is because I know that there is an exceptional defense behind me that is going to make all the plays. We all just have complete faith in each other to do what we need to do.”
Both Baldwin and captain Cale Hanson ’14 said that Moates is even more effective coming out of the bullpen than he was as a starter.
Hanson added that because he only has to throw to six or nine batters, he can put a little extra on his fastball. Baldwin, however, attributed Moates’ success to the way the reliever throws his pitches.
“Chris has a nontraditional throwing motion, with lots of downward run on the ball,” Baldwin said. “He gets a lot of ground balls. Batters see a [different] starter and they take strange swings when they eventually face [Moates] in later innings because he’s throwing it a little bit differently.”
Additionally, the Bulldogs’ penchant for late-inning heroics has meant high-leverage situations for Moates. In game one of a doubleheader against Cornell earlier this month, Moates entered in the seventh inning with the score deadlocked at zero. He struck out four in two innings and held serve until third baseman Richard Slenker ’17 was able to win the game with a walk-off single.
A few months before, in Yale’s dramatic 8–7 victory over then-No. 3 LSU, Moates took over for starter Michael Coleman ’14 and held the Tigers at bay for a pair of innings to keep the Elis within striking distance.
His three saves have come in the aforementioned victory over Harvard, in a 4–2 win over Princeton that saw Moates throw 2.2 unblemished frames, and the final two innings of a 1–0 victory over UMass-Lowell. That victory was notable because the Bulldogs pulled out the win despite not recording a single hit.
“Most of the games that I’ve pitched in [have been] very close games,” Moates said. “You have to make sure you keep a level head. It’s intense and I love it.”
The Bulldogs have had one of their most successful seasons in recent memory in 2014. With a two game lead over Dartmouth in the Red Rolfe division, the Bulldogs can clinch a berth in the Ivy League championship series with three wins in the upcoming four game series against Brown.
Moates, however, does not remember the last Yale baseball championship — since it came ten days before his first birthday in 1994. But, according to Hanson, if the Elis can win this year’s championship, Moates will be one of the main reasons why.
“It’s really awesome to have a guy that can come out of the bullpen and really give you a good chance of putting up zeroes and not letting the other team score,” Hanson said. “It’s a powerful thing to have, and it’s fun to play behind him. We know that we have a great guy out there. He’s exciting to watch.”
The first pitch of Friday’s doubleheader at Brown is schedule for 1 p.m.