It’s been nearly two full seasons since the Pirates dealt former number one pick Gerrit Cole for Joe Musgrove, Colin Moran, Michael Feliz, and Jason Martin. Let’s take a look at how that trade has worked out so far for both teams in terms of fWAR.
|2018 fWAR||2019 fWAR||TOTAL|
If the Archer trade looks bad in hindsight, this looks like trading in your Lamborghini for four Pintos. Or, with Musgrove, three Pintos and a nice Honda.
Moran was supposed to be one of the key pieces in that deal, a Major League-ready third baseman. He had brief playing time in 2016 and 2017. In his second season, he posted a slash line of .364/.417/.818, albeit in just 12 plate appearances.
Since coming to Pittsburgh, however, those numbers look like wild outliers. If anything, he’s gotten worse. In 498 plate appearances this season, Moran has been worth a measly 0.1 fWAR. Most of that likely comes from adjustments. He’s been negative both at the plate (-7.3 runs) and in the field (-8.1 runs).
A look at his batter profile on Baseball Savant hardly offers a rosier view of Moran’s season.
When your best qualities (in this case, expected batting average and expected slugging percentage) are league average, you’re already starting at a deficit.
But let’s not stop there. Let’s look a little deeper. Is there anything that Moran does well that the Pirates can build upon next season?
Hard Hit Rates
We already know Moran’s overall hard hit numbers are below league average, but we can look at how well he hits various kinds of pitches to see if there’s anything dragging his numbers down, or if there’s a certain pitch he’s hit better than others.
|Pitch Type||In Play||Hard Hit %||Lg. Avg.|
There are pitches that Moran hits well, particularly the sinker and the two-seam fastball. Unfortunately, those aren’t the pitches he’s seeing most frequently. Of the 1,780 pitches Moran has faced, per Savant, just over 16% have been a two seamer or sinker. The four-seam fastball, which is one of Moran’s biggest foils, is thrown against him 36% of the time. Changeups, another pitch he’s struggled to make hard contact with, make up another 11.9% of pitches faced.
Overall, Moran’s hard hit rate on balls in play is 38.7% on fastballs, 32.6% on breaking balls, and 26.2% on offspeed pitches. The Major League averages? Those are 40.5%, 31.9%, and 28.8%, respectively. He’s well below average on two of three categories, and the one he’s best at is the class he faces just over a quarter of the time.
Those hard hit rates are likely one of the key drivers of Moran’s replacement level expected numbers. We can compare his expected wOBA to his actual numbers to see if he’s been the victim of bad luck. The short answer is: No.
|Pitch Type||In Play||xwOBA||wOBA||Variance|
Moran’s luck on the curveball has been significantly bad, but that’s more than offset by the rest of his luck, where his actual wOBA numbers are better than his expected numbers. In other words, there’s no room for Moran to improve based solely on luck regression. If anything, his numbers are going to get worse as things even out.
If he’s not making hard contact, perhaps Moran is better at just putting the ball into play? Let’s look at his swing-and-miss rates.
|Pitch Type||Total Pitches||Whiff Rate||Lg. Avg.|
Unfortunately, the results are more of the same. Outside of the changeup, Moran’s whiff rates are either worse or modestly better than league averages. And on fastballs, the pitch he faces most often, Moran is nearly 3% worse (12.3% to 9.5%) at missing the ball than an average hitter.
If I had to guess what the main issue with Moran is, it’s his bat speed. He’s just not able to catch up with the velocity. Removing balls and called strikes from the equation, here’s a look at the average pitch speed and the corresponding results just for fastballs.
The balls Moran is even able to put a bat on are almost a full mile per hour slower than those he misses. Restrict it to just four-seam fastballs, and the results are even more stark. The average velocity on balls put in play is 93.2 mph. The average whiff? 94.5. In the below chart, you’ll notice a far higher concentration of red and orange in the right panel. That also goes to show you Moran is not particularly good at getting to the high heat.
Based on everything we’ve seen so far, it appears Moran doesn’t have the bat to be an everyday player. If that’s the case, maybe he’s better off in a platoon, working only against right-handed pitchers.
Unfortunately, it appears that dog won’t hunt, either. Moran’s spent most of the season hitting against righties, and while his results there are better than what he posts against lefties, Moran still tops out as an average-at-best hitter. Here are Moran’s advanced splits, pulled directly from FanGraphs.
My own analysis shows basically the same results. Moran’s still been the beneficiary of solid wOBA luck against righties. Just as concerning, his inability to connect with the fastball at above average rates doesn’t change. Against left-handed pitchers, his hard hit percentage on fastballs is 38.9%. Against righties, it drops to 38.6% His whiff rates show similar lack of improvement based on matchup (13.0% vs L, 12.1% vs R).
To close, let’s take a quick look at Moran’s exit velocity vs. fastballs based on pitcher handedness.
If there’s any sort of bright spot, it’s that Moran at least manages decent contact against right-handed fastballers when the pitch is in the middle of the plate. It’s all the other fastballs that give him issues.
It’s hard to draw anything positive from a deep dive into Moran’s numbers. He’s not exceptional at anything. He doesn’t hit the ball hard, and he’s not gifted with elite speed. Unlike teammate Mitch Keller, he’s not the victim of bad luck, either, meaning there’s little hope for some boost due merely to regression.
Making matters worse, Moran isn’t particularly young. He will turn 27 this October. Unless a hitting mechanics savant magically comes along, or Moran finds his way to the Dockery Plantations crossroads one night during the offseason, it’s hard to imagine him turning into a positive at the plate. Right now, Moran is what he is: a replacement level player.
The fact that the Pirates gave up what may be a generational talent to get him only makes that pill all the more difficult to swallow.