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Moran, Moran: Will Colin Take the Next Step, or Come Undone?

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
Joe Musgrove 2.2 3.1 5.3
Colin Moran 0.7 0.1 0.8
Michael Feliz 0.2 0.1 0.3
Jason Martin 0.0 0.0 0.0
Pirates Total 3.1 3.3 6.4
Gerrit Cole 6.0 6.9 12.9

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.

Batting profile. Courtesy of Baseball Savant.

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.
Four Seam 112 34.8% 41.9%
Changeup 57 26.3% 28.7%
Slider 52 32.7% 31.8%
Curveball 32 34.4% 31.6%
Two Seam 30 53.3% 39.4%
Sinker 29 48.3% 42.0%
Cut Fastball 23 26.1% 33.7%
Split Finger 8 25.0% 29.0%
Knuckle Curve 5 20.0% 34.9%

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
Curveball 32 0.486 0.372 0.114
Four Seam 112 0.461 0.462 -0.001
Two Seam 30 0.437 0.420 0.018
Cut Fastball 23 0.340 0.367 -0.027
Changeup 57 0.337 0.416 -0.079
Sinker 29 0.333 0.334 -0.002
Slider 52 0.320 0.398 -0.078
Knuckle Curve 5 0.236 0.250 -0.014
Split Finger 8 0.162 0.269 -0.106

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.

Whiffs

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.
Four Seam 643 12.4% 10.2%
Slider 272 18.0% 17.3%
Changeup 212 9.9% 15.9%
Curveball 163 11.7% 12.3%
Two Seam 150 10.7% 6.5%
Sinker 136 11.0% 7.0%
Cut Fastball 124 14.5% 12.3%
Split Finger 40 15.0% 18.4%
Knuckle Curve 40 27.5% 14.3%

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.

Result Avg. Velocity
Whiff 93.3
Foul 92.7
In Play 92.5

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.

Platoon Player

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.

Season Handedness BB% K% BB/K AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BABIP wRC wRAA wOBA wRC+
2019 vs L 1.30% 23.10% 0.06 0.273 0.282 0.403 0.685 0.13 0.333 8 -2.2 0.288 76
2019 vs R 6.80% 23.30% 0.29 0.278 0.329 0.434 0.764 0.157 0.343 54 0 0.32 97

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.

Conclusions

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.

A sports fan with a background in finance, Brandon spends most of his time crunching numbers in Excel. He???s an avid listener of Wharton Moneyball, and enjoys advanced analytics, sports handicapping, and podcasts. When he???s not working, he can usually be found reading. He can be reached on Twitter @SteeliconValley

5 Comments on Moran, Moran: Will Colin Take the Next Step, or Come Undone?

  1. We’ve got no hitters, we’ve got no TPOP, OUR PETS HEADS ARE FALLING OFF!

    Thanks for this, Brandon. IDK why expect you to pull some hope out of the hot corner..

    The Archer trade bears the brunt of fan outrage (recency bias? IDK) But the Cole trade set them back 3-5 years minimum. Rolling out this team, under this management, and I presume that attendance will plummet into the 6 digits.

    • Kevin Creagh // September 26, 2019 at 12:32 PM //

      Yep, I’ve been saying that the Cole trade set the franchise back 3 years, too. At the time, getting either Forrest Whitley or Kyle Tucker (plus a smaller 2nd piece) for Cole would have been a great deal. Whitley has had some bumps, but Tucker looks like a mashing corner OF ready to go at age 22.

      Archer — you have to give to get, so Meadows was deemed superfluous and the prime piece. It just was not working for Glasnow here and even though I thought he could be a Dellin Betances type of reliever, it wasn’t a big deal (at the time) to see him go. Baz was and always will be the head scratcher for me. That tipped the trade over right away to the Rays.

  2. Norm Cubellis // September 26, 2019 at 10:21 AM //

    Unfortunately, Huntington has already indicated that the entire infield will be back next year which obviously includes Moran. At least Hurdle recognized that he is a platoon player and began to play Diaz and others against lefties. Your article focused on offense which is Moran’s strong suit. His defense is even harder to accept. Unfortunately he will have to remain with us, until/if Hayes starts to show he can hit. I don’t have the numbers but my feeling is that Hayes does not hit even as well as Moran based on the numbers he has shown in the minors. Given his defensive capability he may still be a better player than Moran.

    • Kevin Creagh // September 26, 2019 at 12:33 PM //

      Ke’Bryan Hayes is the most overrated prospect in all of baseball. Maybe Keibert Ruiz from the Dodgers is more overrated, but that’s it.

  3. Phillip C-137 // September 30, 2019 at 7:50 PM //

    This is one of the things that TPOP does best – an honest assessment of who a guy is.

    Moran can (maybe) run circles around me, but as a Major Leaguer he’s replacement level. He serves as a placeholder until someone better shows up, but at least he isn’t too much of a drag on the team.

    Thanks for an outstanding article on who and what Moran is as a Pirates 3rd baseman.

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