Max Moroff’s Chance to Prove he Belongs is Now

PITTSBURGH, PA - JULY 19: Max Moroff
PITTSBURGH, PA - JULY 19: Max Moroff /

Utility infielder Max Moroff is going to get a chance the rest of September to show if he belongs in the Major Leagues or not

On Sunday morning we learned that Pittsburgh Pirates’ starting second baseman Josh Harrison has a broken bone in his left handed. This is as a result of Harrison being hit by a pitch in Saturday night’s victory over the Reds. Due to this injury, Harrison will miss the rest of the 2017 season.

With Harrison out, utility infielder Max Moroff is set to benefit. Over the course of the season’s final 25 games Max Moroff will get a majority of the starts at second base. This will give Moroff a chance to show if he belongs in the Major Leagues or not.

There is no questioning the minor league merit of Max Moroff. At Triple-A this season he owned an incredible 18.0 percent walk rate which led to his on-base percentage being a very healthy .390. His ISO was .265, he owned a .400 wOBA, a wRC+ of 153, and his 13 home runs were leading the International League when he received his first Major League promotion of the year.

One issue that did plague Moroff at the Triple-A level was the strikeout. He struck out 25.9 percent of the time at Triple-A this season and this was carried over to the Major Leagues where he owns a 30.5 percent strikeout rate.

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At the Major League level this season, Moroff has been nowhere near the hitter he was at Triple-A. While his 8.1 percent walk rate is plenty strong, his on-base percentage is just .247. A big reason for this is that Moroff has swung at 29.0 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone this season.

If Max Moroff can get better at laying off pitches outside of the strike zone then his already strong walk rate will increase, as will he on-base percentage. Furthermore, this should lead to an increase in contact when he does swing and a potential uptick in power.

At the Major League level this season Moroff owns a .107 ISO and a .267 slugging percentage. However, as he has shown at the minor league level, he has more in his bat than that. Now that he will once again be receiving everyday at bats, hopefully, Moroff can once again find the power stroke he had at the Triple-A level this season.

Max Moroff has also been victimized by an unsustainably low batting average on balls in play (BABIP) at the Major League level this season. Moroff’s BABIP is .208, which is 92 points lower than the league average of .300. This indicates that Moroff is due for some serious improvement to the norm, and this would do wonder for his .232 wOBA and 38 wRC+ when his BABIP would climb back to league average.

If Max Moroff can be even close to a league average hitter, with his defense, he will bring a lot of value as a bench player in 2018 and beyond. Moroff owns a +5 defensive runs saved (DRS) and 37.1 UZR/150 at second base this season, at shortstop it is +1 and 26.4, and at third base it is 0 and 16.0. He is also errorless at shortstop and third base, while his lone error at second base came on Sunday afternoon on a play that easily could have been ruled a base hit.

He owns a 4.9 dWAR for a reason.

It is also possible that something has clicked with Max Moroff. Dating back to July 16 when he hit his first career home run, Moroff has been a completely different hitter. While it is in a small sample size, he owns a .261 ISO, a .333 on-base percentage, a wOBA of .389, and a 139 wRC+ since then.

During this stretch Max Moroff has also hit the ball much better. He owns a 41.2 percent hard contact rate while his swing-and-miss rate has dropped to 12.3 percent.

It could be that Max Moroff has been able to adjust to Major League pitching. It could be that he has gotten more confident and comfortable since his first career home run. Or, it could simply be nothing more than the results of a small sample size. Regardless, the recent results from Moroff have been encouraging.

Next: Bucs Win Series vs Reds

The next 25 games will be Max Moroff’s chance to shine. With Josh Harrison out for the season, Moroff will be the everyday second base for the Pittsburgh Pirates the rest of the season. Hopefully, for both Moroff and the Pirates, the switch-hitter can have a strong final month and show his minor league success can translate to the Major League level.