Pittsburgh Pirates: How a Move to the Bench Could Benefit Colin Moran

As everyone knows, in January of 2018 former Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington made one of his worst trades. He made a trade that likely played a role in his tenure as Pirate GM coming to an end. This trade was the now infamous Gerrit Cole trade.

In that trade, the Pittsburgh Pirates sent their ace to the Houston Astros in exchange for four players. One of these four players was Colin Moran. When Moran was acquired, he was viewed as a new core piece for the Pirates and their lineup.

Since being acquired, Moran has been the Pittsburgh Pirates every day third baseman. In two seasons with the Bucs, Moran has accumulated 968 plate appearances while playing in 293 out of a possible 324 games. So, there is no denying he has been a stalwart for the Bucs the past two seasons.

While Moran has been a stalwart for the Pittsburgh Pirates the past two seasons, it has not led to much success for the left-handed hitting third baseman. As a Pirate, Moran has hit for a slash line of .277/.331/.419 to go with a slightly below league average wRC+ of 98.

Offensively, Moran’s biggest issue has been his lack of power. To go with his .419 slugging percentage, his .142 isolated power is also below league average. A big factor for that has been due to making hard contact just 33.6% of the time, while also putting the ball on the ground too often (44.1% ground ball rate).

While he has done a good job of putting the ball in play, he has also benefited from a .329 batting average on balls in play. This indicates that he is due for regression. Regression is never good, but especially when you’re already a slightly below league average hitter.

When a player is average at best offensively like Moran is, they need to make up for it defensively. Well, this is something he has not done. The past two seasons he has been one of the worst defensive third basemen in all of baseball. His defensive runs saved at the hot corner the past two seasons has been a miserable -32.

Adding to the problems for Moran is the Pittsburgh Pirates top hitting prospect – Ke’Bryan Hayes. Hayes is at Triple-A knocking on the door of the MLB level. If there is a season, since it will be shortened eliminating the chance for players to reach Super 2 status, Hayes very well could start the season at the MLB level. While his offense still has some growing to do, he would already be arguably the best defensive third baseman in the MLB. This alone would already make Hayes a better option for third base than Moran.

So, where would this leave Moran? Well, it would leave him in a position where he is better suited for success. A bench role.

While Moran has had plenty of offensive struggles the past two seasons, one thing he has done a great job of is pinch hitting. Pinch hitting is arguably the most difficult thing to do in baseball, but Moran has excelled at it as a Pirate.

Moran had 23 plate appearances as a pinch hitter in 2019. He collected six hits, including three pinch hit home runs, and he drew three walks. He also drove in nine runs as a pinch hitter.

His pinch hitting success in 2019 came after he was very possibly the best pinch hitter in baseball in 2018. His first year in Pittsburgh, Moran had 11 hits, which included a home run and two doubles, to go with four walks in 30 pinch hitting plate appearances. His 11 pinch hits led the National League in 2018.

A strong argument can be made that since he joined the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2018, Moran has been the best pinch hitter in baseball. While the value of being a good pinch hitter will go down with the likely addition of a universal DH in 2020, pinch hitting will not die. There will still be spots in games when the Pirates will have a right-handed hitter at the plate and Derek Shelton will want to use a left-handed pinch hitter. Moran can be that hitter.

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Due to his defensive woes and strong pinch hitting acumen, a move to the bench is one that would be beneficial for Moran. Throw in Hayes being on the doorstep of the MLB level and appearing to be a future star at the third base position, and this move would also benefit the Pittsburgh Pirates as a whole.

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