After two seasons of mediocre offensive output for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Colin Moran has found a power stroke thus far in 2020. What has driven this power surge?
Entering the 2020 season, Pittsburgh Pirates corner infielder Colin Moran didn’t have very high of expectations. In the past two seasons, Moran had hit just .277/.331/.419 with 24 home runs, a .319 wOBA, and 98 wRC+ across 968 trips to the plate.
Expectations were lowered even further after his weak 2019 season with the Pittsburgh Pirates. After being a league average bat in 2018, Moran hit just .277/.322/.429 with a 94 wRC+ across 503 plate appearances. After posting a solid 17.6% strikeout rate and 8.4% walk rate in 2018, Moran would go on to strikeout 23.3% of the time and walk just 6% of the time.
Part of Moran’s lackluster production at the plate is because he didn’t make quality contact. In both 2018 and 2019, Moran only had an average exit velocity of 88.2 MPH. That ranked 181st in 2019 and 152nd in baseball in 2018.
When he did make hard contact, it wasn’t often. He only had a hard hit rate of 33% in 2018 and 35% hard hit rate in 2019. Both of those were below the league average. According to Baseball Savant’s barrels per plate appearances, Moran had a barreled ball just 3.9% of the time in 2018, which ranked 165 of 249 batters. While he did increase that to 5.2% of the time the following year, it was still well below the average mark of 6%.
Moran not only wasn’t making good contact with the baseball, but he was putting it on the ground too. In 2018, his ground ball rate was 45% and in 2019, it was 44%. In comparison, he had a fly ball rate of 29% and 32% in the two seasons.
But, so far in 2020, Moran has far exceeded expectations on how good he would be doing. Granted, it is a very small sample size of 40 plate appearances entering play on Wednesday night, Moran has a .243/.300/.676 batting line. While the batting average nor the on base percentage is anything to write home about, Moran’s slugging percentage is 5th among players with at least 25 plate appearances. He also has a 162 wRC+. Moran has been the hottest hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Of his nine hits, five have left the park.
Again, while it is a very small sample size, Moran can attribute his success to hitting the ball harder, and more often. Currently, the lefty swinger has a 95.8 MPH average exit velocity. That currently ranks in the top 3% of the league. What’s more impressive is that up until Tuesday, he has yet to have any sort of soft contact. Only Aaron Judge and Fernando Tatis Jr. are the only other players to have made soft contact 0% of the time. His hard contact rate of 65.2% ranks 5th in baseball (min. 30 plate appearances). Currently, he has 7.4% soft contact rate.
Moran has a barrel percentage this year of 15%. That’s the 10th highest in the league, and out does Giancarlo Stanton, and Jorge Soler. Hitting the ball harder is one thing, but he’s gotten the ball in the air more. Moran has seen his fly ball rate jump to 40.7%. While his ground ball rate has remained relatively the same, Moran’s home run per fly ball rate is 45.5%.
Though Moran has been making much harder contact, he’s made less consistent contact. So far this year, he’s made contact just 72.8% of the time. In the last two years, that number was 79.1%. However, if the lefty batter can raise it near what it was prior to 2020, and keep up the batted ball and exit velocity numbers he’s had so far, Moran could be a fairly productive batter.