Pittsburgh Pirates: Examining Colin Moran’s Potential Future in Pittsburgh


Colin Moran was a key piece in the Gerrit Cole trade. But with Ke’Bryan Hayes on the horizon, what is does the future hold for the corner infielder with the Pittsburgh Pirates?

The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired third baseman Colin Moran back in the 2017-2018 off-season as a part of the Gerrit Cole swap. In 2018, he was the Pirates’ platoon third baseman with David Freese, and was the team’s primary answer at the hot corner in 2019.

But with the future looking like Ke’Bryan Hayes as the long term answer at the hot corner, and either Mason Martin or Alexander Mojica being future options at first base, where does this leave Moran? What is his future with the Pittsburgh Pirates?

Moran’s first season with the Pittsburgh Pirates was overall solid but unspectacular. He batted for a .277/.340/.407 line in 465 plate appearances with a 11 home runs, all told having a 105 OPS+ and 102 wRC+. However, he did post a solid walk rate of 8.4% to go with a 17.6% strikeout rate.

The following year, Moran received 503 plate appearances and saw his production at the plate take a large dip. He only batted .277/.322/.429 with 13 home runs and 30 doubles. Moran saw his strikeout rate go above 20% at 23.3%, while his walk rate took a serious nose dive to just 6.4%. Overall, he had a 96 OPS+, and 94 wRC+.

But one thing that has remained constant throughout both seasons is his defense, or lack thereof. Moran is likely the worst third base defender in all of baseball the last two years, and possibly the worst defender in baseball in general. Among third baseman with at least 1500 innings played at the position, Moran ranks in defensive runs saved (-32), UZR (-15.4) and range runs above average (-11.7). In terms of the MLB, regardless of position, he’s last in DRS, next to last in UZR, and fifth to last in range runs above average.

This year, Moran has seen his power take a big step forward. Currently, he has a .528 slugging percentage, and .302 isolated slugging percentage. This is impart because of his huge dip in batted ball results. After having a 88.2 MPH exit velocity in both 2018 and 2019, he’s seen that jump all the way to 92.6 MPH. He also is carrying a 45.9% hard hit rate, in comparison to 35.9% in 2018 and 34.8% in 2019.

But the spike in power and hard contact has come at the cost of his plate discipline. Though his walk rate has went back to 8.5%, his strikeout rate is currently 27.1%. He’s also been making a lot less contact on pitches outside of the strike zone. His out of zone contact percentage was 65.1% between 2018 and 2019, but right now is at just 50.9%.

Granted, while this is through just 59 plate appearances, Moran has looked more like a three true outcomes hitter so far in 2020. He’s either struck out, hit a home run or walked 26 times in total so far.

But there are some positive notes about Moran. Moran has hit right handed pitchers for a respectable .280/.338/.436 line with a 105 wRC+ throughout his career. Throughout his career, the lefty swinger has been great when he has a chance to drive in runs. He’s a career .307/.377/.468, 117 wRC+ batter with runners in scoring position. According to Baseball Reference, so far, he has 213 career plate appearances in high leverage situations, and has a .316/.357/.487 line in those situations. In the 56 plate appearances Moran has had as a pinch hitter, he’s collected 17 hits with two home runs and two doubles. He’s also walked six times as a pinch hitter as well.

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Moran is controllable through the 2023 seasons. He’ll be arbitration eligible this off-season. Moran is a pretty useful platoon bench bat. He’s great when he comes in as a pinch hitter, and also good when he comes into situations when he needs to step it up.

In all likelihood, the DH will be implemented in both leagues by 2022, with a small possibly next year. They’ll be able to hide his defense there, but even with pinch hitting opportunities, pinch hitters are still going to be viable. Not every batter performs the same in different situations. Some guys just aren’t as good as others in high leverage situations, and with a guy like Moran on the bench, the Pittsburgh Pirates can use a bat like that to sub in late in games when they might need to score a run.