Pittsburgh Pirates: Looking at if Colin Moran’s Power Surge Will Continue

Corner infielder Colin Moran put on a good display of power during the shortened 2020 season, but can he sustain that going into 2021?

Colin Moran has been with the Pittsburgh Pirates for three seasons now. However, last season, the corner infielder started to show the power potential many Pirate fans were hoping for when he arrived in Pittsburgh. Now the question is can he sustain his power surge in 2021 and beyond?

Moran was the 6th overall pick by the Miami Marlins in the 2013 draft. Moran was seen as one of the draft’s best prospects as MLB Pipeline ranked him as the 7th best player available. Just a year into his professional career, he was traded from the Marlins to the Houston Astros with Jake Marisnick and Francis Martes for Enrique Hernandez, Jarred Cosart and Austin Wates.

Moran would make his MLB debut with the Astros in 2016, but would only play a total of 16 games between 2016 and 2017 before being traded again three years ago today on January 13th, 2018. This time, he was sent from the Astros, along with Joe Musgrove, Michael Feliz and outfield prospect Jason Martin, to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Gerrit Cole.

Moran was the left-handed platoon partner for veteran third baseman and 2011 World Series hero David Freese during the 2018 season. The corner infielder put up solid, albeit unimpressive numbers in his rookie campaign by batting .277/.340/.407 with 11 home runs, a .322 wOBA and 102 wRC+. He showed solid plate discipline as well striking out less than 20% of the time (17.6%) while having an 8.4% walk rate.

The following season Moran showed more power having launched 13 home runs, putting up a .152 isolated slugging percentage and .429 slugging percentage. However, he saw his OBP fall to just .322 because of an increase in strikeouts (23.3%) and decrease in walks (6.0%). Overall, Moran was a below average hitter with a 94 wRC+ and .315 wOBA. It also didn’t help that Moran was one of the worst defenders in baseball in these two seasons ranking last in the MLB in DRS (-32), second to last in UZR/150 (-12.2) and fourth to last in range runs above average (-11.7).

However, this past season Moran put up good power numbers for the Pittsburgh Pirates with a .225 ISO, .472 slugging percentage and 10 home runs in just 200 plate appearances. He also saw his walk rate rebound to 9.5%, albeit with his ability to make contact taking a step back. He struck out 26.0% of the time and had a .244 batting average. Still, this was an improvement over 2018 or 2019 as he put up a 114 wRC+ and .340 wOBA. The question is whether or not he can sustain this as he only got to step to the plate 200 times because of the shortened season.

One thing that does help Moran’s case is that he started to make harder contact more often. Between 2018-2019, Moran had an 88.2 MPH exit velocity, but that rose to 91.9 MPH in 2020. His hard hit rate also rose to 47.2%. These were some of the highest marks in the MLB as he ranked in the top 89th percentile in exit velo and top 86th percentile in hard hit rate. His .336 xWOBA was almost identical to his actual wBOA as well.

In terms of other expected stats on Baseball Savant, Moran had a .480 xSLG, placing him in the top 75th percentile. To go with that, his xBA sat at .255 while his xOBP was .334. However, there is a bit of concern surrounding Moran. Moran hit a ground ball 56.3% of the time and is something you’d like to see go down. Meanwhile after having a 25.2% line drive rate in 2018-2019, he saw that plummet to just 15.1%. It also doesn’t help that he started to pull the ball more.

Moran’s ability to make hard contact more often is highly encouraging as well as his expected stats on Baseball Savant. He’s a player you’d like to see hit 20+ home runs a year, especially if he’s being moved over to first base. However, we are still looking at a small sample size of just 200 plate appearances. Moran does need to get the ball in the air more, but he will have the chance to improve that part of his game as he looks to line up as the regular first baseman  for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2021. Hopefully, 2020 was just one of the first steps in the right direction for the lefty batter.