Pittsburgh Pirates: Analyzing Colin Moran’s Strong Start

Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Colin Moran has gotten off to a blistering hot start in 2021. What has driven his strong start this season?

On Christmas Eve the Pittsburgh Pirates swung a big deal when they traded first baseman Josh Bell. This opened the door to allow Colin Moran to become the team’s full-time first baseman. So far, the lefty slugger has gotten off to a fantastic start to the 2021 campaign.

Moran entered play on Tuesday hitting for a .298/.385/.579 slash line. Moran has hit 4 home runs, 4 doubles and posted a .414 wOBA and 160 wRC+ through 65 plate appearances. Moran’s power output has been outstanding. His .280 isolated slugging percentage so far ranks just ahead of Toronto Blue Jays’ star slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. who has a .278 mark. Overall, he currently ranks as the 28th best-qualified slugger in terms of ISO.

Moran’s power has been trending upward ever since arriving to the Pirates. In 2018, he only had a .130 ISO but saw that increase to .152 in 2019. Last season he hit .247/.325/.472, which was good for a .225 ISO. When you reach the .200+ mark in isolated slugging percentage, you’re reaching the upper tier levels of power.

His power output can be contributed to an above-average 90.9 MPH exit velocity and 43.2% hard hit rate. Not only is he hitting the ball hard, but he’s hitting more balls in the air. His average launch angle is 14 degrees so far this year. This has led to a ground ball percentage of just 27%, the 6th lowest ground ball rate in all of baseball currently. He’s also hitting a ton of line drives, coming in with a 40.5% line drive rate. That ranks 3rd in baseball.

It’s also helped that so far, the distribution of his hits has been pretty spread out. Moran was mainly a pull hitter from 2018-2020, having a 40.9% pull percentage. However so far this year, he’s only pulled the ball 32.4%. He’s gone to the opposite field more often at 37.8% and up the middle 29.7%. All of his batted ball results in terms of where they are going in the field are within 10% of each other.

Hitting the ball hard, in the air, and being less predictable as to where you’re going to hit it is going to lead to better performance, but he’s also been more patient at the plate. He’s only swung at 27.7% of all the pitches that have been thrown to him out of the zone.

In 2019 and 2020, he was approaching 40%. However, when he does swing out of the zone, he’s making contact 70.8% of the time, compared to just 64.8% of the time between 2018-2020. Moran has also decreased his swinging strike percentage to just 9.3%. His 12.2% walk rate is the best mark he’s put up in his career so far, and currently ranks in the top 74th percentile of all MLB batters.

However, there are some concerns with his season so far. He’s striking out 30.8% of the time, impart due to a notable decrease in zone contact percentage. Before 2021, he was making contact with pitches in the zone at a 87.4% rate, but so far this year, he’s only making that kind of contact 80% of the time. He’s also had a high .394 batting average on balls in play, granted batting average on balls in play needs a much larger sample size to give you an accurate reading.

Still, Moran comes in with an xwOBA of .397, just .022 points lower than his actual wOBA. He also has a similar expected batting average and expected slugging percentage compared to his actual marks. The fact that Moran is making hard contact consistently while putting the ball in the air without being predictable is very promising.

Since arriving with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Moran has been trending in the right direction. While it is a small, less than 100 plate appearance sample size to look at, Moran’s early season performance has looked very promising. He’s striking out more often, but he’s improved other major facets of his game. He could be one of the team’s long-term middle of the order bats for the Pittsburgh Pirates if he can show that his performance since the start of last season is not a fluke.