Pittsburgh Pirates: Analyzing the Kevin Newman Trade
The Pittsburgh Pirates traded middle infielder Kevin Newman to the division rival Cincinnati Reds for Dauri Moreta, so how did the Pirates do in this swap?
On Friday, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded infielder Kevin Newman to a division rival, the Cincinnati Reds. In return, the Bucs received right-handed pitcher Dauri Moreta. So did the Pirates come out on top of this deal? Is there a winner or loser of this swap?
Let’s first examine what the Pittsburgh Pirates surrendered in this one-for-one swap. Newman was a former first-round pick and is coming off a relatively solid season. In 309 plate appearances, Newman slashed .274/.316/.372 with a .303 wOBA. Overall, he was a slightly below-league-average hitter with a 94 wRC+ and 95 OPS+.
The one positive Newman brings to the table is his ability to make contact. He had a 15.5% strikeout rate, which is actually a career-high for the infielder. The downside is he only walks about 5% of the time, and when he does make contact, it’s usually poor contact. He had just an 85.3 MPH exit velocity and a 1.6% barrel rate in 2022. He may have increased his line-drive rate above 25%, though
Although Newman was a finalist for a Gold Glove Award at shortstop following the 2021 season, he was much closer to average this year. He spent more time at second base than shortstop this year with a 331.2/272 inning split between second base and shortstop. Between the two middle infield positions, Newman had -2 Defensive Runs Saved and 0 Outs Above Average. UZR/150 painted him in the best light at 2.8 at the keystone and +5.9 on the other side of second base. For his career, Newman has a negative DRS (-9) and OAA (-8) at shortstop, as well as second base.
Newman might seem like a semi-decent player just based on what he did this year, but you can’t ignore his abysmal 2020-2021 seasons. Between the two years, he batted disgraceful .226/.268/.302 with a .250 wOBA and 53 wRC+. He was quite literally the worst batter in the league, ranking last in OPS, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, wOBA, and wRC+, all by fair margins. While he was a Gold Glove finalist in 2021, he’s never been better than average defensively in any other season. In 2019 and 2020, he was worth -10 DRS and -8 OAA at shortstop. 2021 is more of an outlier than anything.
Now that we looked at Newman, let’s take a look at Moreta.
Moreta’s rookie season could have gone smoother. In 38.1 innings, Moreta had a 5.40 ERA, 5.80 FIP but a solid 1.14 WHIP. On the plus side, he had a 24.4% strikeout rate and 81.% walk rate. However, home runs killed the 26-year-old right-hander. He posted a 2.35 HR/9 rate, and given he had an opponent exit velocity of 90.6 MPH, 49% fly ball rate, and pitched in a hitter-friendly park, it’s no surprise home runs were the right-hander’s downfall.
But there is plenty of hope for Moreta. The first is he had a 19.6% HR/FB ratio, the 17th highest among all pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched in 2022. It’s unlikely he sustains that, especially once you look at his home and away splits.
Moreta was fantastic when he was pitching as a visitor. He had a 3.60 ERA and 4.32 xFIP when he pitched away, whereas he posted a 6.56 ERA and 4.41 xFIP at home. xFIP might not paint him in the best light at 4.38, but SIERA likes him at 3.60, as does DRA- at 97 and xERA at 4.02. Another positive is that he had a 2.92 ERA, 3.92 FIP, and .97 WHIP through his final 24.2 innings.
Moreta has a four-pitch mix. This includes an upper-80s changeup, a mid-80s slider, and a sinker and fastball that sit in the upper-90s. His four-seamer was his best offering in 2022, with a -1.1 run value-per-100. But both his sinker and slider were below average, and his change-up came in around average. Moreta could benefit from focusing on one or two offerings heavily and dropping whichever pitch is the worst or is least comfortable with. He has a very short arm in his delivery as well.
Moreta may also benefit from better defense. While that isn’t to say the Pittsburgh Pirates were filled with Gold Glove defenders last season, the Reds were worth a combined -43 DRS, while the Pirates were only worth -1. Red catchers were also terrible at framing, with -3.5 framing runs, while the Pirate backstops were worth +5.0 framing runs.
Overall, it is a change-of-scenery type trade. Newman will benefit from a more hitter-friendly ballpark and take over the utility infield role that now free agent Donovan Solano left behind. He is also a decent holdover for a team with little shortstop depth until top prospect Elly De La Cruz arrives. Moreta gets a chance to pitch in a much more pitcher-friendly environment and with the better defense behind him. Neither team is likely seeing this trade as a season-altering trade, but it does add depth in two areas of weakness for both teams. The Reds have little shortstop depth, and the Pirates desperately need relief pitching help.
But the Pirates made out semi-decently here. They’re adding a relatively young relief pitcher with potential for a middle infielder with a history of struggling at the plate. Even if Moreta isn’t a lockdown 8th/9th inning arm, he has the potential to be a quality middle-inning reliever. Newman doesn’t do anything better than the likes of Diego Castillo, Ji-Hwan Bae, or Tucupita Marcano can’t do better until a top prospect like Nick Gonzales is ready.