Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Dauri Moreta has done everything in his power to show he deserves a higher-leverage role
One of the trades the Pittsburgh Pirates made over this past off-season was acquiring right-handed reliever Dauri Moreta from the Cincinnati Reds for infielder Kevin Newman. Needless to say, the trade looks like it’s working out well for the Pirates so far. Moreta has been great in black and gold, and it’s about time the Bucs give him the opportunity to take over a higher-leverage role.
Moreta has pitched 25 magnificent innings, working to an outstanding 1.80 ERA, 3.00 FIP, and 0.96 WHIP. Moreta has struck out 36.7% of the batters he’s faced. He’s in the 97th percentile of whiff rate and has improved many other areas of his game. The first of which is preventing hard contact.
Moreta got demolished last year, allowing opponents to have a 90.6 MPH exit velocity, 41.3% hard-hit rate, and 12.5% barrel rate. So far this season, however, Moreta has an 87.6 MPH exit velocity (73rd percentile), a 40.8% hard-hit rate (40th percentile), and an 10.2% barrel rate (21st percentile). Not only has he been allowing weaker contact, but he’s getting opponents to hit a ground ball more frequently. His 38.8% ground ball rate is a 6.1% improvement.
Now some might see that .191 batting average on balls in play and automatically assume regression is in store for Moreta. Although he might not be a sub-2.00 ERA reliever in the long run, there’s nothing to suggest he still won’t be a high-quality arm. Moreta is rocking a 3.31 xFIP, 3.11 SIERA, and 80 DRA-. Even if regression sets in, he’s still a low-3’s/high-2’s ERA pitcher.
Moreta’s strong start makes him a prime candidate to become the team's next high-leverage reliever. In the few times he has been given a high-leverage situation, he’s been dominant, only allowing two hits to 21 total batters. He’s yet to allow a hit when he’s slotted into a late and close situation either, and just one hit in tied games.
The only real knock on Moreta is his so-so control. Moreta has walked 13.3% of opponents faced. That’s not good, especially for a high-leverage guy. Even though he’s only allowed a single hit in high leverage, he’s also dished out four free passes. But aside from that, there’s nothing currently in Moreta’s game that shouldn’t make him a higher-leverage relief pitcher.
It’s not as if the Pirates are just barely able to share the high-leverage innings around, either. Right now, the only ones who consistently get high-leverage games and perform well are set-up man Colin Holderman and closer David Bednar.
The era of Duane Underwood Jr. trying to become a high-leverage arm is over. Wil Crowe has also stopped getting high-leverage attempts because he’s been shelved most of the year. The only other reliever the Pirates have tried to make a high-leverage arm out of the bullpen is Robert Stephenson, who is failing, crashing, and burning.
Moreta has done outstanding so far this year, and it’s time the Pirates reward him for his efforts. He deserves to be given a role greater than a middle reliever. That doesn’t mean move Bednar or Holderman out of their respective roles, but give Moreta the opportunity to take the ball more often in the 7th inning, or 8th inning when Holderman isn’t available, or extra innings.