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Five Fast Facts: Colin Moran’s disappearing production

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MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates appeared to have found a legitimate starting third baseman option in Colin Moran. Now, there appear to be more questions than answers surrounding the “emotionless one.”

The Pittsburgh Pirates would like nothing more than for Colin Moran to tap into his longstanding potential which made him an attractive piece to come over in the Gerrit Cole trade.

After an electric introduction to the club’s hometown fans, Moran’s production has slowly dwindled. He is a below average player by some measures (a 95 wRC+ rating) and a strictly replacement level player by others (an even 0.0 fWAR).

Regardless, Pittsburgh Pirates fans still seem to have faith in him:

Here now are Five Fast Facts that will attempt to illuminate Moran’s struggles.

Lack of extra base hits

Moran hit his second grand slam of season on July 1st.

Since July 2nd, he has had a grand total of one extra-base hit; a double.

During that span — 84 plate appearances — he ranks tied for second to last by this measure among third basemen with at least 50 plate appearances at third. Matt Duffy of the Tampa Bay Rays has zero, in case you were wondering.

For all of the power potential he flashed in the PCL and with limited PAs with the Houston Astros prior to this year, the Pirates would surely take steady doubles power from Moran if nothing else.

A clear weakness has emerged

The Pittsburgh Pirates knew that Colin Moran could punish a fastball. All good, or in Moran’s case, intriguing, power hitters do.

But they might not have expected Moran to struggle so mightily against breaking pitches, against which Moran’s struggles have become more pronounced as the season has wore on.

Colin Moran: Breaking Bad

Month / Season Pitch Type # % SO AVG WOBA XWOBA Whiff%
Month / Season Pitch Type # % SO AVG WOBA XWOBA Whiff%
8 / 2018 Breaking 10 31.3 0 0 0 0.125 14.3
7 / 2018 Breaking 80 28 6 0.167 0.147 0.185 30
6 / 2018 Breaking 94 29.7 4 0.125 0.157 0.2 27
5 / 2018 Breaking 64 22.7 1 0.375 0.425 0.377 13.3
4 / 2018 Breaking 92 27 6 0.333 0.338 0.275 28.9

Though Moran actually fared rather well against breakers earlier in the year — at the very least by wOBA and xwOBA measures — it has been a steady decline since May.

Perhaps this was to be expected. This is Moran’s first full season after all, and it is entirely plausible that he has not seen this many breaking pitches at any previous point in his career. Regardless of how he got here, Moran’s weak production against breaking pitches is very pronounced.

The BABIP gods are cruel and unusual

Maybe we’re being too hard on Moran.

Since July 2nd, he has carried a BABIP (Batting average on balls in play) of .306, 11 points higher than the current year-long, MLB-wide rate of .295.

Adding Moran’s ability to avoid soft contact (just 12.9 percent, lower than the 18.1 percent MLB-wide rate), it simply does not make sense that Moran could be struggling as badly.

The answer actually shares a similar characteristic to Moran’s overall play, since July 2nd in particular: it is found decisively in the middle of the road.

Since July 2nd, Moran has made “medium” contact (according to Fangraphs) to the tune of 61.3 percent and hard contact at 25.8 percent. If we contrast that against the league rates of 46.5 and 35.4 percent, respectively, we see a portrait of a hitter that is making just enough “good” contact to be dangerous except that he has not been anything close to that.

Not too patient anymore, but...

If you have a feeling of Deja Vu (all over again, h/t Yogi RIP) when reading this post, it might be because Moran was the subject of a previous Five Fast Facts installment.

There, I opined that Moran was a little too patient, as his zone edges and swing rates attested.

Overall, Moran has gotten more aggressive. To date, he carries a zone % (percentage of pitches in the strike zone) of 48.5 percent. The current MLB-wide rate clocks in at 43.1 percent.

That’s a full five-percent plus jump in seeing pitches in the zone. Moran is offering at more of these pitches than MLB as a whole — his Z-Swing (zone-swing) rate is 72.1 percent against the 67.3 percent MLB-rate — and making more contact with those swings by virtue of an 88.2 percent Z-Contact rate, better than the 85.6 percent MLB figure.

Yet Moran carries a roughly similar average exit velocity on pitches in the zone as the league. That figure for Moran is 89 mph as per Statcast, compared to 89.7 percent. He’s dropped a bit of exit velo during his most recent swoon — 87.2 mph since July 2nd — but the point remains; If Moran is swinging at more pitches in the zone than his contemporaries, yet doing less with it, it may not matter if he has suddenly gotten more aggressive.

He is still just a rookie

My last fact is a simple one, something that I don’t need Statcast or Fangraphs to help me explain.

Moran is still just a rookie. Technically, it’s true. But it cannot be emphasized enough just how jarring it must have been for Moran to suddenly be thrust into a starting role on a new club after having posted all of 37 plate appearances prior to the 2018 season.

100 games and 342 plate appearances into his first full campaign, it is tempting to eschew the long-view with Moran and proclaim him to be less than a major league player, as some have.

He is certainly at least that. It now may be fair to question how much more he may become. After watching Moran slowly wilt over the past month, it has become clear why the Pittsburgh Pirates have gone to great lengths to hold on to third base prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes throughout this summer’s trade deadline. He now has a higher ceiling than Moran in the eyes of many — myself included.

Things may just unfold that way, or Moran might surprise us all, rediscover his productivity and hit 2019 with a full head of steam and a full season under his belt.

If that is to happen, Moran will need to close some holes in his approach quickly, lest the organization decide to see what Hayes can do at the major league level sooner rather than later.