Colin Moran Looks Dramatically Different

In reality, there is no separating the Pirates from their circumstances. The Pirates are a smaller-market team, and a smaller-budget team, but followers won’t ever let you forget it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. It’s fair to question ownership’s commitment to winning, as the Pirates never spent big to supplement what became an impressive and successful core. Predictably, the Pirates wound up squeezed, hence the trades of both Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen. They were getting expensive, with decreasing team control. Time to reload. That’s the cycle.

But it’s not like Neal Huntington has a choice. He has to operate within the given constraints, so it started to make sense to deal Cole away. And then it made sense to deal McCutchen away. Ideally, the Pirates wouldn’t be here in the first place, but, well, they’re here, and so trades have been made. And trades have been criticized, the Cole move in particular. There’s the prevailing thought the Pirates didn’t get enough back. Certainly, they didn’t receive the classic headliner. Fans would like to see a better haul for their ace.

Me, I’ve come fully around. I like Joe Musgrove. He’s interesting. I like Michael Feliz. He’s also interesting. Jason Martin is further interesting, as a fourth piece. But I’d like to shed particular light on Colin Moran. Moran has, in the past, been an extremely polarizing prospect, and at this point he might be considered post-hype. Yet Moran made significant changes in 2017, the kinds of changes you’ve heard about elsewhere. Colin Moran is a swing-changer.

It’s pretty easy to keep track of these developments when they take place at the major-league level. The numbers are easier to find, and the players themselves are just more familiar. But of course, players don’t only change after they’ve already made it. The majority don’t. The minors are all about player development, and the story of Moran’s 2017, compared to his 2016, is like night and day. Down in Triple-A, Moran worked to get his batted balls off the ground.

Kiley mentioned the changes earlier. For years, Moran was known to have power, but it was mostly untapped. The man stands at 6’4, but until 2017, his career-high for homers was ten. He just got up to 19 while missing a big chunk of time due to injury. As you’d think, the big difference is that Moran started to hit more balls in the air. This is the kind of change that’s been discussed over and over and over, and for some perspective, here’s how Moran’s ground-ball rates have moved with each season.

  • 2013: 46% ground balls
  • 2014: 53%
  • 2015: 44%
  • 2016: 47%
  • 2017: 34%

Moran went from being a roughly neutral hitter to being a somewhat extreme fly-ball hitter. That’s an awfully big change between the last two seasons, and for additional perspective, I’m including the plot below, showing every single professional hitter with at least 200 batted balls in both 2016 and 2017. You’re seeing seasonal ground-ball rates, and I’ve highlighted Moran’s data point in yellow.

Moran didn’t end up with the single biggest decrease in grounders. That would be one Antonio Nunez. But Moran did drop his grounder rate by 12.9 percentage points. That’s a bigger change than the one we saw from Logan Morrison. That’s a bigger change than the one we saw from Yonder Alonso. There are 1,063 players included in this data pool, and Moran’s grounder drop ranks as the 15th-greatest. That puts him in the best 2%. Trying to hit more fly balls isn’t for everyone, but based on the results, it worked out for Moran. Playing in one of the most normal ballparks in the otherwise hitter-friendly PCL, Moran showed more pop than ever before. And it didn’t even come at the expense of his contact.

With Fresno in 2016, Moran slugged .368. With Fresno in 2017, Moran slugged .543. J.J. Cooper just wrote about Moran’s power spike the other day. And going further back, last February, Brian McTaggart wrote up how Moran had spent the offseason tweaking his swing. The idea was to get more lift, more power, and more balance, and Moran wound up improving across the board. For just a couple glimpses, here’s a Moran swing from 2016:

And here’s a Moran swing from 2017:

It’s not like I need to sell you on anything — the numbers already say what they say. Moran has already hit more balls in the air. Still, you can see some changes just in those two videos alone. There are obvious changes to Moran’s setup, as shown here, with 2016 above and 2017 below.

Moran no longer begins with an open stance, and he now holds his hands higher, the bat resting on his shoulder. And as the swing begins, Moran has seemingly eliminated a hitch. Check out his hand positions.

Moran has quickened up, with less of a load. I think it’s more apparent in the videos than in the screenshots, but Moran has become quicker to fire. He doesn’t have an exaggerated trigger or leg kick. He doesn’t swing as if he’s trying to hit every pitch 600 feet. Moran just has a better swing and a better idea, and in the most recent season, before Moran hit a ball off his own head, he was hitting with authority at an advanced level. The power put Moran back on the map.

It’s not as if there’s any certainty here. Moran isn’t much of a runner, and his athletic upside is probably as a roughly average defensive third baseman. It’s not a coincidence he started getting more reps at first. And although Moran hit for the best power of his life in the minors, he hasn’t yet done that in the majors, and he hasn’t yet sustained that in the majors. Moran hasn’t kept it up against advanced scouting reports, which is why he was available at all. There’s a perfectly reasonable chance Moran is just a bench guy. There’s still more that needs to be seen.

It’s just that Moran is also probably better than he’s been given credit for. He’ll be ready for the majors right away, with so very many years of team control, and the most recent edition of Moran, in Triple-A, hit for both contact and power, after making the kinds of swing changes other players have also pulled off with success. There’s nothing radical going on; Moran always had talent, hence his pedigree, and now he’s just started to hit fewer ground balls. That bodes well, especially if he can stay at third base. Colin Moran could be a fine long-term regular. The Astros might’ve been a little skeptical, but the Astros also didn’t have a place to play him. The Pirates have a place. It’s going to be Moran’s job to lose.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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I think it’s also worth noting that he reduced his K rate by 8% while hitting for significantly more power.