Did the Pirates Fix Colin Moran or Simply Play Him?

The common narrative this season early on has been that Colin Moran has a brand new approach at the plate and while he himself deserves the credit for implementing it, the Pirates too for identifying the holes and helping him improve.

Well, after really digging into the numbers, I’m not sure I can say much has changed.

I don’t mean this as a slap at Pirates Management, I mean if that’s the case, they still had to let him go with it right?

We keep hearing Colin is now taking an opposite field approach, just going with the pitch and taking what is right in front of him. Not trying to do too much. Insert your own baseball clichés as you’d like here.

Well, let’s look at how Colin hits the baseball.

In 2021, you know the year Colin became an acceptable if not indispensable part of the club. Small sample size I know.

Hey, it’s exactly what you and we’ve all been saying, look at that approach, spraying the ball all over the field.

Now let’s take a look at 2019 where he clearly stunk right?

Now wait a minute, I was under the impression this hitting the ball the other way thing was a brand new technique? Something he introduced just this year to become a more complete player.

Boy those charts paint a different picture don’t they?

Well, maybe this isn’t fair. Maybe he was being pitched differently.

Here’s where pitchers have attacked him in 2021.

OK, so he gets pitched mostly down in the zone on both sides of the plate. That must explain what’s going on, he’s just taking what’s given to him now more often.

Yeah, strike two folks. Take a look at 2019.

OK, so we’ve seen that he’s largely getting pitched the same, he’s largely hitting the ball the same, but the perception is that he has made a major leap. What am I missing?

The answer, he’s doing damage in a different zone.

Let’s take a look this time at 2019 first, specifically his exit velocity broken down by zone.

So what we can take here is back in 2019 he was getting pitched down in the zone predominantly but most of his best exit velocity contact came from middle or outside and up.

Looking to the admittedly small sample we have from 2021 you’ll see finally a change.

What this tells me is combined with Colin’s swing change he actually implemented in the offseason from 2019 to 2020, he’s staying back on the ball a bit more and getting a nice increase in exit velocity on some of those pitches he used to hit, but not hard.

In the early going, that’s led to some opposite field power, and I don’t just mean the couple homeruns he popped. We’re talking ringing doubles to the left-center gap, balls down the third base line and of course those few homeruns we’ve watched him pop.

We’ll have to check back in on this later in the year to see how this maintains or falls off but maybe Colin was already on his way to figuring things out and untapping more of his first round pedigree.

Colin had some things working against him here in Pittsburgh from the jump. He was acquired as part of a very unpopular trade, one that looks better through the prism of history at least as far as results go.

He played third base, and didn’t have the range to do so and up until this very season was blocked at first base by Josh Bell.

It took some time, but finally this former number 6 overall pick looks like a real middle of the order bat, but he didn’t have to reinvent himself to get there, he just needed time and at bats to allow his tweaks to show fruit.

No matter what Colin does next, extend his contract, get moved, whatever, if this trend continues he will help the Pittsburgh Pirates, and for right now, I just want to enjoy watching someone start to crack the code that taps into more of that potential.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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