The Pittsburgh Pirates have the hallmark of many teams that hover around the .500 mark, players who nobody would confuse with the cream of the crop or possess one fatal flaw that prevents them from fully reaching potential. Colin Moran is absolutely in this class of players and identifying exactly how he can best help the Pirates is paramount to moving forward.
The way I see it, Colin can either continue to develop to become part of the solution here in Pittsburgh, slip into a bench role where he provides left handed power in pinch hitting situations or platoons, or he can be valuable trade bait.
Let’s start with all the narratives that have followed Colin since he arrived here in Pittsburgh. First, and this can’t be overstated, he was part of the package that was returned for Gerrit Cole. Only one player has relatively survived the trade to become someone the fans openly enjoyed having on the club, Joe Musgrove. Side-by-side the players have contributed nearly the same value to the club, but Redbeard is much less vocal and can’t touch the charisma Joe brings to the table. That said, Colin has improved from his first season with the Bucs albeit marginally.
Runs Batted In
When you really look at the offensive numbers, he’s been incredibly consistent, this is notable as Clint Hurdle finally started letting him face left-handed pitching in 2019 on a more regular basis. So, the narrative that he can’t hit lefties is a bit of a misnomer. His walks were down from 39 to 30 and his strikeouts went up significantly from 82 to 117. The addition of 30 doubles versus the 19 he hit in 2018 were also a welcome sign that he had power to the gaps.
Defensively, Colin leaves much to be desired. I’ll take it past this point but let’s begin with the eye test, he has very little range, a strong and accurate arm, and a solid head for the game. The numbers don’t lie, throughout his career he has a Fld% of .951, a Rtot (TZ) of -49, and, last season with fewer innings at third base, he produced 19 errors which was up from the 15 he posted in 2018. Essentially, he isn’t getting better. Now, if a player is hitting 25 dingers in the heart of your lineup you could live with it to a degree, but this is not something a team devoid of strikeout stuff in the rotation can abide.
Next, there is the narrative that the team would immediately be better off with prospect KeBryan Hayes. Defensively there is no argumen, the team would immediately feel the effects of his far superior glove. Offensively speaking the drop could be a bit more dramatic, first there is no telling how a rookie will translate to MLB competition, but his history would lead one to assume his top end isn’t a sure-fire bet to top Moran in his current state.
Last season, his first full season in AAA which was injury plagued he played 110 games batting .261 and connecting for 10 home runs, a career high for the young man.
The question here, is defense more important than offense? Or, is Moran’s defense bad enough that tightening that position is worth the loss of pop.
These are all things we can measure and use evidence to come to a conclusion. As we move forward and identify Colin’s trade value a few things stick out to me. Clearly Moran would benefit from being a DH, but are his numbers where they’d need to be to entice an AL team to feel he is the answer? Maybe, and I say maybe because he does have the ability to play first base and he’s been more solid there albeit in a small sample size. You also can’t dismiss that clubs that don’t mind spending a bit of money for bench pieces might be interested in a player like Colin as an insurance policy.
The Pirates' new management team possess little reason to make the Cole trade look good, but taking 80 RBI no matter how antiquated you believe the stat to be out of your lineup is not an easy call. Of all the position players on the current roster, Colin is the one I struggle most to judge. I honestly like the potential of his bat, but the defense is just not improving, and it isn’t due to technique, it has to do with physical limitations. I’d suggest trading him but a return that would benefit the club as much as Moran has at the plate is not likely, unless you were to move him to one of the aforementioned clubs that value him as a bench piece, and you could get a decent lower level prospect in return.
If I had to decide right now, I think I’d start the year with Colin at third to give Hayes a bit more time in AAA to further develop the bat which right now I don’t believe is ready to play at this level. What the Pirates are thinking nobody outside the inner circle could know, but I’d be willing to bet he perplexes them just as much as me.
Considering we aren’t all that far removed from Sean Rodriguez patrolling the hot corner in Pittsburgh maybe we should be grateful, but the reality is that doesn’t help it feel better to watch your team give away runs on a regular basis.
One major lesson could be learned from Colin’s tenure here in Pittsburgh, when trying to make trades for MLB ready talent, keep in mind there are reasons a player isn’t in the current team’s plans and that one hole you see in his game might just be harder, or impossible to fix. Trading for lower level prospects is no sure thing either but at least you can find out what they are before they reach the big club.
The Redbeard simply put, is a quandary.
Follow Gary on Twitter: @garymo2007