Updated: Oct 14, 2021
Anyone can tell you why Ronald Acuna or Mookie Betts is a good first round pick. I find those discussions pretty boring. Give me any top 15 player and I'll build a team around him. I'm more interested in questions that aren't so clear. I like to throw cold water on the number one overall prospect's value in redraft leagues, or predict breakouts from players who can essentially be had for free at the their current draft price.
Such is the case with today's subject, Colin Moran. "Breakout" probably is not the right word, but there are several reasons why Colin Moran is being undervalued at his current average draft position (ADP of 413 since Jan. 1).
Playing time is the first issue to get out of the way. Colin Moran appeared in 22 games at first base in 2020, but played most of his games as the team's designated hitter (26). With the DH still an uncertainty in 2021, there was a legitimate question about Moran's playing time in 2021. With no DH, he would likely be a bench bat. That changed on Christmas Eve when the Pirates traded Josh Bell to Washington. Merry Christmas, Colin Moran, you are now the starting first baseman of the Pittsburgh Pirates, DH or not.
Now let us look at skills changes. Hidden to the casual eye by the shortened season, Moran's 10 homeruns in 2020 were a step forward in power production. It took 503 plate appearances to produce his previous best of 13 homeruns in 2019. His 10 in 2020 took only 200 plate appearances.
How did he nearly double his HR/PA from 2019 (2.6%) to 2020 (5%)?
Moran showed the most patience of his career with a 9.5% walk rate, which is a full point higher than any of his previous 5 seasons in the majors. He also swung less often than ever before (49.7%). While being more selective in general, Moran swung harder than ever. Excluding 2016 and 2017 as an unmeaningful sample of 37 plate appearances combined, look at Moran's power metrics from his three seasons in Pittsburg and see how 2020 stands out, starting with hard hit rate:
Impressive gains indicating that Moran's quality of contact improved significantly, but take a look at his barrel rate over the same period:
Very impressive, more than doubling his barrel rate from 2019. Moran's change in output is also backed up by his average and max exit velocities:
With all of this growth, however, came a few tradeoffs.
Moran's contact rate dropped off slightly, down to 74.9% from 77.2% in 2019. His batting average fell 30 points, from .277 in two straight seasons to .247 in 2020. But also, even with the spike in barrels, Moran's launch angle dropped from 12.4 to 8.3, which spiked his ground ball rate. So while Moran surged in the power department, 56% of his hits were ground balls. Can he maintain the power while killing so many worms?
That is the big question heading into 2021: How much of his positive gains can Moran consolidate? And can he do so while contact rate and ground ball rate regress back to career norms? I'm projecting the following:
That is both conservative and reasonable. It assumes much of the power gains were real, but also that the contact and groundball rates wont fully regress (positively). If they do, it's gravy and we could be looking at a true breakout. That isn't out of the question.
Moran's current ADP in NFBC Draft Champions leagues is 413. I rank him inside the top 300. Take him a few rounds early while approaching pick 400. The profit potential at that stage is real.
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