Max Moroff has been one of the most consistent hitters in the Pirates minor league organization this season. Seeming to come out of nowhere, Moroff flew out of the gate with a 30-game on-base streak for the Altoona Curve where he hit .345 with a .919 OPS.
Moroff has flirted with the league lead in hits and batting average all season, but he has recently seen a dip in numbers since the calendar flipped to August. He still sits second in the league with 134 hits, and he is eight hits shy of breaking the Altoona Curve record for hits in a season by a switch hitter.
Recently though, Moroff has seen his batting average fall below the .300 line (.298 after Tuesday night’s game), which is something that hasn’t happened much this year. After he fell below .300 on June 11th, Moroff went on a tear to raise his average back up to .323 a week later.
He saw his average fall below .300 again on August 12th, only to have two hits in the following game to raise his average back to .300. He has struggled of late, but he has shown great resilience. Moroff says that he doesn’t look at his stats; rather, he just wants to keep working hard.
“Of course the goal is to finish strong,” Moroff said. “I don’t pay much attention to my batting average or many of my stats. I just want to finish strong and keep hitting the ball hard. I knew I wasn’t getting a lot of hits lately, but I didn’t know my average.”
The last time that Moroff went on a hitting slump, he said that he felt like he began trying to hit more home runs when things weren’t quite falling like they were earlier in the year. This time around, he specifically said that he hasn’t been trying to hit home runs to get out of the slump. But Moroff has been driving the ball deep in every game that I’ve seen him, with a few going out and a few getting caught at the wall.
“I’m not really trying to hit home runs right now,” Moroff said. “They are just going out.”
Moroff’s stats suggest that he hasn’t quite had the same luck in August that he had earlier in the season. His BABIP is only .219 in August, meaning that balls simply may not be falling into holes that they were earlier in the season. Let’s take a look at a comparison between his on-base streak and the months of July and August to get a more clear picture of what is going on.
|30-Game On-Base Streak||July||August|
Obviously, the strikeout numbers jump out at you, and that is a concern since Moroff’s K% has always been something that has seemingly held him back; however, the rest of the numbers speak to a change in hitting.
There is almost a 100 point difference in Moroff’s batting average between July and August, but his OPS is pretty much the same. His OPS and ISO reflect those three home runs he has hit in August compared to only one in July. It is a small sample size, but those numbers also match to what I’ve seen from Moroff over the past few weeks – he is driving the ball deeper and with more power, only to be recording more outs.
“Same approach as I have had,” Moroff said. “I try to hit the ball hard. It’s pretty crazy what’s happening right now – hitting some pretty good home runs and not being able to get too many hits, but I’m not really changing my approach. Balls just aren’t falling like before.”
Combined with a BABIP of .219, it shows that Moroff may not be having as bad of a month as it may seem to the glancing eye. Yes, he has been striking out more, but players often go through streaks in the season where they strike out often only to make adjustments. Moroff has shown the ability to bounce back, and the final two weeks of the regular season for Altoona will be very interesting to see if he can.
Something that I have noticed about Moroff recently is that he is not hitting as well when he plays at a position other than second base. In 43 at-bats while playing shortstop, he is only batting .209 with a .585 OPS (.215 batting average at shortstop and third base combined). Now, the question at hand, of course, is whether it’s just the timing of the season, or whether there something to the mental aspect of the game regarding playing a position he’s not comfortable playing?
More likely than not, the fact that it is August and Moroff is tied for second in the Eastern League in at-bats has the most to do with the late season slump. However, Moroff’s numbers could easily be much better right now if a few hits would have found the hole, rather than being hit right at fielders. Sometimes, you can’t see everything from the stats. I see a player that has had to focus on defense more of late, and the bat hasn’t played as well as it had earlier in the season.
I’d still expect Moroff to be a strong candidate for the jump to Triple-A Indianapolis at the beginning of 2016, as long as a position is open. That, of course, will depend on what happens with Alen Hanson, who is currently blocking Moroff from Triple-A, and currently blocked himself by Neil Walker. When a spot opens up next year, Moroff looks like a guy who will be ready to make that jump to Triple-A.