More to the Eye Than a Slump for Max Moroff

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
Batting Average .345 .288 .196
OPS .919 .715 .711
BABIP .402 .369 .219
K% 15% 21.7% 25.8%
BB% 12.1% 6.7% 17.7%
ISO .151 .090 .176
HR 2 1 3

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.

  • According to fangraphs, it takes about 60 PA for K rate to stabilize for a hitter. I don’t know if this holds true in the minors, but if so, those higher k rates are a greater hint at future k rates than his 30 game OB streak is.

    (It would be nice if in the table above there were PA totals included so we could weigh sample size)

    • During the streak, he had 140 PAs. In July, it was 120 PAs. Lastly, these August numbers reflect 62 PAs.

  • What’s generally standard for BABIP relative to BA? Where is the line drawn between a low BABIP being bad luck, a high BABIP being overly lucky, and a BABIP that is a true indicator of a player’s ability at the plate? Seems like BABIP is just a “luck factor” metric more than anything else and not so much a valid indicator, unless you know that they are actively working on hitting to all fields based on how they are being defended at the plate.

    • No good answer here when talking about the minors. Very rough ballpark figures would be .300 average, with anything below .250 being low and above .350 being high. More precisely something like .290 is average with anything below .280 low and above .320 high, but remember that these are based on Major League performances over very large samples.

      In the minors, talent varies to the extremes more which means that high or low BABIPs can often be an indication of skill. Still nothing you should really analyze in such small samples, though.

    • I try not to think about it too much with a small sample size, but you can see where it can come into play. During a 30-game on-base streak, a BABIP of .402 can indicate that you have been getting some lucky breaks, while a BABIP of around .200 may show that you have been hitting right at some defenders.

      NMR is right on that you look at something around .290 & .300 being typical over the course of a season. Usually, it balances out.

    • There is a standard range for BABIP for average TEAMS – and thus for the pitchers who face them. The historic BABIP for batters overall has been close to .300. But there is no standard for batters because it is affected by things like:

      – Pct of line drives, pct of ground balls, etc.
      – Hitter’s speed getting to 1B
      – Dimensions of park
      – Etc

      For example, here is the BABIP for four Bucs for the last four seasons, with 2015 shown last:

      Cutch: .375,. 353, .355, .337
      Marte: .333, .363, .373, .342
      Walker: .326, .274, .288, .305
      Mercer: .330, .285, .284

      So if Cutch or Marte has a .360 BABIP for a couple of months, it likely is not just luck. If Walker or Mercer puts up a .330, there likely is some luck involved. BTW, Cutch’s BABIP in April was below ..200. Since then, it is above .370.

    • Makes sense, thanks for the replies!

  • Has anyone noticed mccutchen’ strikeouts lately? He has been k’ing a bunch but walks and hr up. The stats on moroff reminded me of cutch the last month or so. Cutch is on pace for the most k’s in his career but walks and hbp up there and power numbers great so not a big deal. I feel like he’s been getting pitched around a ton lately so with him being a seasoned vet now he is just grinding out some really long ab. Of cutch ever gets a real cleanup guy behind him and sees fastballs in the zone these numbers will shift a little. His k:bb ratio looking troutish lately.

    • Also mccutchen has been a terror with runners on base this year and I think he leads the majors in sac flies. One of my favorite stats. Unselfish smart and complete winning ballplayers put up good sac fly numbers.

      • Gotta love those guys “unselfish” enough to make an out instead of getting on base.

        • I especially like how last night when Polanco played a ball in the gap into a triple, he (cutch) was so unselfish as to not take two steps toward him to provide backup, the Arizone telecast caught it on the overhead and made a comment about it. That’s a true trusting teammate right there!

          • Nice hating on an mvp and all star – what are your baseball credentials again?

            • I played my whole life, still do despite a torn shoulder labrum, and watched about 5000 baseball games, coached high school- even you have the right and the duty to criticize based on a player being lazy or not doing the little things right no matter how good he is, despite the fact that you obviously have no clue how baseball is supposed to be played given your response

        • I hope you are joking

        • Come on NMR. You know a sac fly is a good play. Get something you can handle, hit it in the air, and if it drops it’s a bonus. But get that run in.

    • Cutch really just isn’t seeing the ball real well lately. Kinda like when Marte struggles, lots of whiffs, but still hits for power

      • He just won player of the week the week before but then k’d like 10 times in 21 ab or something like that.

  • piraterican21
    August 19, 2015 12:12 pm

    Base on the August numbers it seems that he reverse back to who he was last year, a too patient of a hitter…that’s a big spike in walks and k’s