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Reyes Moronta will be a Statcast darling again

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He was virtually unhittable last year, and he’s adding a changeup to the mix. Do hitters even have a chance?

San Francisco Giants Photo Day Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

Reyes Moronta is an unusual player for the Giants in that he is (A) an international signing and (B) good. In Moronta’s first full season, he threw 65 innings, struck out 79, and led the Giants’ bullpen in ERA at 2.49. He was virtually unhittable as he only allowed four homers, and according to Statcast, he finished in the top five percent of just about every expected metric. Hitters had an xwOBA of .250 against Moronta in 2018, so he basically made every hitter look like Austin Jackson. Moronta, in many ways, was a Statcast darling.

Expected metrics generally aren’t as predictive for pitchers, but in conjunction with his strikeout rate, it shows just how difficult it was to square up an offering from Moronta. Moronta primarily threw two pitches in 2018: a fastball and a slider. Moronta has also been working on his changeup this offseason. With fastballs, Moronta got hitters to swing and miss 25 percent of the time. With sliders, hitters swung and missed a whopping 47 percent of the time.

Moronta’s slider was one of the better sliders in the majors. By pitch values, only four relievers had a slider more valuable than Moronta’s, one of whom was Will Smith. Moronta got hitters to chase the slider out of the zone 37 percent of the time. Because of the slider, Moronta achieved something few Giants did in 2018: he got Pitching Ninja’d.

Moronta wasn’t perfect of course. Moronta also walked 37 batters in 65 innings. That’s a BB/9 of 5.12 and a walk percentage of 14.1. The slider makes hitters look like their bats are made of spaghetti, but Moronta rarely throws it in the strike zone, and his fastball command isn’t great either.

If Moronta can’t throw more strikes with the fastball, he might have trouble pitching to a sub-3.00 ERA again. Regardless, he can still put in another great year. Depending on how other pitchers in the Giants bullpen perform and what trades Farhan Zaidi makes, Moronta could establish himself as the closer. Having a closer that’s as prone to giving up free passes as Moronta isn’t great for the heart, but when he strikes out a third of the batters he faces, it helps alleviate that stress.

Moronta could also find himself opening a few games since he’s the guy in the bullpen with the least severe platoon splits. Lefties might hit him a little harder this year—sliders generally aren’t great secondary pitches for a righty at platoon disadvantage—but maybe the changeup will help him get left-handed hitters out.

Whatever role Moronta finds himself in, he should excel.

Projection

IP: 70
ERA: 2.83
K: 87
BB: 38
HR: 6
Saves: 6
Opens:

bWAR: 1.5

I’m guessing the strikeout rate will go up and the walk rate will go down if only slightly. Like every other Giant, he’ll get an opportunity to close, but ultimately, I think the Giants will prefer to have him in a flexible role.

Traded?

No. Even if the Giants have a glut of relievers, trading Moronta would be a move more in line with a complete tear down. That’s not what the Giants are doing.

However, if the Giants did trade Moronta, we could look at the trade Cleveland and San Diego made last season as a corollary. The Padres sent Adam Cimber and Brad Hand to Ohio and they brought back Francisco Mejia, who was MLB Pipeline’s top catching prospect before Joey Bart came along. If the Giants were to replicate that trade, they would package Will Smith (a hard-throwing lefty with another year left), and Moronta (a reliever who doesn’t become a free agent until 2023), and they would get a top prospect in return.

If the Giants could convince the Braves to part with Austin Riley or the Reds to send over Taylor Trammel or [insert whichever top prospect you want], then I’m all for it. I just don’t think that’s going to happen.