Ninety-five plate appearances into his big-league career, Stephen Piscotty appears to have successfully picked up where he left off with the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds (minor league stat line). Of course, we are dealing with an incredibly small sample size, but there are still things to be excited about, regardless of how many times the 24-year-old has stepped to the plate thus far. The primary one is his plate discipline (highlighted by his pitch recognition skills) despite limited MLB experience, which was already discussed by J.J. Bailey of KMOV Sports/BaseballSTL roughly one week ago. That being said, with limited information available to opposing teams just yet, I was curious: How are MLB pitchers approaching Piscotty? Let's take a closer look.
MLB Stat Line
First Pitch Category and Location
Again, I am fully aware of the extremely small sample size, but Piscotty has put the first pitch in play in 13.7% of his big-league plate appearances, with six falling in for hits: four singles, one double, and one triple (a .474 average). Plus, I am less focused on the fact that six have fallen in for hits and more focused on the fact that he has hit the ball hard on at least six occasions. Based on this information, I was curious to see if pitchers were simply "grooving" first pitches to him since, as a rookie, he remains a relative unknown to most clubs. Well, using BrooksBaseball.net, I looked at each first pitch Piscotty has faced, excluding last night's game (four plate appearances), and here is a breakdown by pitch category:
Followed by a breakdown of pitch location:
In short, nothing in the tables above makes it appear that pitchers have been "grooving" first pitches (particularly get-me-over fastballs) to Piscotty. Thus, the fact that he has successfully jumped on the first pitch shows the potential (sample size caveat considered) of a valuable skill that could make him a good major league hitter for a long period of time. I know there are fans that are against first-pitch swinging, and while I can only provide anecdotal evidence at this time, I find myself firmly on the side of favoring first-pitch swinging (now, not in every at bat, of course).
Overall Pitch Location
As you can see, pitchers have attacked Piscotty down and away, with nearly one-third (30.8%) of pitches falling in the zone outlined in yellow. What is surprising is the unmistakable presence of blue at the top of Piscotty's zone profile. An oft-cited argument regarding the transition from the minors to the majors is that big-league fastballs are much better (and usually faster) than Triple-A fastballs (If I recall correctly, this was something discussed regarding Oscar Taveras's struggles against MLB fastballs last season). Yet, in 91 plate appearances tracked by BrooksBaseball, only 16.19% of the pitches Piscotty has faced have been in the top two rows (outlined in green). While most pitchers don't have the required "stuff" to be consistently effective up in the zone, I expect Piscotty's zone profile to change going forward, with more pitches moving upward.
At present, Piscotty is striking out 18.9% of the time, which is (reasonably) higher than what we had seen from him in the minor leagues. Sure, after retooling his swing over the offseason, Piscotty stated that by tapping into more extra-base power, there would likely be an increase in strikeouts, but even the 18.9% he is experiencing is higher than what we had grown used to as we watched him develop over the last four years (16.7% in Triple-A this season). Upon further review, though, one will find that four of Piscotty's 18 strikeouts were called (i.e. not swinging) on pitches out of the strike zone. Removing these brings his strikeout rate down to a more comfortable 14.7% (2015 league average being 19.7%). As his sample size grows, I fully expect him to be a 15-18% strikeout rate hitter.
It is my opinion that it is in Piscotty's favor for pitchers to continue attacking him on pitches down and away. As a prospect, Piscotty was touted as a "high-contact, all-fields" hitter, and in his brief stint with the big-league club, this has not yet changed, as you can see by Fox Sport Midwest's fun graphic below:
In conclusion, it is not at all fair to expect Piscotty to keep up his current pace (but it would be nice given the current health of the offense). His "book" will only get larger, and the world's best pitchers will become more comfortable pitching to his weaknesses. Something to watch will be whether or not pitchers with above-average to plus fastballs choose to attack him up in the zone because in all honesty, it is an uncharted area of possible exploitation at this point.
As usual, credit to BrooksBaseball.net for the zone profile and other information used in this post.