clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Troubling trends with Stephen Piscotty

New, comments

History may be repeating itself for the third-year outfielder

Piscotty's groin injury will force him to do a little more watching.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Ed. Note: please welcome Tyler to VEB. He’s been Fanposting for a while, but his work deserves to get out in front of the main site.-CE

I'm sure many of you are well versed in the story of Stephen Piscotty, but I'll recap it anyways. Sharing birthdays with a specific VEB writer, the product of Pleasanton, California opted to play college ball instead after being drafted by the Dodgers in the 45th round. The Stanford Cardinal posted an OPS of .876 in three seasons before going in the first round to the Cardinals as a supplemental pick for Albert Pujols.

Piscotty hit everywhere along the line, shooting himself into the upper ranks of both the minor leagues and prospect lists alike. He entered 2015 as the top prospect in the Cardinals organization before receiving the call in late July. From there he took off, charging a lineup in dire need of a jolt with a 133 wRC+ in 256 plate appearances. Piscotty shined in the 2015 postseason and began 2016 as the club's starting right fielder. He picked up right where he left off with wRC+'s of 136 and 150 in April and May, respectively.

With the exception of one distinct timeframe (more on that a bit later), Piscotty hasn't enjoyed any extended stretch of offensive success ever since, which takes us to the present. Piscotty exited July 14th's loss with a right groin strain, landing him on the 10-day disabled list.

Stephen Piscotty General Overview

Stat Pre 2016 All-Star Break 2016 2nd Half
Stat Pre 2016 All-Star Break 2016 2nd Half
wRC+ 131 98
Slashline .299/.365/.486 .247/.310/.430
K/BB% 19.2/8.5% 24.3/6.5%
BABIP .352 .295

Whoa, these look like two completely different hitters! One is the offensive equivalent to Buster Posey while the other is more like Tim Beckham, which raises the question: what happened after the 2016 All-Star break?

This isn't likely to be my last batter breakdown so you should know that I like to combine Statcast batted ball metrics with PITCHf/x data courtesy of

Let's begin by taking a look at what Statcast thinks of Piscotty. For his slump in late 2016 to have been the product of, say, an altered swing, we would need to find night-and-day differences in his batted ball data between the season's two halves. Do we?

Stephen Piscotty Statcast Overview

Stat 2016 First Half 2016 Second Half
Stat 2016 First Half 2016 Second Half
Average exit velocity 87.9 88.6
Average launch angle 12.2 14.9
GB/FB Ratio 1.2 1.2
Pull% 41.6% 43.1%
wOBA 0.371 0.320
xWOBA (Expected wOBA based on exit velo and launch angle) 0.368 0.316

In the first half, Piscotty continued to tear opposing pitchers to shreds, and the batted ball peripherals (i.e. xWOBA) were there to back it up. But once again, the same stark contrast in production emerges following the break. I'll repeat that. The same stark contrast in production emerges following the break. My choice of the word production was very intentional, as this data table reveals no batted ball revelations. In other words, there were no meaningful changes in Piscotty's Statcast data.

Before we move on, there was also one other aspect of Piscotty's batted ball data that I needed to examine: his quality of contact. Statcast places every ball that's put in play into one of six categories. Don't worry about the specific names of the classifications so much as the league average wOBA for that group of batted balls.

Stephen Piscotty Batted Ball Classifications

Batted Ball Classification 2016 First Half 2016 Second Half
Batted Ball Classification 2016 First Half 2016 Second Half
Barrels (League average wOBA of 1.433) 10.12% 6.67%
Solid Contact (.692) 5.84% 8.21%
Flares & Burners (.630) 24.90% 23.59%
Topped (.206) 31.13% 33.33%
Hit Under (.095) 22.96% 25.13%
Weak Contact (.046) 5.06% 3.08%

Would I argue with anyone who claimed that Piscotty's quality of contact took a dip in the second half? No. In fact, I would be inclined to agree. However, whatever losses Piscotty suffered in terms of barrels were mitigated by his increase in solid contact. The same applies with pitches that he either topped or hit under, as his weak contact rate slightly lowered in the second half.

So nearly 700 words and three tables later, we have yet to find the answer to the question posed in the title of this article.

Get ready to see a whole lot more of these charts in future articles.

I'm sure this isn't the first time you have seen an image similar to the one above, and it won't be the last. Call the highlighted selection of six squares whatever you please, but I'll be referring to it as middle-down, middle-away (please do not abbreviate that in the comments).

Stephen Piscotty middle-down, middle-away results

Timeframe Total Pitch% Swing% Whiff/Swing%
Timeframe Total Pitch% Swing% Whiff/Swing%
2016 1st Half 29.21% 58.14% 12.43%
2016 2nd Half 32.22% 63.69% 20.23%

Piscotty's increased aggressiveness on middle-down, middle-away pitches may not seem like much, but look at the ripple effect it has on his whiff-per-swing rate.

My next step was to find out whether or not this trend was exclusive to middle-down, middle-away pitches.

Stephen Piscotty all pitches results

Timeframe Total Pitch% Swing% Whiff/Swing%
Timeframe Total Pitch% Swing% Whiff/Swing%
2016 1st Half 100.00% 50.49% 24.51%
2016 2nd Half 100.00% 54.59% 27.36%

Recall the general overview table which displayed Piscotty's increased strikeout rate and decreased walk rate. This makes perfect sense. If Piscotty is being too aggressive at the plate, he won't be drawing as many walks. Likewise, if he is swinging through more pitches, he will see a rise in strikeouts. I know this may seem basic, but is there any other explanation for a nearly 40% change in his K/BB ratio and 55 point drop in his OBP after the 2016 All-Star break?

You can probably guess where I'm headed next.

Stephen Piscotty 2017 Overview

Stat April-June 2017 July 2017
Stat April-June 2017 July 2017
wRC+ 108 11
Slashline .247/.369/.402 .171/.216/.200
K/BB% 18.6/14.8% 29.7/2.7%
BABIP .286 .250
wOBA .344 .193
xwOBA .366 .231

Contrary to public perception, Piscotty was hitting rather well to begin the season. According to xwOBA, which site manager Craig Edwards found to be a much stronger predictor of future offensive performance than wOBA itself, Piscotty was actually underperforming his contact quality by 22 points between April and June. On top of that, Piscotty was striking out less and walking more than ever before. (For the sake of clarification I should note that both wOBA and xwOBA credit Piscotty for an improved K/BB ratio.)

And then came July. How does our middle-down, middle-away phenomenon hold up during Piscotty's most recent slump?

Stephen Piscotty middle-down, middle-away results

Timeframe Total Pitch% Swing% Whiff/Swing%
Timeframe Total Pitch% Swing% Whiff/Swing%
April-June 2017 31.21% 54.76% 18.01%
July 2017 38.97% 67.92% 30.56%

These 2017 numbers are even more polarizing than the ones from 2016. And once again, the same principle also applies to all pitches thrown Piscotty's way.

Stephen Piscotty all pitches results

Timeframe Total Pitch% Swing% Whiff/Swing%
Timeframe Total Pitch% Swing% Whiff/Swing%
April-June 2017 100.00% 46.18% 24.60%
July 2017 100.00% 52.21% 32.39%

I can't stress this enough: we are dealing with an incredibly minuscule sample size, even after giving consideration to the fact that plate-discipline-based stats (i.e. walk rate, strikeout rate, etc.) stabilize faster than any other type of stat. Though my point still stands: this isn't something we haven't seen before from Piscotty.

Maybe this current DL stint (and presumably a minor league rehab assignment to follow) will serve as a much-needed "reset button" for Piscotty. And let's hope so, otherwise we will be treated to more soundbites like this.

(Obligatory NSFW disclaimer before you blast this video in front of coworkers or innocent children.)