The St. Louis Cardinals have a lot of known commodities at the top of their lineup. Dexter Fowler and Matt Carpenter have exhibited prolific on base skills in their careers. Getting on base is good, but it takes someone else to produce what really matters: runs. That’s where Stephen Piscotty, and to a lesser extent Randal Grichuk, come in.
In 2016, his first full season in the big leagues, Piscotty hit .273, slugged 22 home runs, and drove in 85 runs. He faded down the stretch. His average dipped to .247, in large part because of an increase in K% and decrease in BB%.
Piscotty’s Contact Quality
If you take out strikeouts, walks, and hit-by-pitches, focus on only balls put into play, Piscotty was just as good a hitter in the second half. xBABIP calculates expected BABIP based on a hitters’ LD%, IFFB%, HARD%, etc. It adjusts from year to year, and based on a players SPD. In the first half of 2016, Piscotty’s xBABIP was .304. Below his actual BABIP of .337, but still pretty good.
And in the second half, when Piscotty was supposedly sapped by his first full season in the bigs? His xBABIP remained steady, at .302, whereas his actual BABIP plummeted to .247. Piscotty was a worse hitter in the second half, because he struck out more and walked less. His struggles, however, were exacerbated by a fluctuation in BABIP that was outside his control.
Why the rise in K%?
The differences in Piscotty’s K% going from 17.4% in the first half to 24.3% in the second half can be partially explained by two images.
After the All-Star break, Piscotty was far more aggressive on pitches outside the zone, particularly low and outside. Chasing pitches not only explain the increase in K%, but also the decrease in BB%. Subsequently, erosion of plate discipline is at least a major factor in Piscotty’s second half struggles.
What to expect in 2017
When I evaluate Stephen Piscotty at the end of the season, the first stat I’ll look at is one most sabermetricians deplore: RBI’s.
Carpenter and Fowler are both on base machines, and Diaz was among the league leaders in OBP a year ago. Somebody has to drive them home to translate OPB into wins. I think you can boil the Cardinals offense down to a couple of conditions.
1.) If both Piscotty and Grichuk drive in 100 runs, the Cardinals offense will be elite.
2.) If only one of them drives in 100 runs, the Cardinals offense will be good.
3.) If neither drive in 100 runs, the Cardinals offense will be disappointing.
With that being said, Piscotty has been a really consistent player since debuting two years ago. His full season K% and BB% have remained remarkably similar, and so has his LD%. It adds up to a projections that pretty straightforward.
I used xBABIP in my projection instead of guessing what his BABIP will be, which leads to a lower, but hopefully more accurate, representation of his average. I also raised his RBI/PA because I expect him to have more opportunities than ever before.
All things considered, it would be a pretty good season from Piscotty, maybe even deserving of an All-Star nod. Most importantly, it would mean the Cardinals have someone behind Fowler and Carpenter capable of driving in runs consistently.
Thanks for reading!