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St. Louis Cardinals: Piscotty’s Power Has Disappeared

Piscotty celebrates home run

Coming into the 2017 season it seemed like the consensus opinion was that right field was a position we didn’t need to worry about. Stephen Piscotty was coming off of a pretty good 2016 season and he seemed like a safe player. He was the kind of high floor, low upside player that many people claimed the St. Louis Cardinals had too many of. However, as we approach the all star break, Piscotty has not performed at all like we thought he would.

In 2016 Stephen had a slash line of .273/.343/.457. He profiled extremely well as a five hitter but if forced into a more prominent spot in the lineup it seemed like he would do fine. Piscotty now sits at .244/.359/.390 for the 2017 season where he has spent most of his time hitting third. A .390 slugging percentage from the third hitter in your lineup just won’t cut it. His .359 on base percentage is the only thing keeping his season from being a total disaster to this point. So what has gone wrong?

On the surface, Piscotty’s plate discipline seems to have improved. His walk rate has increased from 7.9% to 13.7% and he has also decreased his strikeout rate from 20.5% to 19.9%. These are very nice improvements and explain the good OBP despite his low slugging percentage.

His lack of power has come from simply not hitting the ball as hard.

  2016 2017
Avg Exit Velocity 88.2 MPH 85.3 MPH
Avg FB Exit Velocity 93.1 MPH 91.4 MPH
Avg Launch Angle 13.4 10.4
Avg FB Distance 333 ft. 325 ft.

As you can see, it’s an across the board decline for Piscotty’s statcast numbers. Not only is he not hitting the ball as hard, he isn’t hitting it with as good of a launch angle either. All of this has led to an average fly ball distance that is 8 feet shorter than last seasons average. 8 feet may not seem like much but that keeps a lot of potential home runs in the park and turns doubles into routine fly balls.

Stephen Piscotty's 2016 Home Run Spray Chart
via baseballsavant.com

Above is Stephen Piscotty’s 2016 home run spray chart. As you look at it it’s easy to count multiple home runs that probably wouldn’t have gone out if you were to subtract 8 feet from them. Obviously the ballpark that it’s hit in is a huge factor in this, but this chart is overlaid on Busch Stadium since half of his games are played there.

So what is causing the drop in exit velocity?

My initial thought when I came across these results was the hamstring injury that he suffered in early May. However, as I looked up his exit velocities before and after his injury I found that he is actually hitting the ball harder since returning from the disabled list. Despite that, I did find some interesting trends in his plate discipline data.

Season O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% Contact% Zone%
2015 32.1 % 73.7 % 50.3 % 77.6 % 43.6 %
2016 33.1 % 75.4 % 52.3 % 76.3 % 45.5 %
2017 28.6 % 70.3 % 46.2 % 77.0 % 42.3 %

Here we have the percentage of pitches he swings at outside of the zone (O-Swing%). The percentage of pitches he swings at inside the zone (Z-Swing%). The percentage of pitches that he swings at overall (Swing%). The percentage of pitches that he makes contact with when he swings (Contact%). And finally, the percentage of pitches thrown to him that are in the zone (Zone%).

Piscotty is not only swinging at less pitches outside of the strike zone, but also swinging at less pitches overall. This explains his greatly elevated walk rate. He’s also seeing less pitches in the zone overall. This makes me wonder if he just isn’t being aggressive enough when he gets a pitch to hit. He could be improving his plate discipline almost to a fault if that makes any sense. Many people seem to think that Matt Carpenter does this exact same thing by trying to work the count and missing his pitch to hit in the process.

The last thing I looked at was his zone charts.

Stephen Piscotty Zone Chart
Piscotty’s 2016 Zone Charts via baseballsavant.com
Stephen Piscotty 2017 Zone Chart
Piscotty’s 2017 Zone Charts via baseballsavant.com

When I initially saw the drop in batting average on balls in the center of the plate from 2016 to 2017 I thought that he was definitely not being aggressive enough with those pitches. However, when looking at the exit velocities broken down by zone, you’ll see that he is still hitting the ball the hardest when it’s in the middle of the plate. The batting average’s being so much higher on the inner part of the plate this season is likely just a fluky thing that will correct itself with more at-bats.

While I do think Piscotty could be more aggressive when he gets a pitch to hit, I don’t think that’s his main issue this season. The argument could be made that he is taking too many pitches and getting behind in counts, but he is actually hitting the ball harder when behind in the count. He has an 84.0 MPH exit velocity when ahead in the count and an 87.3 MPH exit velocity when behind in the count.

I believe the only explanation left is a mechanical issue with his swing. Piscotty has gotten a reputation for being a very smart player and he is always looking to improve his swing. The problem is that trying to implement swing changes during the season is often a recipe for disaster. Getting back to the basics of his swing is normally the only thing a hitter can do when they lose their mechanics midseason. Let’s hope Piscotty is able to do that quickly. This team needs him in a big way.

Thanks for reading!

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