St. Louis Cardinals: Piscotty’s problem, and why drawing walks isn’t necessarily good

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Jun 6, 2017; Cincinnati, OH, USA; St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Stephen Piscotty hits a single against the Cincinnati Reds during the first inning at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 6, 2017; Cincinnati, OH, USA; St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Stephen Piscotty hits a single against the Cincinnati Reds during the first inning at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports /
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The young St. Louis Cardinals outfielder has continued to struggle to hit this season, yet he is setting a career mark in on base percentage by drawing significantly more walks.

The root cause of Stephen Piscotty’s performance is quite simply that he has become far more tentative at the plate. While this has resulted in a significantly higher walk rate, he is forcing himself to be patient and seems less comfortable swinging the bat in general. While it is important to train a good eye, the way he is going about it is only detrimental to himself and the St. Louis Cardinals.

A change in approach often bears statistical outliers, both interesting to build on and concerning to develop, and this is no different for Piscotty. The most optimistic thing to note is that he has almost doubled the rate of walks he takes (from 7.9% in 2016 to 13.9%) while decreasing his strikeout rate (from 20.5% in 2016 to 17.8%), which has played a major part in maintaining his solid OBP.

While these improvements are telling of an improved batter’s eye, they have been the result of a forced approach in this case. As a result, the rest of Piscotty’s offensive game has taken a hit. Comparing his swing charts is quite telling (via Fangraphs):

SeasonO-Swing%Z-Swing%Swing%O-Contact%Z-Contact%Contact%
201532.1 %73.7 %50.3 %62.7 %86.0 %77.6 %
201633.1 %75.4 %52.3 %60.7 %84.5 %76.3 %
201728.5 %70.4 %46.7 %65.4 %83.8 %77.5 %

It’s clear that Piscotty has tried to cut down on the bad pitches this season, but this has resulted in him not swinging at even more of the good pitches as well. Not only that, but he has been hitting an abnormally high number of balls outside the strike zone despite swinging on them significantly less.

This is another problem in Piscotty’s approach this year. He is trying to force perfection into his batting by attempting to cover all parts of the zone equally and staying away from swinging at any balls outside it. As a result, he has lost parts of the plate from which he formerly made his money.

Here are comparisons of some of his zone charts from last year and this year, via mlb.com

While he has been able to improve against pitches at the hands and outside, Piscotty is missing the balls that are lying on a tee in the middle parts of the plate he feasted on last season. Those paltry averages in the center column of the plate are unacceptable at the major league level.

Another area in the zone to notice is the area below the strike zone. As discussed earlier, Piscotty is swinging less at pitches outside the zone while making significantly more contact when he does. Combine that with these low batting averages and it’s clear that his decrease in swings is forced, as opposed to being the result of seeing the ball better.

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This tentativeness has taken Piscotty out of that area, a place in the zone where he did surprisingly well last season. He had a solid .233 average on the 949 pitches he saw below the bottom of the zone in 2016. For reference, Mike Trout had a .228 average on 1047 pitches in the same areas in 2016.

Piscotty is a hitter, and the Cardinals need him to forego his new walk-drawing ways right now in favor of that to succeed.

Piscotty is a below-average baserunner, so his value comes largely from his power and ability to drive batters in. While his RBI rate is about the same as it was last season (6.85 AB/RBI in 2016, 7 AB/RBI in 2017), he is hitting the ball softer this year as a result of his reluctance to swing. Here’s a look at what his batted balls have looked like compared to last season, via Fangraphs:

SeasonLD%GB%FB%HR/FBIFH%Soft%Med%Hard%
201521.2 %45.3 %33.5 %11.7 %17.3 %15.6 %45.8 %38.5 %
201620.2 %43.6 %36.2 %13.5 %12.8 %15.9 %52.0 %32.1 %
201717.2 %44.0 %38.8 %11.5 %6.8 %19.3 %46.7 %34.1%

The significant decrease in line drives and resulting increase in soft-hit balls are unquestionably connected and are points of concern moving forward.

These numbers further demonstrate that Piscotty is forcing discipline into himself, instead of a renewed vision of the ball. He still has the power and ability that we saw last year based on an increased hard hit percent rate, but it has been chained down by his approach.

Next: Something has to change soon

While there are definite improvements in some parts of Piscotty’s game this season, the regression in hitting and power has overshadowed them wholly. If he cannot find the discipline to draw walks significantly without losing out on good pitches as well, then it would be better if he just swing. After all, a famous man once said, “You miss 100% of the balls you don’t swing at.” Or something like that.

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