As I continue to remind you, I have been plugging away at finishing my initial set of Pod Projections, which is incredibly time consuming. However, it allows me to learn a whole lot about, like, every player, even guys I have no desire to learn anything about, such as Cameron Rupp. Every so often, I come across a player that I not only know little about, but two different sets of data lead to opposite evaluations. Then I throw up my hands and internally debate how I should project said player. So it is possible, perhaps far more so than you would ever believe, that Stephen Piscotty is a star. Or maybe he’s not. That’s probably safer to claim. Let me explain.
Piscotty debuted with the Cardinals last season and amassed all of 256 plate appearances. It’s certainly a small sample size, but just large enough to make one wonder. He enjoyed a strong performance at the plate, posting a .364 wOBA, displaying average plate discipline, above average power, and here’s the kicker…a fantastic batted ball profile. Those results should secure him the starting right field job and according to Roster Resource’s best guess, could slot him into the two hole. Hitting behind Matt Carpenter and his on base skills and in front of the heart of the lineup is an excellent spot to accumulate fantasy value.
Now let’s get to the Piscotty specifics. Check out last year’s average batted ball distance leaderboard. I will wait as you peruse through the top 15. Who’s that you see at 13 with an average of nearly 305 feet? That very man himself, Stephen Piscotty. I will tell you that I actually have slightly updated data and in 44 flies + homers (versus 38 in the table), his distance settled in at 301 feet. That is still wonderful and ranks in the top 30, or basically the top 10% of the leaderboard.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, he also ranked fourth (yes, Corey Seager has been confirmed to be an error, as his angle was switched with his SDD) in average absolute angle of his batted balls. But, this isn’t a matter of Piscotty pulling everything for easy homers. Instead, he went opposite field on 58.3% of his fly balls! Check out all the blue dots down the right field line and to right-center:
So not only was he hitting those fly balls an average of 301 feet, he was doing so to the opposite field the majority of the time! That’s some serious power. In fact, his xHR/FB rate was a robust 20.6%, though he somehow only managed an 11.7% actual mark. Some likely has to do with his home park that sports a 92 right-handed home run park factor, but not all of it.
So we have established that he should have put on a power show even though his results weren’t exactly there (a .189 ISO is above average, but unexciting). Power isn’t the only part of Piscotty’s game he flashed for all of us last year. He also posted a crazy .372 BABIP. Remember when I mentioned earlier that his batted ball profile was pristine? Well, it’s rare that a hitter posts an xBABIP of .350, but that’s exactly what Piscotty’s metrics produced. How often do you think a hitter with a .372 BABIP wasn’t outrageously lucky? In this particular case, Piscotty was not. Perhaps a smidge, but no more so than random variance would suggest. He displayed legit league-leading BABIP skills.
So let’s see here. We have a young hitter who displayed elite power and top notch BABIP skills. This sounds like a player that fantasy owners should be gushing over. But he isn’t. Why?
There’s the rub and the predicament those trying to forecast Piscotty in 2016 find themselves in. In his minor league career through June 8th, 2015 (that’s when Minor League Central stopped updating its data, sad face), his career HR/FB rate was just 9%. The site is missing some 2015 data, but through that date, he posted a HR/FB rate of 10.8%. The 11.7% mark he posted with the Cardinals doesn’t look so out of place. What does look out of place is that batted ball distance and xHR/FB rate! His minor league HR/FB rate marks would seem to suggest he was capable of a batted ball distance in the mid-270 foot range.
So how does one reconcile his elite Major League record with his mediocre minor league power numbers? Was it just a fluky 256 plate appearances or did he truly develop his power that quickly? Because he sure as heck ain’t posting another HR/FB rate of just 11.7% if he sustains a 300 foot batted ball distance. That rate would rise into the mid-to-high teens.
Then there’s the issue with his BABIP. In the Majors, he popped up just once, for a microscopic 1.7% IFFB%. That’s something a batter typically has decent control over so it’s unlikely that his IFFB% suddenly jumps into the teens this season. Because of that low IFFB%, along with a hit-it-to-all-fields mentality (his batted ball direction rates were all above 30%), and above average Hard%, xBABIP thought the world of him.
Oddly though, his minor league BABIP was just .306! Having been projecting players for more than a decade now, I know that there is a real correlation between minor league BABIP and Major League BABIP. Minor league BABIPs are higher, but on a relative basis, a high BABIP minor league guy will more likely own a high BABIP in the Majors than a lower BABIP minor league guy when he’s in the Majors. Even during his time in the minors in 2015, Piscotty only posted a .304 BABIP. If he exhibited a similar batted ball profile there, then he was extremely unlucky. And if he improved it upon his arrival to the Majors, how did he go from mediocre batted ball profile to elite?
These are the questions I grappled with when projecting Piscotty. Do I project slight regression in his HR/FB rate based on his minor league stats, a hefty increase due to a big batted ball distance and xHR/FB rate, or a stable mark because it could go either way and I don’t know what the correct answer is? His BABIP projection is the same story.
What’s your Stephen Piscotty story?
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.