Going into the season, Stephen Piscotty was projected to be a contact and patience guy because that’s what he’d been in the minor leagues for the most part. But this offseason, he had a plan, and he changed his approach and mechanics in order to be a better player. Perhaps the projections going forward are a little light, given the changes he’s made.
Preseason Steamer projections had Piscotty with a .114 isolated slugging percentage, on par with Logan Forsythe and Ryan Sweeney. After a power surge in Triple-A for 370 plate appearances, and four major league homers, the rest of season projection is now up to a .133 level, or Coco Crisp and Desmond Jennings level.
That’s improvement, but what if he’s fundamentally changed and the projections are still light?
“In the offseason I made an attempt to tap into more power, that was a big offseason goal,” the outfielder said before a game with the Giants. In order to do that, the outfielder tried to get a “flatter bat path, not so much down to the ball.” The elbows turned out to be a big key. “I worked on getting my back elbow a little closer to my body to get more extension. The whole thing was about getting more extension.”
Here’s video of his swing in 2013:
Here is Piscotty in 2015:
It does look like Piscotty is trying to get the bat down to the hitting zone first in order to have a flatter path through the zone. It’s hard to see the tucked in elbow from this angle, but there is a difference.
Particularly at one moment, it seems that Piscotty is doing a better job maximizing his leverage. Look at these freeze frames from 2013 and 2015 next to each other.
On the right, Piscotty’s body is angled better to produce a fly ball. His left shoulder is a little higher, and maybe his right shoulder is more tucked in, and all of this creates a different swing plane. A swing plane more conducive to power.
Beyond the changes Piscotty has made, there are two things that are different about the major leagues that may aid in his attempt to retain these power gains.
For one, the major league ball goes further, on average, in controlled experiments. Piscotty is now hitting more fly balls — his minor league average was 1.74 ground balls per every outfield fly ball, and he changed that to 1.18 in Memphis this year. He’s hitting 1.6 ground balls per outfield fly ball right now, but batters usually hit more fly balls as they age, and the hitter himself said that his 140 major league plate appearances are still “a small sample size.” Each additional fly ball should help take him advantage of the livelier major league ball.
Major league velocity is also higher than in the minor leagues. Nate Stoltz showed that 36% of the pitchers in High-A averaged less than 90 mph on their fastball. 17% of qualified major league starters this year average less than 90, and it’s even less if you start counting relievers. Bat speed is roughly six times more important to batted ball exit velocity than the incoming velocity, but that means that incoming velocity is still important. And if we can assume that Piscotty’s bat speed is the same now as it was in the minors, we could expect a small boost in exit velocity due to the pitchers he’s facing.
Especially since he likes fastballs — he’s top ten in work per 100 fastballs so far. “I’ve always liked hitting velocity, I like hitting fastballs, I like when the pitchers supply the power,” Piscotty said of hitting the hard stuff.
It’s true that the added velocity and different major league ball are factors that are equally true for all young players, and so the projections account for them, in essence. But Stephen Piscotty may be uniquely suited to take advantage of them. Particularly with the adjustments he’s made to his swing.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.