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2018 Player Profile: Stephen Piscotty

With the 2017 season now officially in the rearview mirror, and with the Houston Astros first-time champions, we turn our attention to the 2018 fantasy baseball season. Each week, I will be evaluating one player’s stock for this year. This week, a young outfielder who is looking to rebound in a new home after a difficult and tumultuous 2017 season.

Stephen Piscotty, Oakland A’s

2017 statistics: .235/.342/.367, 9 HR, 40 R, 39 RBI,  3 SB

General Overview

Entering 2017, Stephen Piscotty looked to be one of the league’s brighter young outfielders, coming off of an age-25 season where he slashed a solid .273/.343/.457 with 22 home runs in near everyday playing time. In 2017, a confluence of factors, including on-field regression, injuries, and off-field family difficulties created a challenging season, one which has fantasy owners down significantly on his 2018 outlook. He is currently being selected as the 66th outfielder according to Fantrax’s ADP tracker and is even being left undrafted in some shallower leagues. While there are obvious reasons for concern due to his poor season last year, Piscotty appears to offer some interesting upside at such a deep draft slot, due to the realistic possibility that 2017 season was more of an outlier than the beginning of a trend.

2017 Performance

Piscotty’s 2017 performance was, no doubt, disappointing to fantasy owners who bet that he would continue to build off of a promising first season-and-a-half in the big leagues. His counting statistics plummeted, his batted-ball data took a significant step back, and he was not even reliably on the field, fighting through two DL stints and a temporary demotion to Triple-A Memphis in August. The most concerning aspect of his profile was his significant power drop-off, as his isolated power fell from a solid .184 in 2016 to a woeful .132 last year. To a large extent, the dip in results was warranted; his average exit velocity fell by nearly three miles per hour from the two years prior, thanks largely to a huge spike in his ground-ball rate. Softly hit grounders are obviously not a source of power production, and Piscotty made an unfortunate habit of hitting a lot of them last season.

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On the other hand, it is somewhat encouraging to note that his quality of contact when he did manage to lift the ball remained largely intact, as his average exit velocity on balls hit in the air was within one mile per hour of his previously-established range, and his maximum exit velocity of 109.3 MPH was within shouting distance of his career-high of 110.7 MPH. Additionally, he showed signs of returning to form in a brief sample at the end of last season, following a demotion that he said “allowed (him) to get back to basics.” Prior to that demotion, Piscotty’s average exit velocity sat at 85.5 MPH; after his return, it was up to 87.5 MPH. Even upon his return, he was still hitting too many ground balls to tap into much power, but the presence of some hard contact is a positive sign. His showing signs of a bounce-back does not negate what he did over the first half of the season, of course. Consistency is important, and Piscotty failed to drive the ball as consistently as he had over his first two MLB seasons. That said, there are reasons to believe that his above-average raw power remains intact, and, only entering his age-27 season, there is some room for development as he enters what should be his prime years.

Off-Field Factors

One would be remiss to talk about Piscotty’s 2017 season and not mention the personal struggles that he was forced to deal with. He missed nearly a week in May after his mother was diagnosed with ALS, a condition which likely inspired, at least in part, a trade this offseason from St. Louis to Oakland, where the Bay Area native would be closer to his family for next season and beyond. If or how his off-field difficulties affected his on-field performance last year is impossible to know, as is whether or not playing closer to home will have any actual positive impact on Piscotty as a player for 2018. However, it does not seem outlandish to believe that his mother’s diagnosis could have affected his preparation or focus throughout last season in a manner that he would be better equipped to handle moving forward. Any such bet would be entirely speculative, but, given that Piscotty is being avoided for the most part in leagues, that speculation may warrant fantasy owners jumping just a little bit earlier than they are at present.

While much of the coverage regarding Piscotty’s trade to Oakland has justifiably focused on its potential impact on his family, it is worth noting that the trade may also have value for him from a pure baseball perspective. As noted, Piscotty’s most significant on-field trouble last season was a huge jump in his ground-ball rate, which was most directly responsible for sapping his previously respectable power production. As a team, the A’s ranked first (by a fairly decent margin) in fly-ball rate last season, and recent offseason acquisitions by the club (including Matt Joyce, Yonder Alonso, and Jed Lowrie) have seemed to have adopted a conscious air-ball approach upon arriving in Oakland, indicating that that may be an organizational prerogative. If Piscotty changes his approach to set his sights more specifically on fly balls as well, his power production could be in line for a significant uptick.

2018 Outlook

Stephen Piscotty is not without risks as a player, given a 2017 season that, even at its most favorable, would have to be considered a disappointment. Still, he has some interesting offensive tools: solid bat-to-ball skills with above-average raw power upside and generally positive production over his nearly three years in the big leagues. While his 2017 season has owners bearish on his prospects, it is important to consider that development is not always linear, and, at age-27, expecting improving is not outlandish. At the point in drafts where is currently being selected, he offers fairly significant upside with a consistent path to everyday playing time once again on an A’s team that has more offensive firepower than many people give it credit for. Piscotty’s career trajectory from here is more uncertain than most, but, given what he has shown to this point, he still remains a worthy gamble.

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