Does 910 plate appearances equal a six year extension at the age of 26 years?
For Stephen Piscotty and the Cardinals, Monday marked the second consecutive day where the team provided insurance to a key member of their team moving forward, and while it does come off as a superlative maneuver by the Birds, it is a smart investment in a promising player's future.
If you read it like a suspense novel, the Piscotty breakout is a great reaction to the Jason Heyward chapter. After a great year in the field and a decent one at the plate, Heyward turned down a larger offer in cold hard cash from the Cardinals to roll out north to the Chicago Cubs, where he received a World Series ring for a career worst season at the plate.
After offering to pay Heyward for a rumored ten seasons and 200 million, John Mozeliak has now secured Piscotty's services for the next six years (all of arbitration and one free agent season) at the low price of 33 million dollars. There is an option for a seventh season, so the Cards have right field fortified for the foreseeable future. Mozeliak dodged a bullet, or in other words, rewrote the ending to this current chapter.
After a sneak preview consisting of 233 at bats in 2015 where he hit .305 and crushed 26 extra base hits that finished in a flourish with three postseason home runs against the Chicago Cubs, Piscotty came into his own in 2016. He led the Cardinals in games played (153) and runs scored (86) while hitting 22 home runs and compiling an .800 OPS.
Piscotty's specialty is hitting in clutch situations; with runners in scoring position in his first two plus seasons, Piscotty is hitting .372. Like Carlos Martinez, the tighter the spot, the better Piscotty gets at the plate. The first weekend he showed up for the team in July of 2015 against Atlanta, Piscotty hit a game winning sacrifice fly. In 2016, Piscotty led the team with ten game winning hits. While some think of a game winning stat as tedious, I take comfort more comfort these days when Piscotty walks to the plate than say, Jhonny Peralta.
What's the catch with Piscotty? The durability and consistency over an entire season is still in question, especially after the way 2016 concluded. In a nutshell, the same issue with any player entering his second full season on a playoff competitive ballclub.
After a month of July where Piscotty slashed .277/.313/.500 and added five home runs, his OPS dropped to .777 in August and .714 in September. After a hot first two months to the season, Piscotty endured a terrible month of June where he hit .209. It was his first full season as a pro, so the highs and lows are expected, but how does he fare moving forward? With a contract holding an average annual value of around 5.5 million dollars, Piscotty's 2.9 WAR (via Baseball Reference) will do just fine if it sticks around there for a few years.
A rough spring didn't stop Piscotty from opening 2017 in style, where he patrolled right field with steady hands and reached base three times.
There were concerns about the Cardinals jumping the gun with this signing, and Cardinals fan Rick LeGrand presented a warning sign in comparison:
@buffa82 Why not wait another year? Still have control for awhile and he has only 1 full season in the majors. Learn from the Wong signing— Rick LeGrand (@ricklegrand) April 3, 2017
While the Wong extension is rightfully held in question due to the current brokerage of playing time, Piscotty doesn't have that problem in right field, because the position is his and his alone. After the departure of Heyward, Mozeliak did what he does best: instead of overspending in the free agent market, he looked within and found the 36th pick overall from the 2012 draft waiting for a larger opportunity. Piscotty's playing time isn't in question like Wong's time is, so the contract is a wise play for a team with a payroll gaining liquidation in the coming seasons.
It's easy to like Stephen Piscotty. He's the next door neighbor who can hit a baseball 400 feet. He says all the right things (when he does speak), shows the right amount of emotion on the field, and is a producer just getting started. He comes through in big moments, and while 221 plate appearances with RISP doesnt assure future reliability, it's comforting in a late tight baseball game.
The Cardinals and Piscotty formed an alliance with this six year deal; they created a nice twist in the story, one that began in December of 2015 with Heyward's departure, continued with Piscotty's breakout in 2016, and came together on Sunday night at Busch with the two players on the field experiencing different kinds of pains.
As the Cardinals and Cubs battle over the next six seasons, it will be interesting to see which right fielder fares better. My money is on the Stanford graduate.