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Statcast offers insight into Piscotty's defense

Cardinals looking for solutions amid outfield's struggles with glove
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

CINCINNATI -- Among the Cardinals' stated offseason goals was to see collective defensive improvement in the outfield. It was a driving force in the organization's pursuit of Dexter Fowler and in its decision to part ways with Brandon Moss and Matt Holliday.

The results, however, have not yet met that intention.

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CINCINNATI -- Among the Cardinals' stated offseason goals was to see collective defensive improvement in the outfield. It was a driving force in the organization's pursuit of Dexter Fowler and in its decision to part ways with Brandon Moss and Matt Holliday.

The results, however, have not yet met that intention.

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Using the Defensive Runs Saved metric, the Cardinals entered Tuesday with the Majors' 27th-ranked outfield. Their outfielders have combined for a -14 DRS, which is a drop of 11 points from 2016.

The Cardinals' Opening Day left fielder has been sent down to Class A. Their $82.5-million center fielder has shown significant defensive regression. And in right field, Stephen Piscotty has been, at best, average.

"It hasn't been good," general manager John Mozeliak said candidly. "I'm not sure what I would attribute that to. You think about how we talked about putting this club together originally with the addition of Fowler and then of course, [Randal] Grichuk and Piscotty, we thought we'd be an above-average defensive outfield."

Video: LAD@STL: Piscotty ranges to make a fine running snag

Piscotty's defensive play has come under particular scrutiny lately after a few muffed plays in Chicago. He lost one ball in the sun, had another scoot under his glove and then slid into his second baseman because of a lack of communication all while the team was swept.

Piscotty asserted himself as one of the game's better right fielders last year when he posted plus-3 DRS and a 3.6 Ultimate Zone Rating. He's sitting at plus-1 DRS with a -2.2 UZR this season.

"Clearly, with the way Stephen has performed to date, it hasn't been there," Mozeliak said. "I think he's very much aware of it and certainly knows what he needs to work on to improve upon that."

Video: SF@STL: Piscotty crashes into wall, hangs on for out

A dive into Statcast™'s defensive metrics may shine some light on what's behind the regression. The most glaring change has been in Piscotty's sprint speed, defined as an outfielder's feet per second in the fastest one-second window of his pursuit. In 2016, Piscotty was about league average with a sprint speed of 27.5 feet per second. This year, he's at 25.9 feet per second. That represents one of the larger drops by any outfielder in baseball.

It could hint at possible lower body injuries, of which Piscotty has had two -- a sore left knee in early April and right hamstring strain in May. However, Piscotty insists neither has been a lingering issue.

"I feel good," he said on Tuesday. "I feel like I'm running well. I feel like, honestly, I've gotten better, so I'm not sure what to say about [those numbers]. Honestly, I feel even better post-hamstring [injury]. I've felt better with my jumps."

Statcast™ data also reveals that Piscotty hasn't made as many great plays this year as he did in 2016. Last year, Piscotty had five catches on balls with a catch probability of 50 percent or lower. This year, he has none.

Video: MIL@STL: Piscotty cuts down Broxton at home plate

But he also hasn't had as many chances, as is evidenced by the fact that Piscotty's conversion rate on plays with a 75-percent or lower catch probability has dropped only slightly -- from 31.1 percent in 2016 to 28.6 percent in '17.

Piscotty chalked it up to "small sample size." The Cardinals hope that's the case.

"I think we're seeing some positive things. I think we're also seeing more mistakes than we've seen in the past," manager Mike Matheny said. "The answer? I know all of our guys take great pride in how they go about their work defensively. So much was put on our infield last year, and now there are some mistakes that are happening in the outfield that have hurt us."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast.

St. Louis Cardinals, Stephen Piscotty