The first two months of the 2018 season were not kind to Stephen Piscotty, but it’s no secret that he’s come around since then. He was the Oakland A’s best hitter in June and July, and his overall numbers for the year are pretty good now. His 121 wRC+ puts him 21% better than a league-average hitter, and his defensive metrics have stabilized enough that he’s valued over 2 WAR on both scales.
That’s quite a feat, considering how poorly he played through the end of May. As late as May 27 his wRC+ stood at 69 and he had an argument as the worst position player in all of baseball. Then he caught fire, and he hasn’t looked back for more than three months. To give an idea of how amazing he’s been, here are two stat lines.
Player A: .286/.347/.554, 146 wRC+, 18.3% Ks
Player B: .286/.364/.551, 149 wRC+, 22.7% Ks
One of those players is Piscotty since May 28. The other is Nelson Cruz for his entire Mariners career, since 2015. It doesn’t even matter which one is which because they’re so close, but Piscotty is the first one.
Cruz has been the model of consistency with Seattle, so there are no tricky shenanigans intended by using such an expansive sample. He’s averaged 40 homers per year and will likely reach that total again this summer, and he was the last player to do it three seasons in a row until Khris Davis just now. His wRC+ per season has ranged from 141 to 158, so he was never anything short of great during that span. And he made the All-Star team in three of those four years as a DH, which requires a truly elite bat.
Cruz is one of the best hitters in baseball and has been for a while now. You could even argue that he might be superhumanly talented, since we definitely know he took PEDs right before jumping from good to great in his mid-30s. This isn’t one of those situations where you can make an interesting comp based on a guy’s name power, but really the player isn’t what he used to be anymore in his old age. If anything, his time with the Mariners is the best he’s ever been. Here’s Cruz’s current line despite turning 38 in July:
Cruz, 2018: .263/.349/.528, 141 wRC+, 34 HR, 9.3% BB, 19.4% Ks
Still one of the best in the game, standing 14th in wRC+ and sixth in dingers. Still an All-Star as a DH.
The thing that really jumps out at me, though, is the slugging. In the original comp above, Piscotty and Seattle Cruz were identical in batting average, and their BABIPs were close too. Cruz does have the edge in OBP because he’s better at drawing walks, but that’s not what makes him famous. His power is his calling card.
Piscotty, since 5/28: .268 isolated slugging
Cruz, Seattle career: .265 isolated slugging
They’re essentially even, and Cruz’s mark is also the same .265 for this year alone. Cruz does have the edge in homer rate, going deep around once every 15 plate appearances as opposed to Piscotty every 18 PAs or so. But Piscotty is no slouch himself, as his current half-season-long hot streak would extrapolate to around 35 dingers over a full campaign. He’s also got a big edge in doubles, already totaling more in these three months (29) than Cruz has in any full year in Seattle.
AL HOME RUN LEADERS, JUNE 13-PRESENT:— Mike Selleck (@MikeSelleck) September 9, 2018
24 Davis, OAK
22 Bregman, HOU
20 Piscotty, OAK
20 Lindor, CLE
Piscotty isn’t just getting lucky, either. Statcast loves him too, and his .381 wOBA during this hot streak is backed up by a .378 xwOBA in the same span based on the quality of the contact he’s made. The data suggests he really is hitting as well as it looks like he is, as opposed to merely benefiting from some fortunate hops along the way. Cruz does have him beat there, though, at .398 xwOBA over four years and .414 this season, but neither hitter is a mirage.
Another reason to believe in Piscotty’s success is that he’s entering what should be his athletic prime, at age 27 this season. The fact that he’s playing the best ball of his career right now is exactly what we should be expecting, so all of this doesn’t have to be a complete fluke. He’s always had upside, and now we’re seeing it right on schedule, all with the next five seasons under contract at an affordable salary.
However, let’s be clear about the point of this article. I’m not saying Piscotty is as good as Nelson Cruz now. Piscotty has been great for three months, while Cruz has kept it up without fail for four full years, five if you go back to his 2014 with the Orioles.
Rather, the point is to put some context on what Piscotty is doing. He isn’t just playing well. He hasn’t just come around after a slow start. For more than half a season now, Piscotty has produced like Peak Nelson Cruz, but without having to clog up the DH spot. He’s not simply hot. He’s Too Hotty.