With the Oakland A’s rebuilding their roster, the focus often turns to prospects and youngsters auditioning to establish themselves as future major leaguers. However, there’s also an opportunity for veterans to bounce back to their past glory after hitting bumps in the road.
It’s been a tough few years for Stephen Piscotty. When the right fielder arrived here in 2018 he had a wonderful season, blasting 27 homers as part of a strong batting line and registering 3 WAR on both scales. That’s an above-average everyday player.
- Piscotty, 2018: .267/.331/.491, 126 wRC+, 27 HR, 6.9% BB, 18.8% Ks
But then the injuries set in. Over the next three summers, a series of maladies set him back over and over, robbing him of playing time and dragging down his numbers. By last winter, his $7.5 million salary looked like an albatross on the club’s tiny payroll, and dumping that contract would have required giving up a prospect.
In 2019 he got off to a decent enough start for two months, not quite up to his previous success but still productive. He slumped in June, then at the end of that month he sprained his knee sliding into second base. That injury cost him July, and when he returned in August he crushed the ball for a few weeks, but a high ankle sprain knocked him out again and he played just one game in September.
In 2020 he came back healthy, and a few weeks into the abbreviated season he more or less looked like his old self again. But early in September he missed some games to a sore wrist that required a cortisone shot, then he returned for a few games but sprained his knee.
In 2021 the left wrist continued to bother him all year and he never found a groove at the plate. He battled the wrist from spring training onward, until it landed him on the injured list in mid-June. He returned a couple weeks later but went on the IL again in August, and later that month he had season-ending surgery.
It’s easy to imagine how things might have gone better with any improvement in health. In 2019 he played four months and was good in three of them (101, 113, 136 wRC+), save for the kind of June swoon (37 wRC+) that you might not normally remember if the hitter bounced back in July. But he only got three more weeks of at-bats after that, and despite indeed bouncing back, it wasn’t enough time to salvage his overall season numbers (93 wRC+).
In 2020 he was hitting fine until he got hurt, at which point his stats went in the tank, all in a tiny sample size. He finished that year going 4-for-38 while battling his wrist and knee injuries, dropping his wRC+ mark from 105 down to 74. And in 2021 he appeared to be hurt for much or all of the year, helping explain his 78 wRC+ and sub-replacement level value.
Of course, no player would ever admit to injury as a full excuse, especially not for three years running. So allow me to do it for him. Piscotty has never stopped being a good hitter when healthy, it’s just that he’s only been healthy for around five of the past 14 months of A’s games. During those five months he was pretty much the quality hitter we remember from 2018, not an All-Star but somebody you’re happy to see in the lineup every day, and with a knack for clutch dingers.
Can he bounce back again? Piscotty appears healthy, having addressed the wrist problem. The knee hasn’t flared up for a couple years. He’s still only 31, so he’s not far from his prime. At the very least, he’s got the chance to prove himself, in a lineup currently grasping for anybody it can find after a bunch of rebuilding trades and an early outbreak of COVID absences.
So far, so good. Piscotty is off to an encouraging start, and even in just seven games there are signs to watch. His strikeouts had begun to rise up to 25-30% the last couple years, but he’s keeping them under control at 20% for the time being. He dipped to a career-low exit velocity last year but he’s up to a career-high right now, even if that will presumably regress back down a bit toward his norm. He’s already hit a homer and stolen a base.
- Piscotty: 6-for-21 (.286), 1 HR, 1 double, 3 BB, 5 Ks, 1 SB, .398 xwOBA
Better yet, his homer came off a fastball. At his peak in 2018 he destroyed four-seamers, but those heaters caught up with him more and more in the following seasons, until it was his worst pitch last year. He’s only seen a few four-seamers yet this month, but he turned one around on Sunday for a 419-foot no-doubter, which served as the only runs in a 2-0 victory.
Piscotty crushes his first homer of the season pic.twitter.com/9OyHhNj8pU— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) April 24, 2022
On defense, he wasted no time making a highlight in the opening series this year, robbing Bryce Harper of a hit. It was his signature move, not sprinting 100 feet or jumping out of his shoes, but showing hustle and instinct by reacting quickly and hitting the deck for a diving grab.
Stephen Piscotty robs Bryce Harper of a base hit pic.twitter.com/WiTvirSYH6— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) April 10, 2022
Naturally, there had to be at least one little setback. Piscotty was one of the A’s players who did a stint on the COVID list this year, missing a week before coming back on Saturday. But he hit a double that day, and swatted his homer the next afternoon, getting himself right back on track with something to build on heading into the Bay Bridge Series tonight.
It’s been a tough few years indeed for Piscotty, but don’t give up on him now. His obstacles might finally be behind him, and he’s in the perfect situation to remind us of how good he can be, on a rebuilding club that has plenty of room for him but is also playing fun competitive ball with no expectations attached. While the A’s breed their share of new rookies in that ideal environment, let’s see if they can brew up another veteran bounce-back too.