The Stephen Piscotty experiment has begun, maybe a bit earlier than some expected.
Bernie Miklasz summed up the Cardinals’ first base situation perfectly last week, although in doing so he had to paint a jarring picture.
In a piece highlighting why Piscotty should be an option at first base, Bernie noted that the Cardinals ranked 28th at the first base position in on-base percentage (.285), slugging percentage (.370) and OPS (.654).
Then, Bernie went a step further by noting the OPS output was the equivalent of having Brendan Ryan, Daniel Descalso, or Mike Matheny serving as the team’s every-day first baseman, while the slugging percentage was as if Aaron Miles, David Eckstein or Miguel Cairo was manning the position.
The takeaway from that ugly glimpse into reality?
There’s no reason not to give Piscotty an opportunity to patch the Cardinals’ biggest hole.
Over his last 42 games in Memphis, Piscotty had a slash line of .314/.401/.497 and has hit 11 home runs this season. If he comes up and hits, the inconsistent Cardinal offense receives a much-needed boost. If he doesn’t, then the Cards would be replacing poor production with poor production.
What’s the downside?
Matt Adams wasn’t hitting before a torn quad ended his season and Mark Reynolds hasn’t been much better as his replacement.
The batting average for MLB first basemen this year is .255. The Cards’ first basemen are hitting a collective .236 according to Fangraphs. The MLB average for OBP for first basemen is .329. The Cards’ first basemen are getting on base at a collective .290 average. The MLB average for wRC+ at first base is 111. The Cards’ wRC+ is 83.
There’s more, but you get the point.
The Cards aren’t receiving even average production from their first base position.
Reynolds has provided occasional pop, but the Cardinals didn’t sign him to be the everyday first baseman. It’s not fair to look at him and ask, “Why aren’t you doing more?” He is what he is.
Similarly, it’s not fair to ask Piscotty to come up and be the missing piece. As alluring as it is to envision him raking and the offense catching fire, the pressure needs to be on Matt Holliday, Matt Carpenter, Jason Heyward, Jhonny Peralta and the other established hitters to be more consistent.
Keep in mind that, before the season, the general consensus was that Piscotty would max out as a fourth outfielder in St. Louis. It was only after he reaped the rewards of a modified swing and the situation at first base turned bleak for the Cardinals that fans started seeing Piscotty as some kind of savior.
That said, there’s no reason not to kick start the Piscotty experiment now.
Assuming he can at least hold his own defensively and provide average production offensively, Piscotty affords John Mozeliak the opportunity to be patient at the trade deadline. Bringing up Piscotty doesn’t cost the Cardinals anything but a spot on the 40-man roster.
That’s certainly more enticing than being forced to give up prospects to acquire a veteran that may or may not hit anyway.
The worst case scenario is that Piscotty is a disaster and the Cards have to turn back to Reynolds. That’s not ideal, but whether it was Reynolds, Piscotty, or Adam Lind at first base, this team is going to live and die by pitching anyway.
The best case scenario is that Piscotty provides a spark and the Cardinal lineup starts to stretch its legs. Pitching and defense will still be key, but at the very least the offense could take a little pressure off a pitching staff that currently has little margin for error.
The most likely scenario is that Piscotty holds his own and provides the Cardinals with a little boost, but the focus remains on the pitching staff.
Any way you slice it, there’s no downside in Piscotty joining the big league club now.
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