On Sunday in St. Louis, the Phillies lost a baseball game to the Cardinals, 4-3. It was a pretty good game as the Phillies built a lead, then lost it on an exciting play at the plate that was mere inches from going the Phillies’ way. The bullpen threw some good innings, but just couldn’t hold the lead for the entire game.
Lost in the box score to all but the most astute observer of the team was the fact that Bryson Stott had two hits in four at bats. It’s not the sexiest thing to observe, especially when his teammate Kyle Schwarber continued his assault on major league pitching, but it was notable regardless.
In case you haven’t noticed, Stott has been better since he returned from the minor league stint that he, quite frankly, deserved earlier in the season. Better is, of course, in the eye of the beholder, but prior to his being demoted for a time, he was hitting .133/.161/.167 and, if it was possible, looked worse than that both in the field and at the plate. While we were critical of Joe Girardi not giving young players a shot to play on this team, Stott was given his shot early and often and just did nothing with it. The fears that some had about him were exposed and he was unable to adjust to them. Since that return, he has been much improved in the aspects of the game he needed to be better at. There is still work to do (a .522 OPS still isn’t good), but the fact that we see improvement should bode well for his future.
Before the season
Scouting Stott before the season, we saw a lot of the same things show up from people who had watched him work his way through the majors. Many of them talked about how advanced his bat was, keeping it pretty general that he would hit, maybe not for power at first, but he would at least not be a void at the plate. Probably the most trusted of those sources would be Matt Winkelman, who was pretty specific when he had this to say in his preseason rankings of the team’s prospects:
At the plate, Stott has cleaned up his swing, but it is not particularly fast or loose. He has a good feel for contact, driven by a great feel for the strike zone and approach at the plate. He is very comfortable working long counts and hitting with two strikes. Sometimes the contact forward approach can hinder his ability to tap into his raw power, which is now more all fields than the pull power he showed in college. Due to his slower bat speed, he is vulnerable to high velocity fastballs, especially up in the strike zone. He does recognize offspeed pitches well, and is going to have to survive some of the swing related holes by not chasing. However, he is likely to be a player that is going to get beat by good pitchers executing their pitches, which puts some ceiling on his upside.
If someone who follows prospects was able to see weak spots in Stott’s games like Matt can, it’s likely major league teams would not only see it, but also know how to exploit it. We can see, though, teams didn’t really look to beat Stott up and in. Instead, they just threw the ball right down the middle of the plate.
This wouldn’t be so bad if Stott had done something with these pitches. When a pitcher throws a ball into those spots in the strike zone, one would assume that the batter, being of major league quality, would promptly deposit the pitch into the far reaching points of the ballpark. What transpired was that not only was he not able to do any damage with the pitches in the middle of the plate, he was swinging and missing far too much with those pitches.
For a player who was known as being able to handle the bat pretty well, this became an issue for the team, a glaring weakness for a team that was struggling to score runs consistently. They had no choice but to make the move to get away from him for a bit and use better (at the time) options.
Returning to the majors
Of course, a major league season is long and players go back and forth to the minors all the time. When Didi Gregorius and Johan Camargo got hurt, Stott was summoned back to the team and played with regularity. It would be easy to simply say “Stott has improved a bunch since coming back!” but that isn’t really the whole truth. We’d be remiss to not show his line (.190/.271/.288) that he has posted since returning to the majors, but as always, that doesn’t tell the whole story with how much Stott has improved. The ways he has gotten better have been much more subtle.
The first thing that the team was likely trying to do was have him make more contact with pitches in the zone. If he is going to achieve any success in the majors, he’s going to have to start by making sure that pitches that are in the middle of the plate are not missed when he swings. Note the above graphic where it shows Stott was swinging and missing a whole lot at pitches within the strike zone during the month of April. Granted, there has to be some leeway given to batters during that month as they were coming off of an abbreviated spring training, but we are also aware that Stott was able to work with major league coaches during the lockout due to his status not on the 40-man roster. It was one of the reasons given for his tremendous spring; he was getting the reps in that other major league players were missing out on. Yet when the bell rung, he struggled. After his promotion back to the major leagues in May, he has since demonstrated real improvement in the area of not swinging and missing at pitches in the zone.
You can see that the areas within the strike zone seem a lot more blue than before, a mark that shows he has gotten better. What might alarm someone is that the areas around the strike zone look worse. There are more swings and misses at those pitches than what he was doing in April. Go back and look at the evidence though. The April chart above is a smaller sample size and the attack pattern by pitchers was much different. Pitchers weren’t throwing many pitches outside of the zone because they didn’t need to. He wasn’t doing anything with them anyway. Now that he is not swinging and missing as much, they have been more liberal with where they are pitching him. Those pitches that are on the fringe of the strike zone, yes, he is swinging and missing more.
But there is also some good news to be had with that regard as well!
This is a chart that gives a snapshot of Stott’s plate discipline during the season. There is something there that shows improvement as well. See it?
This brings up the other areas that Stott has improved, his overall plate discipline. As Stott’s season has worn on, we can pretty definitively conclude two things:
- He’s making more contact with pitches in the zone
- He’s not chasing as much out of the zone anymore
While his chasing and swinging at pitches out of the zone earlier in the season wasn’t egregious, it’s still not something teams want to see from their younger players. If big league pitchers see that you as a young player are going to chase anything near the strike zone, that weakness is going to be exploited. His ability this year to show that kind of improvement demonstrates that he is learning as he gains more experience in the big leagues.
All of this is well and good. He’s showing an improved approach at the plate as far as what to swing at and what not to. He’s not missing pitches that are thrown over the middle of the plate with as much “regularity” as he was before. These are good things, but it’s still hard to shake one simple fact that is staring us right in the face.
.180/.254/.268. 49 OPS+. No amount of statistical cherry picking can get away from the fact that he’s still a well below average hitter. There are still a few concerning things that need to be improved on.
What can be better?
The answer is pretty simple: Bryson Stott has to impact the ball more when he does hit it.
Among all players in the game, Stott is in the:
- 19th percentile for average exit velocity
- 13th percentile for hard hit percentage
- 7th percentile for barrel rate
Right now, Stott averages 2.0 barrels per plate appearance. He’s tied with names like Yonathan Daza, Luis Guillorme and Yuli Gurriel. His average exit velocity of 87.4 miles per hour is tied with names like Maikel Franco, Juan Yepez and Alek Thomas. The names that he is mingled in with with his batted ball data are not exactly titans of offense. At this point, it’s almost exactly what was predicted in the above scouting report. His tendency to simply be happy making contact with the ball is hindering him from making an impact when he does so, which in turn is not making him a threat at the plate. This type of approach may have worked in a different point of the game’s history, but with so much focus put on power at the plate, Stott’s game just isn’t working.
There’s still time though. The fact that he is making adjustments this year shows that there is something there to work with. It could be the fact that hitting coach Kevin Long is working with making sure he is able to make contact with the baseball more consistently before they make more changes to help him tap into his power. It’s similar to what we’ve seen to with Alec Bohm. It could be something else entirely.
We haven’t even talked about Stott’s defense here, a different topic altogether. Instead, we’re finding that maybe - just maybe - Stott is getting a bit better. Those improvements might be incremental at best, stops and starts that are pretty subtle to us. The evidence is there though. His improving plate discipline is an area we can point at and say “maybe the team can develop minor league hitters.” There is still a lot of work to be done. That overall stat line is still not anything remotely close to good. At this point in the season, we just have to continue to think Stott is putting the work in and the payoff is coming. Maybe it happens later on this year, maybe it happens further into the future. At least there are places here to build on.