Perception can be a dangerous thing.
For example, the popular perception is probably that the St. Louis Cardinals were losers on this winter's Hot Stove market, if only because they fell short in their quest to retain free-agent right fielder and defensive dynamo Jason Heyward.
But if you examine the Cardinals' projected starting outfield in Heyward's stead, you might understand why they're not necessarily in significantly worse shape and why they were also willing to part with Jon Jay via trade and Peter Bourjos via waivers. The answer resides in their pair of young outfielders, Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty, who enjoyed breakouts in 2015.
Grichuk is ticketed to start in center field and Piscotty in right field -- the team has only Brandon Moss and Thomas Pham in camp as even remote competition for either -- in probable full-time roles that, coupled with their abilities, could make either an outstanding fantasy value.
That said, if you examine both players' skill sets, their median fantasy projections aren't that different. Yet, as a staff, we have Grichuk (114th overall) and Piscotty (251st) ranked a whopping 137 spots apart. Grichuk might be somewhat overpriced, but Piscotty is an absolute steal that late.
In fact, I'll take this one step further: Given a choice between the outfielders straight up, I'd take Piscotty.
That's not to say there aren't scenarios in which Grichuk would make a wiser pick. With a 6 percent greater fly ball rate than Piscotty in the majors last season and more than 10 percent greater during their minor league careers, Grichuk is more likely to finish with the higher home run total. His ceiling might be in the range of 30 homers, whereas Piscotty's best case might not be much more than 20, and that drives Grichuk's overall ceiling slightly higher.
Piscotty's range of potential outcomes, though, is narrower than Grichuk's, which makes him a safer pick. That's mainly because of Piscotty's better grasp of the strike zone, contact-hitting nature and the adjustments he made in those areas while adding more power to his game in 2015.
During his minor league career, Piscotty boasted an 86.7 percent contact rate, 8.8 percent walk rate, 19 percent chase rate and 17 percent miss rate on all swings (the latter two per minorleaguecentral.com). And while his numbers did regress in the majors during the second half of last season -- 76.0 percent contact, 7.8 percent walk, 28.1 percent chase and 23.6 percent miss -- they coincided with a winter 2014-15 adjustment to his swing that produced .197 isolated power and a 35 percent fly ball rate between Triple-A and the majors last season, both of which were noticeable improvements over his 2012-14 rates in the minors. All four of Piscotty's rates at the major league level last season easily bested Grichuk's, and they were competitive with a typical rookie's numbers, easily better than the major league average for the rookie class.
Piscotty has the edge over Grichuk in both batting average and on-base percentage, important ingredients on a Cardinals team that will be looking for a No. 2 hitter, a role more suitable to Piscotty's skill set. If Piscotty bats second and Grichuk fifth, that would mean anywhere from 45 to 60 additional plate appearances for Piscotty, using major league averages for plate appearances by position last season, and it could be enough to swing the counting-numbers (runs plus RBIs) advantage in Piscotty's favor, no matter how many more home runs Grichuk hits.
Of the two, Piscotty has better odds of finishing with the greater batting average, on-base percentage and runs scored, with winning margins that are larger than Grichuk's in the home runs and RBIs categories. In fact, if you grant Grichuk a win in home runs, I'd not only grant Piscotty a win in batting average, I'd project that it'll be by a more sizable margin than Grichuk's in homers.
Grichuk's 31 percent strikeout rate and 6 percent walk rate last season hint at a free-swinging, batting-average risk. In the past 10 seasons, the 114 hitters to strike out at least 20 percent more than they walked while coming to the plate at least 300 times batted a collective .221.
But that's not all: Another reason Piscotty is a more compelling pick is the adjustments he makes to improve. That he was able to alter his swing in the pursuit of more power and then manage a .305/.359/.494 triple-slash rate during his first taste of the majors speaks well of his growth potential. Strangely enough, Grichuk played a part in Piscotty's change in approach, with Piscotty modeling his new swing partly off Grichuk's, but he did it without having to completely overhaul his game to be a more free-swinging, undisciplined type.
Could that mean Piscotty might even have a fighting chance at matching Grichuk's homer output but with a higher batting average? It's possible, though unlikely.
Still, if Grichuk is a .250-hitting, 25-30-homer type in what is eventually termed a "successful" 2016, Piscotty's equivalent scenario is .280 and 20-25.
I'll take the latter, even straight up, but the best part is you might not have to.