Rockies’ Story Takes a Turn for the Worse

This article has been updated since initial publication to reflect developments in the diagnosis of Trevor Story’s right elbow.

Surrendering first place to the Dodgers, as the Rockies did on Monday night in Los Angeles, was bad enough. The departure of Trevor Story in the middle of his fourth-inning plate appearance may prove more damaging to the team’s postseason hopes. Via Twitter, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported on Tuesday afternoon that the All-Star shortstop is “facing potential UCL damage in [his] right elbow,” though the exact diagnosis was unknown at the time. In the wake of an MRI, the Rockies now believe that Story is dealing with inflammation in the elbow but no structural damage to the ligament. Had there been significant UCL damage, the 25-year-old shortstop would likely have been headed for Tommy John surgery, ruling him out of the remainder of the regular season and postseason (if the Rockies make it), and into the first half of next season. The Rockies are optimistic that he will miss “only a few days,” though his absence could potentially be a significant blow to the team’s playoff hopes.

Story reportedly felt a twinge in his elbow after making an outstanding play in the first inning on Monday night. He dove to his left to stop a Justin Turner grounder, then he completed a spin and made a strong throw to first base for the out. His discomfort worsened when he whiffed on a 2-1 Hyun-Jin Ryu changeup in his next plate appearance.

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Story departed from the game in the company of assistant trainer Scott Gehret and was replaced by Pat Valaika, who lined out to left field and played shortstop for three innings before swapping places with starting first baseman Ian Desmond, who made just his second appearance at shortstop since the end of 2015.

“I felt something on the throw when I dove for the ball,” Story told reporters. “My elbow was a little tight, but I just tried to play through it. When I swung through that pitch, it kind of extended my arm and I felt it a little more.”

Ugh.

Story is in the midst of a breakout season, hitting .288/.343/.550 with 33 homers, 26 steals, a 121 wRC+, and 4.5 WAR; all of those numbers are career highs, save for the slugging percentage and wRC+, the latter one point shy of the mark set in his 2016 rookie season. He’s done a tremendous job in trimming his strikeout rate from 34.4% last year to 26.2% this year without sacrificing power. Not only did his performance earn him All-Star honors for the first time, his name has surfaced in NL MVP discussions thanks to his prominence on league leaderboards: second in RBIs (102), doubles (40), and total bases (313), fourth (tied) in homers, fifth in slugging percentage, and 11th in WAR (eighth in the Baseball-Reference version at 4.7).

Losing a player like that is never a good thing, but it’s particularly dire for the Rockies, who have just two other full-timers with a wRC+ of at least 100, namely fellow MVP candidate Nolan Arenado (131) and Charlie Blackmon (112), though you can count the left field platoon of David Dahl (101) and the recently resurfaced Matt Holliday (167 in 52 PA) if you’re feeling generous.

What’s more, the step down to Valaika, Story’s presumed replacement — if playing 18 of the 32.1 non-Story innings at the position can create a presumption — is massive. The 26-year-old utility man has hit a dreadful .150/.209/.233 in 131 PA this year. That’s “good” for a 4 wRC+, the lowest of any NL player with at least 100 PA, and -1.2 WAR. By our Depth Charts projections for the remainder of the season, the difference between Story and Valaika or 23-year-old rookie call-up Garrett Hampson — their number-eight prospect entering the season and more often a second baseman (61 games between Double-A and Triple-A) than shortstop (41 games) — is 0.3 WAR. Prorating the year-to-date stats of Valaika and Story over another 50 PA, for a rest-of-season absence yields something closer to an 0.8 WAR gap. Split the difference and you’re talking half a win, still not what a team in a dogfight for a playoff spot would want. Top prospect Brendan Rodgers, a 22-year-old shortstop who split the season between Double-A and Triple-A, is not yet on the 40-man roster, so calling him up appears unlikely.

And the Rockies, who have split their past 10 games, are in a dogfight. At 82-68, they entered Tuesday half a game behind the Dodgers (83-68) in the NL West, and half a game behind the Cardinals (83-68) for the second NL wild card spot. At this writing, prior to the playing time adjustment for Story, their odds of winning the division stand at 19.9%, with a 24.8% chance at a wild card spot, and a 44.7% chance of making the playoffs overall. Their odds don’t look great because among all NL contenders, their opponents’ .537 projected winning percentages the highest. They have two more games against the Dodgers, who on Monday night clinched the season series with their 10th win in 17 games, then they play three games in Arizona before closing out the final week at home against the Phillies and Nationals.

As for Story’s prognosis, if he’s dodging Tommy John surgery, that’s obviously a good thing. As I noted in connection with the Dodgers’ Corey Seager, who underwent the surgery on May 4, based upon the history of MLB infielders undergoing surgery on their throwing arms — as collected in Jon Roegele’s Tommy John Surgery Database — the average return time for an infielder undergoing the procedure is just under 10 months. For Story, that would mean a return some time around next year’s All-Star break if the shortstop needed to go under the knife.

With all apologies to the Colorado Rockies, that isn’t the kind of ending that anyone wants. Fortunately, it appears that there’s more to the Story.





Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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Dominikk85
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Dominikk85

That sucks. Couldn’t he play first base the rest of the season and maybe the first half of 2019 assuming he gets surgery in late October?

Sleepy
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Sleepy

Didn’t Pujols do exactly what you’re describing a decade-ish ago?

Ryan13636
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Ryan13636

I’d bet that he is significantly better at first than the former SS the Rockies are already playing there. Desmond is a nightmare defensively.

kbn
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kbn

Offensively, too.