The Outlandishness of Trevor Story

I can’t tell you whether Trevor Story is going to be a good major-league ballplayer. I can tell you with a high degree of certainty he’s going to be some kind of major-league ballplayer, but as for how he fares, well, that’s more unknown. He has the skills to make All-Star Games, but the same could be said of plenty of non-All-Stars, and this’ll be a big year for Story’s career. He might build upon last year’s gains, and become a part of a core. Alternatively, he wouldn’t be the first young player to stagnate or regress.

Story has become a something on account of his spring, and on account of what’s going on with Jose Reyes. Reyes might never play for the Rockies again, so there’s a vacancy at short, and Story might seize it. Some want for Story to be named the opening-day starter, and there are the usual arguments in favor of waiting at least a couple weeks. No matter — by May or June, it seems like Story is going to be the guy. I can’t tell you if he’s going to be productive. I can tell you only how he’s interesting.

It feels obligatory to note that Story is 23, and some years ago he was drafted 45th overall. So, he’s a shortstop with a prospect pedigree, but he did dip after a strong start. Last year allowed him to recapture some lost attention. Now, this is his 2015 spray chart, courtesy of MLB Farm. This shows where the right-handed Story hit the ball in Double-A and Triple-A.

story-spray

A lot of pull power. Great! You see some doubles and triples elsewhere. But it should be noted that Story’s home-run power isn’t to left and left-center, exclusively. Here’s where he put a recent spring-training home run:

story-right

Here’s where he put another recent spring-training home run:

story-center

Story might prefer to hit the ball out to left, but he’s not opposed to hitting it out to right, or up the middle. He has functional game power. That’s a pretty good offensive starting point, for a player who can reportedly handle the shortstop position. Now let’s talk about contact. Story has had some issues with contact.

But they just got better! They didn’t get all the way better, but Story made a substantial improvement. Two years ago, in his first exposure to the high minors, Story struck out more than a third of the time. Last year, he struck out about a quarter of the time, even while spending half the year in Triple-A. Between 2014 and 2015, 430 players batted at least 200 times in the high minors in each season. Story showed the sixth-greatest improvement in strikeout rate. That’s the kind of step forward you love to see from a promising middle infielder. Or, anyone, I guess.

This is a table of some of Story’s vitals. You see the strikeouts, and you see the wRC+. There’s important information in both of those columns, but what might make Story the weirdest is that ground-ball column.

Trevor Story, Career
Year Level GB% K% wRC+
2011 Rk 45% 20% 104
2012 A 35% 22% 138
2013 A+ 29% 33% 83
2014 A-, A+, AA 32% 31% 130
2015 AA, AAA 25% 25% 136

I wouldn’t think too much about what Story did in rookie ball. I know there are statistics for everything, but I don’t know why they even bother recording down there. Story really got going as a professional in 2012, and that’s when he started hitting most of everything in the air. He hasn’t stopped. If anything, he’s grown more extreme. Trevor Story is a fly-ball hitter, to a degree uncommon for anyone and particularly uncommon for a shortstop.

There are some browsable leaderboards at StatCorner. Last year, out of everyone who batted at least 100 times in Story’s Double-A league, he finished with the single lowest ground-ball rate, and by several points. And then, out of everyone who batted at least 100 times in Story’s Triple-A league, he finished with the sixth-lowest ground-ball rate. That’s sixth out of 261, and first out of 208. The numbers are undeniable, and they agree with Dan Farnsworth’s evaluation that Story pretty clearly has a fly-ball swing path.

What does it mean to post a 25% ground-ball rate? The lowest rate last year in the majors was 27%, from Lucas Duda. And then 28%, from Colby Rasmus. Matt Carpenter and Chris Carter came in at 30%. Story, again, is extreme. Since 2002, the lowest ground-ball rate by a shortstop is Jed Lowrie’s 32%. Story might go as far as his fly balls do. If he taps into enough power, he could be a borderline star. If too many of those flies die on the track, Story’ll be dragged down by whiffs and a suffering BABIP.

It wouldn’t be hard to draw a connection between Story’s strikeouts and his swing path. That is, as long as he’s elevating the ball, he’s probably going to swing and miss. The good news is he plays in the right organization. I mean, being a hitter in the Rockies system would work out for anyone, but Coors Field does a couple things. It rather dramatically cuts down on strikeouts, and it dramatically rewards air balls in play. Story should be able to take full advantage of his future home environment, and while that wouldn’t make him a better player in other ballparks, this is a place that could make him look his best. He’ll hit his home runs, and he’ll be fooled by fewer quality breaking balls.

Story is a strange sort of player. His career path already makes him a little unusual, but he’s an extreme fly-ball hitter without the 70- or 80-grade power. He’s one of the more extreme fly-ball hitters in the game today, and maybe the Rockies will want to work on that, and maybe they won’t. I see some shades of Khalil Greene in here, only with better ability to the opposite field. Which seems like a heck of a selling point. The more I think about Story, the more I like him, and while he has his issues and while he has a weird profile, shortstops need to accomplish only so much. My sense is Trevor Story can clear that bar.

We hoped you liked reading The Outlandishness of Trevor Story by Jeff Sullivan!

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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jdbolick
Member

Story has George Springer’s extraordinarily low contact rate, but with a poor man’s version of his power and speed while completely lacking his awareness of the strike zone (Story’s walk rate is a function of early count passivity rather than discernment). If not for Coors it would be easy to write him off, yet it’s possible that his unusual profile could play there.

Chris Mitchell
Member

Lots of red flags to be sure, but as a SS, he doesn’t necessarily need to hit well to be an everyday player. He just needs to kinda sorta make it work. Look at Ian Desmond: Even in his bad years, he was at least serviceable.

jdbolick
Member

The last two years of Desmond are the only ones where his contact rate looks anything like Story’s (with his being in the majors as opposed to the minors), and that along with the draft pick compensation made it very difficult for him to find a job. Now keep in mind that Desmond also has more power and is perceived to be better defensively. I get what you’re saying about Story not needing to be a wRC+ monster if he can stick at short, but there’s a significant chance that he’s going to be pretty bad offensively and there’s a significance chance that his defense at shortstop won’t be acceptable either. He is killing it right now in Spring Training and that definitely caught my attention, but ultimately you’re correct that the profile has a lot of red flags.

Seamaholic
Member
Seamaholic

This is wrong all sorts of ways. First of all, Story has a considerably higher contact rate than Springer. He also has pretty similar power, and is one of the fastest players in the Rockies’ system (which is actually saying something). One almost gets the sense you don’t know what you’re talking about …

jdbolick
Member

Story doesn’t have anything close to Springer’s power or speed. Since you obviously don’t respect my opinion, take Kiley McDaniel’s word for it:

9. Trevor Story, SS Video: Story is the best of the four fringy middle infielders in this group as he’s an athlete with the ability to stick at shortstop that looked like an everyday guy at one point, but tinkering with his swing has contributed to the bat stalling out a bit at the upper levels. One scout questioned his ability to recognize spin and the consensus is there isn’t enough here offensively for more than a utility guy.

Or Dan Farnsworth’s:

Hit: 40/50/55+ Power: 45/50/55 Run: 55/50/55 Field: 50/50/55 Throw: 50/50/50
Overall: 40/50/60

People often mistake Story’s home run totals for power, but they’re more a function of the insanely high percentage of fly balls he hits. His HR/FB% is above average for a middle infielder but hardly exceptional. Meanwhile his contact rate was in Springer territory prior to 2015, but it’s fair to point out that last season’s was better. We’ll see if he can maintain the improvement.

cs3
Member
cs3

Jdbolick –
Didn’t Kylie write that long before Story’s monster breakout at AA/AAA last season?
He improved in a lot of areas last year and seemed to make real improvements.
That report seems a bit dated now.

jdbolick
Member

That’s why I included Mr. Farnsworth’s tools approximations as well. Story had a productive season last year but no reputable source that I know of rates his power anywhere close to Springer’s.

cs3
Member
cs3

Who is comparing his power to Springer? Certainly not me. Thats absurd. All im saying is that the scouting report is out of date.

jdbolick
Member

Seamaholic criticized my post and claimed that I didn’t know what I was talking about, insisting that Story “has pretty similar power” to Springer. I’m glad you agree that he does not. Furthermore, while I do acknowledge that Story’s performance improved last season (as it should for a 23 year old repeating in AA), Kiley’s scouting report is still very relevant.

Psy Jung
Member
Psy Jung

“Story’s walk rate is a function of early count passivity rather than discernment”

While this may be true, such strong claims demand some sort of evidence.

jdbolick
Member

If you watch him play you’ll notice it. If you don’t have the opportunity to see him play, you can still see signs of it in low first pitch swing rates as well as a lesser differentiation between Z-Swing% and O-Swing%. The reason I brought up George Springer is that he compensates for his terrible contact rate by swinging very often at pitches in the zone while very rarely swinging at pitches outside the zone. That strike zone awareness helps to make that unusual profile work. Story has not demonstrated that type of strike zone awareness thus far, being particularly susceptible to breaking pitches out of the zone.