The Story of Trevor Story by Chris Mitchell May 11, 2015 Troy Tulowitzki has been an integral piece of the Rockies lineup for years now. He’s racked up an impressive 34 WAR in his 10 seasons in Colorado, but it’s not clear if he’ll be a part of the team’s future plans. And if he is, it’s not clear that he should be. The Rockies don’t have the looks of a playoff team this year. This is partly because they’re 11-17 and bringing up the rear in the National League West. However, even before the season began, the Rockies looked more like existers than contenders. Given the collection of players on their roster, they appear to be something worse than a .500 team on paper. Teams like this don’t have much use for an aging star shortstop. As a result, it very well might be in Colorado’s best interest to hit the reset button and trade Tulowitzki in exchange for players who stand a better chance of helping the next playoff-bound Rockies team. After nearly a decade of Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop, it might be time for the Rockies to move on. That brings us to Trevor Story. If Colorado does ultimately deal Tulo, and his replacement comes from within, Story will likely be the man getting the nod. Not all that long ago, Story looked like a big league shortstop in the making. The Rockies selected him 45th overall out of high school in 2011, and he quickly became a consensus top 100 prospect after a .277/.367/.505 performance as a teenager in the South Atlantic League. At that point, it seemed like he was only a couple of years away from knocking at the door of the big leagues. But Story fell on hard times in his second full year as a professional. He advanced to High-A in 2013, where he hit a weak .233/.305/.394. Statistically speaking, Story was a worse all-around hitter any way you want to slice it. Both his power and walk numbers regressed back towards league average and his strikeout rate spiked to an alarming 33%. Story’s strikeout woes carried over into 2014 as well. He struck out 31% of the time between High-A and Double-A last year, including a 35% clip following his June promotion. He went on to play in the Arizona Fall League at season’s end, where he struck out at a 27% clip — eighth highest among the 46 players who recorded at least 80 plate appearances. Heading into the year, it looked as though Story would never make enough contact to be anything more than a bench bat. But things have been different so far in 2015. Through 29 games, Story’s hitting .365/.469/.644. The biggest driver of his breakout performance has been his improved strikeout rate. Story’s struck out a manageable 23% of the time this year. He hasn’t struck out this infrequently since 2012, when he had his breakout season as a teenager in Low-A. A lower strikeout rate isn’t all that’s going on, however. Not only is Story putting more balls in play, but he’s also doing some real damage with those balls in play. Both his ISO and BABIP are among the best in Double-A among qualified hitters in 2015. Clearly, he’s hitting the ball with a good amount of authority. We’re still just a month into the minor league season, so small-sample caveats obviously apply. But a performance like this is simply too good to ignore. Story’s putting up mighty fine numbers for a guy who was supposed to peak as a light-hitting utility infielder. Due to 2014’s unsightly strikeout numbers, KATOH wasn’t super high on Story heading into the year. Based on last year’s showing between High-A and Double-A, my system pegged him for 3.5 WAR through age-28. That mark put him 134th among prospects who logged at least 200 plate appearances or batters faced last year. This analysis paints a rather dismal picture for Story’s future, but it also excludes everything that’s taken place in 2015. Story’s 29 games of AA ball are the most recent data we have on the 22-year-old, making it very relevant data. And while 29 games is a relatively small sample, it’s not unreasonable to think it might reflect a sizable change in a his true talent. Let’s see what happens when we throw that 2015 data into the mix. When weighted based on plate appearances, and combined with his 2014 body of work, Story’s 2015 performance bumps his KATOH forecast up to a much-better 6 WAR. Even if it’s barely a month’s worth of games, Story’s performance to date should make us take notice. Now, let’s gather some statistical comps. For ease of calculation, and to capture the most recent data, I decided to zero in on Story’s performance since his June 2014 promotion to Double-A. Story’s hit .256/.359/.466 in 346 plate appearances over this time, while also kicking in nine steals. Using Story’s league-adjusted stats and his age, I calculated the Mahalanobis distance between Story’s Double-A performance, and every Double-A season since 1990 in which a player recorded at least 400 plate appearances. Below, you’ll find the historical players who were nearest and dearest to Story’s 2014 campaign by this methodology, ranked from most to least similar. Player PA thru 28 wRC+ WAR thru 28 WAR/600 Eugenio Suarez* 277 85 0.8 1.7 Alex Hernandez 71 3 0.0 0.0 Tony Thomas* NA NA NA NA Gerald Laird 1,349 75 4.2 1.9 Bronson Sardinha 12 107 0.0 0.0 Rickie Weeks 3,338 112 16.2 2.9 Mike Robertson 61 27 0.0 0.0 Tony Manahan NA NA NA NA Jorge Sequea NA NA NA NA Corey Smith NA NA NA NA Brandon Moss 1,045 101 2.7 1.6 Felipe Crespo 523 84 0.1 0.1 Ian Stewart 1,620 84 2.5 0.9 Kenny Kelly 15 86 0.0 0.0 Brandon Gemoll NA NA NA NA Mike Rennhack NA NA NA NA Tim Beckham* 84 84 0.2 1.4 Sean Rodriguez 1,594 86 6.2 2.3 Andy Burress NA NA NA NA Jesus Guzman 612 118 3.0 2.9 Since the offensive requirements for big league shortstops are vastly different than those for other positions, I included a second table that only considers players who made the majority of their starts at shortstop. Player PA thru 28 wRC+ WAR thru 28 WAR/600 Eugenio Suarez* 277 85 0.8 1.7 Tony Manahan NA NA NA NA Corey Smith NA NA NA NA Tim Beckham* 84 84 0.2 1.4 Sean Rodriguez 1,594 86 6.2 2.3 Brian Specht NA NA NA NA Trevor Plouffe 1,933 99 3.2 1.0 Juan Diaz* 17 84 0.0 0.0 Jake Lemmerman* NA NA NA NA Pete Kozma* 604 65 1.6 1.6 *Batters who have yet to play their age-28 seasons Obviously, Story’s not going to continue OPSing north of 1.000, even in Double-A. His near-.500 BABIP screams “unsustainable” louder than a jackhammer at a rock concert. But even if you look past his luck on balls in play, his improved strikeout rate and impressive power numbers suggest his hot start might be the sign of something real. In all likelihood, Story will never be a great big league hitter, or even a good one. Although he looks the part based on this year’s slash line, both his past performance give reason for pause. The scouting reports do as well — Kiley McDaniel gave both his hit and power tools a ranking of 40 heading into the year. But the great thing about shortstops is that they don’t need to hit all that much to be everyday players. Even if he hits like Sean Rodriguez or an Ian Stewart, he could still wind up being a useful player if he manages to stick at shortstop; and most reckon he has the defensive chops to do so. In the world of shortstops, fringy hitters have value. After a two year hiatus, Story’s looking like a prospect again. Yes, it’s a small sample, but all breakouts start with small samples. And even if his loud first month proves to be 80% flash in the pan, that other 20% could really make a difference in the grand scheme of things. When paired with his solid defense, it just might be enough to push him into the distinguished group of shortstops who can also hit. Story will be one to keep an eye on these next few months. His performance should give us a very good sense of wether he’ll be ready to step in as the Rockies shortstop of the future in the next year or two.