There’s Already Been More than One Trevor Story

The first read of Trevor Story’s split stats produces an easy narrative. In April, he recorded a .988 OPS due (in part) to ridiculous, unsustainable power. Since then, his OPS has been under .800, with half as many homers. The league adjusted to him, and he didn’t adjust back. Simple enough.

Of course it’s much more complicated than that in reality, at least in terms of what’s happening on the field. To the player, it’s simple.

Jeff Sullivan documented a stark adjustment that the league made to the Rockies’ shortstop after that huge first week. They stopped throwing him inside because he showed he could pull those pitches for homers.

“A lot of people don’t pitch inside, I don’t think,” said Story about that first week, framing that first week as the anomaly, which might come as a surprise. “Some teams do, and some teams don’t.”

So was he pitched inside because he faced teams that like to pitch inside? If you go by four-seamers inside, it looks like maybe no. He faced Arizona (8th), San Diego (19th), and San Francisco (28th) in the first three series.

Four-Seam Fastballs on Inner Third, by Team
Rk. Player Results Total Pitches % of Pitches
1 BAL 783 8236 9.51
2 COL 625 8094 7.72
3 PIT 596 8399 7.10
4 CIN 573 8917 6.43
5 CLE 547 7963 6.87
6 NYY 529 8017 6.60
7 MIN 509 8367 6.08
8 ARI 483 8971 5.38
9 MIA 481 8544 5.63
10 ATL 477 8456 5.64
11 DET 447 8082 5.53
12 TB 446 8050 5.54
13 MIL 440 8571 5.13
14 NYM 439 7817 5.62
15 PHI 396 8238 4.81
16 SEA 378 8118 4.66
17 KC 369 8230 4.48
18 HOU 362 8811 4.11
19 SD 360 9138 3.94
20 BOS 351 8637 4.06
21 TOR 350 8135 4.30
22 OAK 347 8419 4.12
23 TEX 342 8240 4.15
24 STL 338 8025 4.21
25 WSH 329 8107 4.06
26 LAA 324 8306 3.90
27 LAD 314 8306 3.78
28 SF 295 8327 3.54
29 CHC 238 7655 3.11
30 CWS 105 8279 1.27
Righty v Righty, 2016

If you add two-seamers, San Francisco was second in the league throwing two-seamers inside from a righty to a righty, so there might be a little something to this. But even if you group all fastballs, San Diego is throwing inside less often than 24 other teams right now.

Story did agree that, either way, the location against him had changed. “I’ve seen a couple things,” he said. So, how can he adjust to that change? “You have to pick a side of the plate and try to get a pitch you can handle.”

Sounds reasonable. Except there’s something unexpected here. Because guess where he was swinging, for the most part, when he was pulling all those pitches? On the outside part of the plate, is where. Which isn’t intuitive, at all.

And now? Now that the league is pitching him on the outside part of the plate? Story’s swinging at fastballs up and in.

Also interesting about his response is that it reminds us that pitch type is as important as pitch location. How has the pitch mix changed on Story since he was so hot early?

Pitching Mix to Trevor Story by Timeframe
Time Frame FB% SL% CT% CB% CH% Swing%
April 1-15 54.6% 13.9% 15.0% 6.2% 9.8% 42.3%
April 15-30 57.6% 16.4% 5.0% 9.9% 10.7% 48.7%
May 1-15 57.9% 23.6% 5.8% 6.6% 6.2% 47.9%
Since 48.9% 18.4% 9.2% 14.0% 8.9% 47.9%

I talked to Story in early May, and at that time, there appeared to be signs of an adjustment in the numbers. As he saw more fastballs, he swung more.

An important part of his development process in the minors was developing better pitch recognition. Even the complimentary write-ups from early in his professional career admitted that his ability to adapt represented the biggest obstacle for him. Here’s Grant Schiller on ROTOScouting in 2014:

The root cause is pitch recognition, something not easily fixed. In a two-game look, seven off-speed pitches were chased and most weren’t close to the zone. Story’s adjustments only made things worse. As he unsuccessfully attempted to wait on breaking balls, he left himself open to high fastballs and was consistently late on heaters.

Early on, it looks like Story was seeing a semi-traditional pitching mix. Then, as he saw more fastballs, he began to become more aggressive. Now, in the third act, pitchers are going to the breaking balls much more, the fastballs less, and we’re waiting for another adjustment from the player.

His overall production tells the same… story. He was hot, they made an adjustment, and he adjusted back, and now we’re waiting for part three.

StoryWrcplus

The player thinks that time is the answer, as it was before. “The more you see breaking balls and changeups, the more you can adapt to them,” he said. “A lot of repetition” was how he improved his strikeout rate in his final go-around in the minors.

And hidden in his past swing decision changes is hope for the future. Pitchers have begun throwing him more breaking balls, a fact that he has to have noted in a general way if not a specific one. When that happened before, he swung less and made his swings count. It’s time for him to go back to that approach.

Of course, that scouting report gives us some pause about the efficacy of just changing overall swing patterns. For example, if he stops swinging, pitchers can start throwing breaking balls in the zone to get called strikes. He needs to make the right decision pitch to pitch.

And we may not want to read too deeply into swing percentages from his first few weeks. Story was new to the league. “If I’m not swinging, I haven’t seen the guy and I want to see some pitches,” he said. “I like to get comfortable with guys.”

Overall, Story’s approach is not one he manipulates on a grand scale. “That’s just thinking way, way too much for me,” he laughed. “It’s all instinctual. It’s not a thought. If I see something I like, I’ll swing at it.”

So as he enters the third section of his first year, we’ll be watching Story’s swing rate. The good news is that the floor has been strong. Because he makes such powerful contact when he does make contact, Story’s worst month so far has been only five percentage points worse than the league average at his position. Pair that with scratch defense, and the Rockies have probably found a league-average shortstop, at worst.

But for this thing to have a happier ending, it looks like Story will have to remember what it was like to be unfamiliar with this league — go back to swinging less, watching the outside corner more, and picking his spots better. Just go back to the first chapter, young man!

Edit: Thanks to the update to the season graphs, we can see his rolling swing percentages. Maybe this will provide us help. Story’s swing percentage is trending down again.

STorySwing





With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Nice play on words in the title.