They’ve Adjusted to Trevor Story

They say you can’t predict baseball, but that’s nonsense. You can’t predict all of baseball, but you can definitely predict some of baseball. One of those predictions that any one of us could’ve made: There was no way Trevor Story was going to keep that up. It was so obvious that even saying it would’ve been empty. Pointless. The prediction was essentially implied by the statistics, because the statistics were so absurd everybody recognized it.

Let’s talk about this. Hot starts like Story’s regress. We know that to be true, and regression takes place for a few reasons. Luck just evening out is one of them. Hot streaks are typically accompanied by good luck, and cold slumps are typically accompanied by bad luck. And then there are the adjustments. Adjustments! Our favorite genre. When you’re a hot hitter, you don’t keep getting the same at-bats over and over and over again. Opponents learn about you, and they put that information to use. Strengths are apparent, and so are anti-strengths, and that gets folded in to how a guy gets pitched. It’s a tale as old as baseball, even if it’s told a little differently these days.

Hot starts regress. Opponents adjust. Trevor Story had a hot start. Opponents adjusted. Welcome to the big leagues.

Maybe it was a little controversial for the Rockies to put Story on their opening-day roster, but I can’t imagine they regret anything. Through almost 90 trips to the plate, Story’s slugged .649, and that’s clearly fantastic for anyone, let alone a rookie shortstop. But, yeah, let’s break things up. Through April 10, or two series, Story had seven home runs. Then the Rockies had a day off before resuming play April 12. We’ll divide there, through the remainder of this post. I know it’s not always wise to cut a small sample even smaller, but you’ll see why I’ve done it. Let’s look at how Story’s April has shaken out:

Trevor Story so far
Split PA HR wRC+ GB% Hard% Away% WAR
1st week 28 7 261 11% 58% 36% 0.6
Since 57 1 60 39% 36% 58% -0.4

Maybe you stopped paying attention to Story after that first week. In any case, the table is the table, and you see how swiftly Story has returned to Earth. Since that first week, Story has posted a wRC+ 200 points lower than he did early on. Every good season is just a combination of streaks and slumps, but this is extreme, and we can see how pitchers have responded. Look at the second-to-last column — “Away%”. This is the rate of pitches thrown to Story above or beyond the outer third. Early on, pitchers worked Story inside. They quickly wised up, and more recently they’ve lived away. Not exclusively, but far more often. The idea being, Story struggles to cover the outer part of the plate. That’s the perception, anyway.

It’s Baseball Savant time. Through the first week, 140 right-handed batters saw at least 50 pitches. Story ranked 125th in Away rate. Now, since the first week, 200 right-handed batters have seen at least 50 pitches. Story ranks ninth in Away rate. He’s gone from just outside the bottom 10% to well within the top 10%. That’s a very substantial jump, and this is a good visualization:

story-early-pitches

On the left, the first week. On the right, the last two weeks. To be clear, it’s not like pitchers are just throwing Story slider after slider. He’s seeing sliders, sure, but he’s also seeing more fastballs away. It’s like the targets have just shifted. Here’s another way of visualizing what’s happened. I’ve plotted the average horizontal location of pitches to Story over time. It’s cumulative in a way, showing the new season average after every pitch. So it’s noisy at the start, but then you can see trends revealed. Zero is set to the middle of the plate, where positive numbers reflect location away, and negative numbers reflect location in.

trevor-story-location

The tale is the same. It’s just a different way of showing similar data. After the noisy beginning, you can see an average location over the inner half. Then that started to shift, and recently it’s held steady. Pitchers have attacked the outer half. Story hasn’t punished them for it, yet.

This is a comparative plot of whiffs. It’s the same time split.

story-early-whiffs

On the right, you see Story missing fastballs up, and you see him missing several pitches away. This is part of the reason why pitchers are going with this approach. And then there’s the dramatic matter of Story’s spray charts. Looking at these is actually what inspired me to write this post in the first place:

story-early

Look at that clump on the left. That’s where Story made his headlines. In that first week of the season, Story pulled nine flies or liners. He had the one opposite-field homer, but he’s a pull-power guy. On the right, you see just one pulled fly or liner. Then there’s a little action up the middle, and some stuff the other way. Story is definitely capable of driving the ball out to all fields, but he’s most capable to left, and he hasn’t been able to hit the ball in that direction since pitchers moved away. A potentially telling split: Against pitches over the inner half, Story has an average batted-ball speed of 98 miles per hour. Against pitches over the outer half, that average drops to 85. I don’t know where that ranks league-wide, but it seems pretty significant.

This is where we are. Trevor Story ambushed his competition early on. He was so productive he actually made some history. Opponents quickly learned more about him, though, and over the last few weeks they’ve given him far fewer opportunities to hit inside pitches. Pitchers are mostly staying away, and though that doesn’t render Story entirely powerless, overall he hasn’t been very good. This isn’t the end of it, at all. This is the push and pull of baseball — one party adjusts, and the other party has to adjust back. We learned a little about Trevor Story at the start of the month. Now we’re going to learn a lot more about him, and about his chances of sticking. Story needs to do something to drill those pitches or reduce his whiffs. We all know that he earned his debut. Now it’s time for him to earn a career.





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
6 years ago

Great illustration. Now it will be interesting to see how Story adjusts to the adjustments.