Trevor Story Begins a New Chapter in Boston

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a topsy-turvy, fast-paced offseason, with the swirling vortex of signings and trades spitting out some of the more memorable moves in recent years. A series of trades sent Isiah Kiner-Falefa all the way to the Bronx. Kenley Jansen to Atlanta came out of nowhere, and Carlos Correa, the biggest name of the offseason, ended up at a surprising destination with an odd contract.

But as it turned out, this offseason had one last twist in store for us. After weeks of relative silence, Trevor Story agreed to a six-year, $140 million contract with the Red Sox that contains a player opt-out after four years — one which Boston can negate by picking up a seventh-year option worth $25 million, or pay a $5 million buyout, bringing the total amount involved to $160 million. The deal does not include a no-trade clause, per the New York Post’s Joel Sherman.

So, you’ve just signed Trevor Story. What are you getting out of him? The answer depends on how you think his former home affected his performance, the park which must not be named: Coors Field. On the surface, it’s easy to glance at his home/road splits and check out. Throughout his career, Story has been a 146 wRC+ hitter at home and a 98 wRC+ hitter on the road. Away from an elevated bastion, he walks less, strikes out more, and makes inferior contact. What a fraud!

But this is FanGraphs, and we’re better than that. One of the biggest misconceptions about Coors is that it’s a self-contained phenomenon — in other words, the place merely improves hitters without any drawbacks. In reality, calling Coors one’s home produces a “hangover” effect. Because of how pitches move differently at high altitude, Rockies hitters struggle to adjust to sea level. Furthermore, there’s evidence suggesting this discrepancy widens over the course of a season. The Rockies aren’t just better at home; they’re also much worse on the road. Imagine being the new kid at school every three days or so. The mere thought of it makes me exhausted, and Story and others were constantly subject to the baseball equivalent of that nightmare.

In sum, it’s misleading to suggest Story will lapse into a poor hitter. His altitudinal privileges will get revoked, but at the same time, he’ll no longer have to fear hitting on the road. Take the average of 146 and 98, and you’d wind up with 122, which seems reasonable for what Story might put up in a full season outside of Colorado.

There’s a tiny problem with that assumption, though. Let’s first set the scene: In 2018, Story trimmed his strikeouts and became the hitter he’s known as today. Last season, however, he posted the lowest wRC+ (100) of his post-breakout era. More concerning is that his production has been steadily declining since that breakout year, which is illustrative of a downward trend. It’s a legitimate reason that creates at least some concern; the question is to what extent.

But there are reasons to lean optimstic. For one, there was an injury. In late May, Story began experiencing tightness and pain in his elbow and forearm, causing him to leave mid-game. A subsequent MRI failed to detect any damage to the ligament, and he rejoined the team soon after. Here, it’s good to mention that I have no inside information on Story’s health. Maybe he did feel perfectly fine! But also, there’s a history of players pressing on through lingering injuries and recording subpar results. One has to wonder if the issue with his elbow affected Story’s ability to swing the bat.

Also, as we’re reminded for the umpteenth time, the dang baseball changed. That’s important for a variety of reasons, but especially important when considering how it affected Story’s results on contact. As Michael Ajeto of Baseball Prospectus noted, the new ball’s increased drag reduced the carry of Story’s opposite-field fly balls. It matters because he isn’t just a pull-happy slugger; Story has made a killing so far thanks to his all-fields power. He’s been almost as prolific as in years past, but his efforts didn’t translate into on-field results.

All things considered, it seems like last season is more an aberration than a new norm. But we’ve yet to address that downward trend. Even if Story didn’t suffer an injury or grapple with a new ball, he very well might have been worse than his previous self. And while I won’t rule out this possibility, I’d also like to acknowledge how great Story has been during a supposed decline. To accomplish that, we need to summon another infielder of Coors fame who recently moved out: Nolan Arenado.

As did Story, Arenado blossomed into an All-Star with the Rockies. But let’s take a more granular look at their respective histories. Story became who he is in 2018, so let’s use it as our starting point. (Arenado conveniently established himself in 2015, the advent of public Statcast data.) Getting to the point, here’s how the two have fared in key batted ball metrics since their breakout seasons:

Arenado vs. Story, Statcast Metrics
Player Max EV (mph) Hard-Hit% Sweet Spot% Barrel%
Nolan Arenado 111.2 38.6% 34.3% 7.8%
Trevor Story 112.5 44.4% 37.0% 10.3%
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Do most people perceive Arenado as a better hitter? I’m not sure. But this comparison suggests we might actually be underrating Story. They have similar top-end power, but overall, Story has hit the ball harder more frequently at angles conducive to success. Sure, some caveats apply: Arenado has a lengthier track record, and the numbers factor in his unusually terrible 2020. At the same time, though, removing it makes virtually no difference, and there’s a reason why projections heavily weigh a hitter’s recent seasons. In his first year in St. Louis, Arenado posted a 113 wRC+; the odds that Story equals or surpasses that mark seem quite good.

But even if Story loses his prowess at the plate, take solace in the fact that he’s adept at a premium position. You’re talking about a three- to four-win player even with a league-average bat. I don’t even need to dive into his defense, but for fun, here’s a GIF of him making a fantastic play:

That was fun! Unfortunately, we do need to talk about Coors again (ugh). If you’ve scrolled through the pages of notable free agents, you might have noticed that DRS rates Story’s glove consistently higher than UZR. He’s not the exception; most Rockies infielders receive the same treatment. I’ve talked to people about this, and it seems like the source is a BABIP adjustment within the DRS formula. Because it doesn’t distinguish between balls hit on the ground and balls hit in the air, Rockies infielders are perennially over-corrected and outfielders are under-corrected.

This isn’t to say one metric is better than the other, but it’s relevant to our discussion. Story has two six-win seasons according to Baseball-Reference and only one such season according to FanGraphs. Depending on which flavor of WAR is chosen, it alters your evaluation. But let’s assume his defensive value is closer to UZR’s approximation than that of DRS. Should we care all that much? Maybe not, because even by the former metric, he still is one of the league’s better shortstops. Since 2017, here’s how his defensive runs above average ranked among qualified shortstops:

Story Among Qualified Shortstops, 2017-21
Year Defensive Runs Rank
2017 7.8 9th of 20
2018 4.8 15th of 22
2019 15.1 3rd of 21
2020 6.5 2nd of 20
2021 9.7 4th of 21

Story’s beginning seemed inauspicious, but UZR gradually started giving him credit; check out his three most recent seasons, in which he’s near the top. It is worth noting that Statcast thought Story’s defense last season was atrocious (-7 OAA), but in these situations, it’s best to trust the track record. One-year blips in defensive metrics are hardly indicative of future success (or failure), and we know from multiple seasons that Story is at least a good, if not great shortstop. Besides, the aforementioned injury might have been contributed to the atypically limp throws he made throughout this year.

Story won’t be at shortstop, however — at least for the time being. Xander Bogaerts can opt out after this season, but as long as he’s on the Red Sox, the plan is to keep him at short and place Story at second.

This decision elicited a mixed response, and understandably so. Bogaerts’ defensive shortcomings are well known, so it would make sense to move him to a less rigorous position and let Story, a more dexterous fielder, take the helm. But when I consulted our resident prognosticator Dan Syzmborski, he found out that doing so nets the Red Sox three runs — not wins, runs. What’s the reason behind such a small gain? We know Bogaerts is a terrible shortstop, but we should also consider that planting Story at second makes him a much better defender in the eyes of ZiPS, even after factoring in positional adjustments. Inversely, while changing their respective positions would increase Bogaerts’ value, the total amount is similar to that produced by the former option. Above all, it’s best not to alienate your star player in exchange for a fraction of a win, and Story presumably didn’t mind giving up shortstop, so all is well here.

While we’re on the topic of ZiPS, here’s how it forecasts Trevor Story for the duration of his contract:

ZiPS Projection – Trevor Story (2B)
2022 .265 .338 .494 543 88 144 37 6 25 77 54 22 117 8 3.9
2023 .269 .342 .507 509 83 137 37 6 24 74 51 19 121 7 3.9
2024 .264 .338 .490 492 78 130 35 5 22 69 49 18 116 6 3.4
2025 .263 .335 .485 472 73 124 32 5 21 65 46 15 114 5 3.0
2026 .260 .329 .467 450 67 117 29 5 18 59 42 13 108 4 2.4
2027 .254 .321 .445 425 61 108 26 5 15 53 37 11 100 3 1.7

As a bonus, here’s how those six years look like with Story at shortstop:

ZiPS Projection – Trevor Story (SS)
2022 .261 .334 .488 545 88 142 36 5 26 77 54 23 114 4 3.8
2023 .264 .337 .498 512 82 135 36 6 24 73 51 19 117 3 3.7
2024 .260 .335 .488 496 78 129 34 5 23 70 50 17 114 2 3.3
2025 .258 .332 .479 476 73 123 32 5 21 65 47 15 112 1 2.8
2026 .256 .326 .465 454 68 116 28 5 19 60 43 12 107 0 2.3
2027 .249 .319 .443 429 61 107 25 5 16 53 39 10 99 -1 1.6

That’s a pretty optimistic projection, all things considered. Fenway is one of the better parks Story could have ended up in; although it’s slightly unfavorable environment for righty hitters in pursuit of home runs, it’s also a doubles haven owing to its unequal dimensions. ZiPS recommends a six-year deal worth $137 million based on these numbers, which is about as accurate as we’ll get to a real-life figure. Story did extremely well to fetch himself sixth year this late into the offseason, and I suspect the late-night Correa bomb had teams scrambling for the last remaining impact player (no offense, Michael Conforto).

There’s one questionable part about Story’s contract, and that’s the opt-out. Barring otherworldly numbers across a four-year span, he’d be hard pressed to enter the open market as a 33-year-old shortstop. And if Story does exceeded expectations, it’s in the team’s best interest to lock him up. So who is this opt-out for? A scenario in which the opt-out goes through requires two elements: Story underperforming, and the Red Sox initiating a teardown after falling out of contention. Therefore, my guess is that it ensures Story is free to search for another contender even if his tenure in Boston goes south. He reportedly rejected a higher offer from the Rockies in pursuit of an opportunity to win, so this does make a whole lot of sense.

Signing Story doesn’t ensure the Red Sox make the playoffs, but it at least grants them a fighting opportunity. The Blue Jays were aggressive throughout the offseason, adding players both big and small via free agency and trades; surpassing them seems like a tall order. But the Yankees passed on multiple chances to make major upgrades, and the Rays mostly stayed put. It’s a small window, but it’s a window nonetheless for the Red Sox to squeeze through. Right now, their projected 2022 win total equals that of the Rays, with the Blue Jays and Yankees a few games up. But it’s a tight division, and anything can happen. As the offseason winds down, Story to Boston reminds us that baseball is just on the horizon.

Justin is a contributor at FanGraphs. His previous work can be found at Prospects365 and Dodgers Digest. His less serious work can be found on Twitter @justinochoi.

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10 months ago

“the park which must not be named: [name of park]