Trevor Story has already made a name for himself. All he needs to do now is make his name stick. Far from a household name before 2016, the young Colorado Rockies shortstop got everyone’s attention last year with a power display that included a record seven homers in his first six games and a final tally of 27 in only 97 games.
For his 2017 encore, he wants to prove that was no fluke.
“That’s kind of how I always approach each season, with a chip on my shoulder,” Story said in February, according to the Associated Press (via Fox Sports). “I feel like everybody has something to prove, so you can definitely say I have a chip on my shoulder.”
For now, Story isn’t just talking the talk.
The 24-year-old has been hot in spring training, posting a 1.068 OPS and hitting four homers. The numbers look similar to the 1.199 OPS and six homers he had last spring. That’s a good omen if there ever was one.
But with spring training only being spring training, maybe all this proves is that the thumb injury that knocked Story out for the final two months of 2016 has healed.
The actual 2017 season will be a different beast that will test Story and ultimately provide a clearer answer to the big question: Will he come back down to earth?
Spoiler Alert: Expect him to stay in orbit.
Before getting to the good stuff, this seems like a good place for a reminder that Story was more than just a masher of dingers last year. He took his walks and was a capable baserunner who accounted for four defensive runs saved on defense. His usefulness in 2017 won’t live or die with his power stroke.
That power stroke produced legitimate results last season, however. Among hitters with 400 plate appearances, only one hit for power at a better rate than Story:
- David Ortiz: .305 ISO
- Trevor Story: .296 ISO
Although Story did most of his damage amid the thin air at Coors Field (.381 ISO), he also punished the ball on the road. He had a .219 ISO away from home, easily topping John Q. MLB Hitter’s average of .158.
Although Story wasn’t a blue-chip prospect before last season, it’s not the biggest surprise that he flashed as much power as he did as a rookie. We were warned.
“Story possesses quick hands and tremendous bat speed, flashing at least average power with a slight uppercut in his swing,” according to Michael Lananna at Baseball America.
It turned out that Story had more than just a slight uppercut in his swing.
Only Brandon Belt and Brandon Moss kept the ball off the ground better than he did in 2016. That might seem fishy, except Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs pointed out that Story’s ground-ball percentage had hit a similar nadir in the minors in 2015. This is his swing.
Story also hits the ball with authority when he gets it airborne. The average hitter hit fly balls and line drives at an average speed of 92.2 miles per hour last year. Story hit his at 95.1 miles per hour.
In hitting 40 percent of his batted balls to left field, Story also showed a slight pull tendency. That’s yet another habit conducive to power hitting.
In plain English: Story proved himself to be an efficient power hitter. It’s no wonder that most of his homers would’ve cleared the fence by plenty even at Kauffman Stadium:
Where Story’s swing got him in trouble was with strikeouts.
He struck out in 31.3 percent of his plate appearances last season. Only four hitters—Chris Carter, Chris Davis, Steven Souza Jr. and Miguel Sano—whiffed more frequently.
This is the drawback of Story’s offensive profile. Guys with loft in their swings forgo the most direct path to the ball, leaving them vulnerable to whiffs. To boot, pull hitters tend to prefer inside pitches, which opens a hole away.
It was apparent early on that Story’s swing might lead to trouble, as he was mixing a 1.086 OPS in April with a cringeworthy 36.3 K%. That made it easy to theorize that pitchers would figure him out.
That’s what happened in May, when he slumped with a .747 OPS and 32.2 K%. That could have been the end of him.
Instead, this happened:
- April-May: 34.1 K%, .882 OPS
- June-July: 28.1 K%, .940 OPS
Pitchers were still trying to force the issue after May, baiting Story with high-and-outside fastballs and low-and-away off-speed pitches. But he got better at laying off the slow stuff and cleared up a major weakness.
Here’s a before (left) and after (right) look at his swing-and-miss patterns:
Story stopped whiffing on low-and-away junk. He didn’t solve all his problems in doing so, but he made himself less of any easy out.
Even more important: He proved he can adjust on the fly.
That’s going to be an important part of taking last year’s success and carrying it over to 2017. He does what he does well, and pitchers will still know about the corresponding weaknesses. They’re going to continue to attack those. A good guess is that they’ll try to exploit his loft with more high fastballs. If he adjusts to those, they’ll probably double back to the low-and-away well.
It’ll be Story’s task to keep adapting to whatever adjustment is being made against him. If he can do that, his strengths will overrule his weaknesses.
That’s not to say he can stay on the 45-homer pace he was on last season. But he can crank north of 30 homers with enough patience to maintain a solid on-base percentage and enough athleticism to be of use on the bases and at shortstop.
That’s a player whose name deserves to stick.
BY Zachary Rymer