Trevor Story. The Tigers need a shortstop, obviously. The combination of Niko Goodrum, Harold Castro, and Zach Short has been an unmitigated disaster, as the group has put together an unenviable combination of below-average offense and below-average defense. The Short Story: they’ve been bad, and upgrades are needed.
Trevor Story. The Rockies, confused as they are, kept Story at the trade deadline despite him obviously disliking the franchise’s direction. Their goal is to recoup a draft pick through the Qualifying Offer he’s a surefire bet to receive - assuming the CBA negotiations don’t throw that system out the window completely. If that happens, the Rockies will look mighty stupid, but for this exercise, let’s assume the current system - or something similar - stays in place.
Trevor Story. The long-time All-Star partner franchise icon Nolan Arenado, in the midst of a down year between injuries, a directionless franchise, and a noncompetitive roster, but with a track record of high-octane offense combining speed, power and on-base skills to create a complete player.
Trevor Story. What’s gone wrong this year? What’s different? Can it be fixed? Let’s take a look.
The first obvious change between his 2018-2020 peak and 2021 is a significant decrease in batting average. The second is a major decrease in slugging. Looking closer, the primary culprit is evident: a sharp increase in GroundBall% (GB%) from around 32% over a 3-year period to 36% this season. That’s an extra 4% of his at-bats ending in non-competitive balls in play; accounting for his 5% decrease in batting average (from ~.290 to ~.240). It also accounts for his decrease in power, as it’s very hard to slug for extra bases on ground balls - they don’t go anywhere. Almost all those extra grounders are outs, so his batting average and slugging plummeted. This is best seen by his deflated Launch Angle, from 20.9 degrees last year down to 17.5 degrees this year. Accordingly, teams are shifting in a career-high 44% of his pitches, and his performance against the shift is pretty poor, significantly limiting his opportunities to do damage.
The two most interesting take-aways from Story’s at-bats are sliders and first-pitches. Pitchwise, Story’s biggest issue has been an utter lack of production against sliders. Pitchers are throwing them more than ever against him, and he’s completely baffled. They’re ending almost 25% of his at-bats, and he’s getting no production when he puts them in play - most of the ones in play are ground balls. On the other hand, his first pitch swing % is lower than ever, and he’s swinging at fewer in-zone pitches than before, suggesting an overwhelming passivity at the plate that’s undermining his damage potential.
Now, it’s not just doom and gloom. Fortunately, a lot of Story’s best skills are still intact. His Hard Hit rate is up, and his Barrel Rate is way up to 10.2%, in the top-third of MLB hitters . He’s always struck out at a little bit worse than league-average, and he still does, with a 24.1% K% in line with his career norms. He’s walking pretty much the same, and with such little protection in the lineup behind him, that’s a pretty impressive feat. In short, offensively, the only issue has been a major increase in ground balls, crippling his power output, likely caused by a slight downturn in aggressiveness and a major decline in offspeed production - which may be related, as he’s taking called offspeed pitches in the zone, rather than driving those mistakes for power.
There’s also the matter of personal issues. Story was hampered by an elbow injury, likely hindering his first half performance. He returned from the IL on June 10. Accordingly, his best two months were June (wRC+ of 118) and August (wRC+ of 134). July, however, was easily his worst, with a wRC+ of 58 in the midst of trade rumours, franchise upheaval, and overall poor playing conditions for a star player unsure of his fate. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that the weight of trade rumours and uncertainty tanked his July - in fact, he admitted as much after the deadline, going so far as to express confusion with the club’s unwillingness to trade him. It’s also not unreasonable to suggest that a month of terrible production tanked his season numbers; look no further than the Detroit Tigers of April/May to see this in action. Throw out his woeful July, and his overall wRC+ jumps from 95 to roughly 102 on the season, suggesting a slight down year due to injuries and little major cause for concern.
Of course, no story is complete without considering the whole picture. In this particular Story, speed and defense are critical assets to his game, painting a well-rounded picture when compared to other premier shortstops like Corey Seager or even Carlos Correa. His speed is intact, with a well above average 28.7 ft/second Sprint Speed only slightly off last year’s 29ft/second. However, his defense has taken a major hit, but that’s probably not a concern. While his error total is up from 2019, his last full defensive season, the only major change is in throwing errors. He had a right elbow injury. I fully expect that a healthy Story has a solid defensive season in 2022, with good throws returning.
Finally, I’ll place a contract guesstimate on Story. With a market flush in high-quality shortstops, a Qualifying Offer attached, and an overall down season, Story’s asking price is undeniably lower than this time in 2020. However, thanks to his high ceiling, quality track record, and total package, it’s likely that he garners a fair bit of interest and scores a nice contract. Carlos Correa is clearly the best shortstop available, while Corey Seagar and Story are somewhat dichotomous in the sense that they accrue similar value in vastly different ways, so that’s more a matter of team preference than overall skill. Ultimately, I see Correa falling well short of the $340million mark set by Lindor, likely getting a contract around 10 years and $275-300 million total sum. Accordingly, Story should slot in much lower than that. Conservatively, I could see a Story deal starting around 6 years/$150million, to match the deal George Springer landed after a similarly impressive, but inconsistent run in Houston, and letting Story hit the market again at 34. However, since Story plays high-grade defense at a premium position, and so many teams need a good shortstop, I would expect his contract to end up closer to 8 years/$200-215 million, taking him through his age-36 season.
In short, Story’s upside is undeniably high, and there’s no major hint at an impending downturn in his late 20s. He’ll likely bounce back as an above-average offensive player with good speed, baserunning and defense, and should be paid accordingly. He’s an excellent blend of value and production, and fills a position of need without breaking the bank. At 8/$210million, I would certainly buy in, and anything less is a steal.