It's hard to pick apart a guy who, through his first nine major league games, owns a .333/.357/.974 line (219 wRC+) with seven home runs entering the Colorado Rockies' Friday afternoon tilt against the Chicago Cubs..
In fact, it goes completely against what I believe in. The fun police should stay away from the Rockies and rookie shortstop Trevor Story, who has shattered numerous records through his first three MLB series. And yet, here I am, about to throw a big, wet blanket on the celebration.
Before I get started, small sample size applies to everything right now. Just as naysayers will say it applies to Story's seven homers and nine extra-base hits, it also applies to his 15 strikeouts and two walks.
But the closer Story gets to the point where his strikeout rate begins to stabilize, the more concerning his whiffs will become. In fact, he's not very far from it right now.
Story went into the weekend series in Chicago with 42 plate appearances under his belt. That's not a large enough sample size to properly apply any statistics in terms of judging whether a player can sustain his current performance. But some numbers begin to stabilize around 60-70 plate appearances -- including strikeout rate.
Even if Story doesn't strike out in any of his next 18 trips to the plate, he'll still be sitting at a 25 percent K rate at the 60 PA mark. However, pitchers are starting to adjust to Story, pounding him with pitches in the bottom outside corner of the strike zone and eliciting more swings and misses out of the 23-year-old slugger. It's entirely possible that Story, whose K rate sat at 35.7 percent entering Friday, will remain well above 30 percent through the stabilization point.
Contact rates can take even less time to stabilize, and that doesn't scream good news for Story, either; here's how he ranked in various contact categories through the first three series of 2016, per Fangraphs:
|Rank (out of 209 qualified hitters)|
|Contact, out of the zone||35.3%||195|
|Contact, in the zone||78.2%||173|
So, what's the conclusion here? It's pretty simple, really, and not all that groundbreaking: Story is who we thought he was going to be. He's going to have some contact issues that result in a lot of strikeouts, which was the case throughout his minor league career. But he's also going to have some pop -- the type of pop that nets one a slugging percentage just south of 1.000 through nine games, for instance. That slugging percentage will go down in short order as more pitchers learn the book on Story, but it's impressive nonetheless.
None of this is to say the Rockies won't be able to put up with Story if he strikes out in, say, 30 percent of his plate appearances as a rookie. Because of the fact that he can play a premium position and do so reasonably well, Story doesn't have to do as much offensively to compensate for a lot of punch outs as a player like Chris Davis, who has a career 31 percent strikeout rate but is capable of hitting 50 home runs in any given season.
Additionally, Story has a history of starting slow before adjusting to every single level he's played at. Even when the dreaded slump that many prognosticators view as inevitable hits Story, he's repeatedly shown the ability to land a counterpunch. A little bit later on this season, we might see that in the form of an increased walk rate; Story has drawn a base on balls in just 4.8 percent of his plate appearances thus far. He walked more than 10 percent of the time in the minors. An aggressive approach has yielded great dividends for him early on. Once Story figures out he can benefit from a little more selectivity -- as was the case for him during his minor league career -- look for a slight change in his approach.
In short, let's temper those wild Trevor Story expectations, but do so knowing that the Rockies and their fans still have a heck of a ballplayer -- and one of whom we'll see a few different versions -- on their hands.