Back in late April, Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan wrote a completely justifiable piece about how major league pitchers adjusted to Colorado Rockies rookie sensation Trevor Story, who took the world by storm during the first week of the season by clubbing seven homers in 28 plate appearances and posting a 261 wRC+.
The main concern with Story, as Sullivan pointed out, was that pitchers began feeding him a steady diet of pitches away and he wasn’t laying off. When Story wasn’t whiffing through those pitches, he was making weak pull contact instead of going the other way with authority. Pitch recognition, particularly on balls away from him, was a problem.
Those issues continued for Story through the entire month of May, when he posted a .259/.314/.455 line, good for a wRC+ of just 85. However, even during the struggles, Story was making subtle improvements.
Thanks in large part to his blistering debut week, Story posted a .261/.324/.696 line, resulting in a slug-heavy 144 wRC+. But he struck out in more than 36 percent of his plate appearances along the way.
Story worked through his struggles to cut his strikeout rate to 32.2 percent in May. So even though his overall numbers took a huge dive that month, progress—with both pitch recognition and quality of contact—was being made.
“[The zone] is definitely tighter than in the minor leagues, good for hitters for sure because you can be a little more selective,” Story recently told Purple Row. “At first you’re not sure how it’s going to be, but I’m getting used to it now.”
Two visuals show the improvements Story made after bottoming out in May. First, a map that shows Story’s swing percentage in certain zones:
Story over the last couple of months has been able to lay off pitches on the outer edge of the strike zone, which is exactly where opposing pitchers were exposing him in April and May. Now let’s look at Story’s spray chart, which tells the next part of the, um, tale:
Pitchers, while still working away, have been forced to throw a little closer to the center of the plate because of Story’s increased patience and recognition of pitches on the edge and just off of the plate. The result is more homers to dead center (this is where the mistakes on the outer half come into play) and singles to center and right field (thanks to Story figuring out how to shorten up and go the other way late in counts).
The numbers correlate with what shows above; since June 1, Story is hitting .297/.389/.628 (152 wRC+) and, perhaps more importantly, striking out 27.8 percent of the time and boasting a 10.7 percent walk rate. Compare those figures to April and May, when Story—even with the historic start— hit .260/.318/.564 (112 wRC+) while striking out in 34.1 percent of his trips to the plate and walking just 7.6 percent of the time.
For Story, it’s a lot easier than zone plots or spray charts or any of that nonsense.
“[I’m] adjusting to big league pitching, seeing all these guys for the first time, kinda getting used to the things that I’m seeing and the adjustments I need to make and making them quickly,” the 23-year-old shortstop explained. One of his teammates, who is no slouch at the plate himself, concurs.
“I think the experience at the big leagues is obviously helping him, and he’s experiencing the same pitchers over and over and he’s getting a little comfortable with who he is as a ballplayer,” Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado said. “When you see pitchers over and over you get more comfortable, you get more relaxed and you don’t start forcing the issue.”
The next step for Story is to find and maintain consistency away from Coors Field. He’s hitting just .233/.297/.477 (104 wRC+) on the road, but there is cause for optimism. Story’s all-fields approach and penchant for hitting the ball hard have carried over to sea level. From there, it’s just about gaining experience and trusting his natural ability, according to Rockies manager Walt Weiss.
“It doesn’t take long to see how athletic, how dynamic a player he is,” Weiss said. “The combination of power and speed at that position is extremely rare, even in today’s game. You’re seeing that talent play out; he’s breaking records every couple weeks.”
If Story—now the National League record holder for home runs by a rookie shortstop—is able to carry the adjustments he’s made in June and July into the final third of the season, he’ll almost assuredly set a few more marks by the time 2016 is all said and done.