It’s inevitable. When a superstar player leaves a team, his successor will be unfairly compared to him. For good or for bad, Trevor Story and Troy Tulowitzki will always be linked solely because of the positions they play.
After Story’s incredible start and electric first year in the majors, we kind of. . . forgot Tulo. All the years—and ups and downs—he gave us, erased by one impressive rookie year.
Story has come crashing down to earth in year two, struggling mightily out of the gate and even drawing some ridiculous notions about demoting him to the minors in a week. Let’s pump the brakes a little bit, though. It’s not like this is new for promising shortstops in a Rockies uniform. That’s right. We’ve seen this before.
After a stellar rookie campaign that helped the Rockies win 21 of 22 games to make the team’s only World Series appearance, Tulowitzki was a different player out of the gate in 2008. His batting average dropped from .291 to .152, his slugging percentage dropped from .479 to .238, and his walk rate dropped from 8.4 percent to 7.8 percent in that time frame. Unlike Story, his strikeout rate actually dropped—19.1 percent in 2007 to 14.7 percent in 2008—but his ISO dropped considerably from .189 to .086.
ISO is essentially a measure of extra bases per at-bat and such a significant drop indicates that he was having trouble making solid contact and inducing a lot of weak ground balls. In fact, Tulo’s hard-hit rate went from 35 percent in 2007 to 25 percent in 2008 over the course of the season, showing a significant drop in quality contact.
Our current shortstop has a similar problem. His ISO has dropped significantly from .296 to .231, which is still above the league average of .161. That doesn’t tell the whole picture, though. Like Tulo, Story’s hard-hit rate has dropped from 44.9 percent to 32.8 percent and his soft-hit rate has risen from 14.3 percent to 24.1 percent. This is a good indication of Story’s performance when he makes contact, and it’s not good in comparison to year one.
A bright spot of Story’s season to date: his walk rate has nearly doubled. Even though Story is struggling to make contact, he’s still finding a way to get on base. It’s a small consolation prize when everything else is trending in the wrong direction, but consider this; Story’s power, even with him hitting .173, is producing league average numbers. Even with the strikeouts, even with the drop in hart-hit balls, Story is still league average in slugging percentage and above average in ISO. He’s below average in BABip - .231 compared to the league average of .291—and, if Story can find a 60-point boost in his batting average somewhere and all other rates stay the same, he’ll still finish above league average in batting contribution statistics. That, coupled with his improved defense at short, is enough to give him a long leash to figure this out.
There are plenty of theories why Story is struggling this year—a different approach, the league has figured him out, he’s going full Adam Dunn, whatever it may be—but before we approach the nuclear option, understand that this same thing happened to the best shortstop in Rockies history.
Four other things this week
Ian Desmond is striking out a lot
Desmond’s debut has been much anticipated around baseball, mostly to see just how the Rockies were really going to use him. So far, he’s been playing in a super-utility role since Mark Reynolds has been the team’s best hitter to date. His positional versatility is an asset, especially in today’s modern game, but we already have one strikeout-prone player (see above). In 26 at-bats, Desmond has struck out 10 times with zero walks. I’m chalking this up to his first week back and putting pressure on himself to impress out of the gate, but this is definitely something to keep an eye on.
Ryan Hanigan was very good
The less heralded debut of the week came from fourth string catcher Ryan Hanigan, who was impressive in his nine at-bats with five hits already. The 36-year-old veteran isn’t going to surprise us with untapped power or a .300 season, but there’s a reason why he’s been around for 10 years: the guy can manage a pitching staff and give you good at-bats.
Tyler Anderson looked back to normal
Ten strikeouts in six innings and one run on six hits? I’ll take that Tyler Anderson every day of the week.
Adam Ottavino’s control issues
In a vacuum, Ottavino’s week looks awful. In two appearances, he’s thrown 31 pitches for 11 called or swinging strikes while walking four and getting only three outs. If we take a step back and consider the body of work, Ottavino has some of the best stuff on the staff and sometimes that comes with control issues. In Ottavino’s partial inning in San Diego, it looked like Hanigan, who was behind the plate, was having trouble adjusting to Ottavino’s movement, which can happen when it’s the first time in history a battery is paired up. Regardless of my opinions (he’s getting squeezed, Blue!), Ottavino will have many more good weeks than ones like this.