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Trevor Story got Rockies fans to think bigger in 2018

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Story’s 5.6 rWAR was second most on the team in 2018

You’re reading the 2018 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at the season had by every player to play for the Rockies in 2018. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the least amount of rWAR and end up with the player with the most.

★ ★ ★

No. 2, Trevor Story (5.6 rWAR)

After two seasons in the major leagues, it seemed like we had Trevor Story figured out. And not only for what he’s already done, either — it also felt like we what we could hope for out of Story. It went like this: After an incredible offensive rookie season in 2016, Story fell off a bit in 2017, but he was better on defense in 2017 than in his rookie season. The best-case scenario hope for Story, then, was pretty straightforward. The Rockies would have a great shortstop if he could combine the offense from his first season with the defense from his second season.

It turns out, we weren’t thinking big enough. Story remained a great defensive shortstop, even though his Defensive Runs Saved was 10 runs lower in 2018 than the prior year, and he made completely unexpected gains on offense.

Story’s strikeouts limited our imagination. He struck out 31.3% of the time in his first season, but he had enough power to make all those strikeouts worthwhile. In his second season, however, he struck out 34.4% of the time, and he didn’t hit nearly as well overall. The line became: He’ll always strike out a lot, but if he can make enough contact to hit around .250 and hit 35 home runs, everyone’s happy.

Instead, Story had a legitimately historic drop in his strikeout rate. He struck out nearly nine percentage points less in 2018 than in 2017. As Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs showed, that was the eighth largest year-to-year decrease since 1900. Story also increased his contact rate by seven percentage points. The result was an adjusted batting line 27 percent better than league average, including 37 home runs. Ultimately, Story was perhaps the best shortstop in the National League in 2018, as well as one of the best in baseball.

It’s clear that we (or, at least, I) focused too much on Story’s strikeout rate in his first two major-league seasons. While nobody could reasonably have expected Story to have one of the largest year-to-year strikeout decreases in baseball history, there was some evidence that suggested we could have expected some improvement. Here is Story’s strikeout rate across his minor league career (min. 50 games):

Trevor Story’s MiLB K%, 2012-2015

Year Level K%
Year Level K%
2012 A 22.1
2013 A+ 33
2014 A+ 27.1
2014 AA 34.6
2015 AA 24.3
2015 AAA 24.7

As a minor-leaguer, Story had trouble with strikeouts, but he also made improvements. Because major league competition is much better, it was easy to gloss over those year-to-year gains. It turns out, they hinted a little bit at what we saw from Story in 2018.

Now, looking forward, are we left to just hope that Story can keep on continuing to be one of the league’s best shortstops? Maybe we need to think bigger again. For that, we can look at his walk rate. In his three major-league seasons, Story has walked 8.4, 8.8, and 7.2% of the time. Those figures are about at or below league average. Story, however, walked much more during his minor-league career. Here are his walk rates for those same seasons referenced above:

Trevor Story’s MiLB BB%, 2012-2015

Year Level BB%
Year Level BB%
2012 A 10.9
2013 A+ 8.1
2014 A+ 14.2
2014 AA 11.8
2015 AA 11.7
2015 AAA 5.8

In four out of Story’s six minor-league stints, he had a walk rate above what he’s averaged over his first three big league seasons. Notably, his low mark was his final taste of the minor leagues in Triple-A. While it was against weaker competition, Story has shown that he can be maintain a high walk rate. If there’s an area left for Story to improve, it’s there.

And now we’re back to thinking we have him figured out. If Story can improve his walk rate to above 10%, it would make one of the best shortstops in baseball even better. That’s easy to say as well as to imagine — Troy Tulowitzki and Charlie Blackmon made similar gains early in their careers. But the lesson of Story’s 2018 is that maybe we should think a little bit bigger.

So what do you got, Trevor?