The baseball season is a grind. It’s not only long, but there are inevitable ups and downs. Winning streaks have a way of erasing losing streaks, and a player’s hot streak can incrementally elevate him from a All-Star worthy to MVP caliber. It’s not often that a single game does that. But that’s what happened Wednesday night for Trevor Story. He was already having the best season of his career. But his three-home run night, which cumulatively traveled a quarter mile, elevated the stakes. Now, he may end up being the best player on the 2018 Rockies. And now, he’s demanding consideration as the National League MVP.
Purple Row’s Sam Bradfield recently wrote about what Story has accomplished in his third season. Rather than combining the best elements of his first two seasons, he’s become better overall. Story is more than the sum of those parts. The eye test and the metrics we have indicate that Story is having just as good of a season on defense as he did in 2017. That’s especially significant coming from shortstop, the second most important position on defense. The real gains have come at the plate.
Story is still a power hitter, but now he has the plate discipline to be more than three true outcome guy, and he’s making more contact as well. He’s hitting .298/.354/.566 so far in 2018 with a career high 31 home runs.
Story’s batting average is perhaps the most surprising aspect of his great season. The line on him before was basically “hit .230 with 25 home runs and great defense at shortstop and everyone’s happy.” Story’s doing more than that because of the contact he’s making, which has allowed him to ride a .358 BABIP to a near .354 on-base percentage (he’s still not walking a lot). That’s high, but it’s not that far off from what he’s done in the past, and because he’s not striking out as much, it’s all adding up to a better on base ability. For example, Story had a .332 BABIP in 2017, but he struck out nearly 35 percent of the time and hit just .239. He’s giving himself more opportunities to get on base, whether by the barrel or his quick legs, and it’s translating into excellent results.
No Rockies player will ever be considered an MVP without a look at home/road splits. Whether that’s fair or not is less important than recognizing it as a reality. Here, Story stacks up just as well as anybody. At home Story has hit .315/.374/.685, while on the road he has hit .283/.336/.459. Coors Field is a great hitters park not because of home runs, but because of its gigantic outfield and BABIP inflation. Story’s having an unusual season at home in that his on-base splits are better, but not markedly so, at Coors Field. But his power is mostly coming at home. Of Story’s 31 home runs in 2018, 21 have come in Denver. He may be punished for this when it comes time to vote, but the need to dig into a second layer of justification for home/road splits should mitigate it.
The field is open. As opposed to the American League, where a handful of players are having transcendent seasons, the top of the position player NL leaderboards is packed with players having what we can call typically great seasons. According to FanGraphs’ WAR, there are ten players within 1.0 WAR atop the leaderboard.
NL Position Players, 2018
The WAR figures are deceptively precise. There’s no real difference between a 4.1 WAR and a 4.2 WAR. Typically, the margin of error is considered to be one full win above replacement. That is, we can randomize these ten players into a top ten leaderboard, and it would be about the same. The deciding factors will come elsewhere. Gennett and Realmuto play on bad teams that aren’t going to sniff the playoffs, so they should be out of the running. That still leaves stiff competition from players on teams who will at least compete for postseason play, including Nolan Arenado. How voters will decide to cast to vote for one player over another is anybody’s guess. Other WAR leaderboards have different mixes of players, too, but the major players are the same. This jumble may even result in more votes for a pitcher like Jacob deGrom, although being on a bad team should count against him too.
The remainder of September will ultimately sort this all out. The very idea of “Trevor Story as MVP candidate” is somewhat reactionary because of the three-homer game bounce. But games like that in September have a way of taking on extra significance, and now that he’s in the conversation, he might not leave it.