Going Deep: What’s the (Trevor) Story, Morning Glory?

I’m going to admit this upfront. So far this season, the first round has been a disaster for me in pretty much every single one of my leagues. Most of this is due to a heavy dose of drafting Aaron Judge, Jose Ramirez, and Trea Turner but still, my first draft picks have not gone well this year in any way, shape or form. This is almost always a death knell for any fantasy season.  You can pretty much screw up anywhere else in the draft and still put together a winning season but if you mess up that first roundyou can pretty much kiss your championship hopes goodbye. The only thing that can save your season?  Correctly predicting the 2nd or 3rd rounders that will make the leap into the first round.  Last year Jose Ramirez, and Francisco Lindor were perfect examples of the kind of player that you could have snagged in the 2nd round that would have easily made up for taking the wrong player in the 1st round. So who is that player this year?  Who is the savior destined to lead your teams back from the dead? I feel it is impossible to name any player here but Trevor Story. A true five-category contributor, I firmly believe that Story has finally established a firm track record of production worthy of being considered a first-round caliber player. The crazy part is that he has actually gotten better this year. In this article, I’m going to compare Story to his peers in the first round and illustrate how potentially the best is still yet to come.

To kick things off, I mentioned above that I firmly believe that Story has produced at an elite, first round level over a more than adequate sample size to justify considering him a one of the best of the best, the kind of player you can take as the cornerstone of your fantasy team without hesitation.  To establish the veracity of this claim I think it appropriate to begin by fully exploring Story’s career and then putting into perspective just how incredible he has been since he entered the league in 2016. Let’s start with a basic overview. Please note that I have prorated Story’s numbers to 650 PA and included it below as well:

Year PA AVG R RBI HR SB OBP OPS
2016 415 .272 67 72 27 8 .341 .909
2017 555 .239 68 82 24 7 .308 .765
2018 656 .291 88 108 28 27 .348 .914
2019 189 .278 36 28 9 8 .344 .838
2019 Prorated 650 .278 123 96 30 27 .344 .838

That’s a monster season if it holds up.  Here’s the really crazy part. Of Colorado’s 43 games played, they actually only played 20 of them in Coors Field!  He’s doing a lot of that damage on the road! It’s worth noting too that he currently bats behind Charlie Blackmon and directly ahead of Nolan Arenado and Daniel Murphy so the counting numbers feel pretty sustainable to me, especially since he still has 3/4 of his home games left to go! It’s worth noting in 2017 that Story suffered a shoulder strain in early May and never got healthy that season. When viewed in that context, it’s actually pretty impressive he still put up 24 HRs that year. If nothing else, we can set a few really solid floors for Story where you can probably pencil him in for at least a .270 average, 25+ HRs, and 20+ SBs.  Here’s the thing though, I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Story in 2019 yet.  There are a lot of underlying stats that give me reason to hope that we might be in for one heck of a Story(ied) season.

Early on, the book on Story (don’t worry there won’t be any more puns, I promise) coming out of his rookie season was that he could hit the ball for power but he was always going to strike out too much to be a viable fantasy hitter, especially when it came to AVG. Truth is though, that narrative was a bit of a red herring (I lied.) The real plot twist (I have no regrets!) is that Story has been making subtle improvements in that department the last two years and somehow we never even noticed that he had moved beyond his supposed shortcomings. Take a look at his plate discipline stats:

Year K% BB% O-Swing% Contact% SwStr%
2016 31.3% 8.4% 27.9% 72.9% 12.5%
2017 34.4% 8.8% 30.9% 70.4% 14.1%
2018 25.6% 7.2% 32.2% 77.4% 11.4%
2019 24.9% 7.4% 31.7% 75.8% 11.7%

Given that we know that Story was suffering from a pretty tough shoulder injury in 2017 and you’re willing to grant the premise that said shoulder injury likely had a major effect on his swing, then we can reason that most of those numbers are likely outliers rather than true regression.  He’s never had a major problem with chasing pitches but, when he first came up, his poor Contact% was a huge issue.  It still isn’t stellar by any means but that 5-7% improvement in Contact% makes all the difference in the world for a slugger like Story. This allowed him to drop that strikeout-rate down to the quarter mark you see above. So far in 2019, he has actually been even better than that. For added perspective, it’s worth noting that the league average K% so far in 2019 is 23.1% so while his strikeout-rate is below average it’s honestly not by as much as you would think at first glance.

Surely though his K% isn’t the only reason I think there is more to come in Story’s season right? Honestly, the best is yet to come.  Story’s statcast data is where the real fun begins. First, his base statcast numbers:

Year Total Pitches Launch Angle Exit Velocity BBL% HardHit% xEPH xEPH%
2016 1,774 16.7 90.3 13.9% 44.5% 84 4.7%
2017 2,284 18.8 88.9 10.5% 38.3% 78 3.4%
2018 15.7 90.8 12.7% 46.0% 121 4.7%
2019 802 17.6 92.1 8.9% 52.4% 30 3.7%

There’s a lot to like here. First off check out that average exit velocity combined with a 52.4 HardHit%. So far in 2019, Story is hitting the ball incredibly hard and once you factor in his launch angle not only is he hitting the ball harder than ever but he’s hitting it in the air more and more which can only lead to good things.  His BBL% is down and that is concerning but the other numbers give me hope that number will rebound.  This is just the tip of the iceberg, though. What I really want to highlight is a stat I like to look at from time to time when evaluating sluggers and that is xEPH (Expected Elite Power Hits) and xEPH%. At it’s simplest level, it is a count of how many balls the hitter put in play that had an xISO of at least .200. This includes all batted balls including outs. It’s incredible how often a hitter can crush a ball but the fielder makes a spectacular play or the ball ends up hit right at them. Those are still good hits despite their results and I like to factor them into the equation. xEPG% is simply a percentage of xEPH divided by the total number of pitches seen.  Here is Story’s xEPH numbers. Note that I have again included prorated 2019 numbers:

Year Total Pitches xEPH xEPH% xEPH Hits
2016 1,774 84 4.7% 58
2017 2,284 78 3.4% 50
2018 2,555 121 4.7% 81
2019 802 30 3.7% 19
2019 Prorated 2,500 93 3.7% 59

Now at first, that seems down from 2018. The thing is that we know weather and temperature can have a large effect on how far a well-hit will go and the xEPH that fell for hits went from 2.5% of all pitches in April and May of last year to 3.2% through June and July and finally a whopping 4.0% from August through the rest of the season. Those 19 xEPH hits so far in 2019? that is 2.3% of all the pitches he’s seen or in other words it’s pretty much perfectly in line in last years progression as well.  This is very encouraging because in reality Story is actually on pace to see over 3,000 pitches this season.  If that is the case we could be in for a real treat.  Just for fun, let’s try to calculate out what that would look like, assuming the pattern holds and Story ends up with roughly the same 4.7 xEPH% with a 3.2% for xEPH Hits as we saw in his other healthy seasons:

Year Total Pitches xEPH xEPH% xEPH Hits
2019 Prorated 3,000 141 4.7% 96

Great Googa-Mooga! We’re talking about nearly 100 HITS, not batted balls but hits, all of which would have an expected xISO of at least .200. That’s an incredible amount of power. This is the biggest reason why I think there might be another chapter (and you thought I was done with the puns) to Story’s 2019 season.

Real quick, I think it is also worth touching on Story’s stolen bases as well. Often it is treated like Story’s 27 stolen bases came out of nowhere last year but that’s not true. First off, Story had double-digit steals in every single season in the minor leagues, but there are some pretty good reasons as to why it took two years for Story to start stealing bases. The first is the Rockies Manager back in 2016, Walt Weiss. Aside from sounding like I should be buying Blue Sky crystal meth from him, Walt Weiss was pretty notorious in Colorado for being reluctant to steal bases. Over his four year tenure (2013-2016) the Rockies were barely middle of the pack in stolen bases despite having Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon, and DJ LeMahieu on the team in their prime. In 2016 (Story’s rookie year) the Rox were 21st in the league in SBs with a mere 66 stolen bases AS A TEAM.  Then in 2017, Weiss was gone but he jacks up his shoulder and it dogs him the entire season so it’s not necessarily surprising that they didn’t risk him running that often. So there feels like there was good reason he didn’t start really stealing bases until last season. He’s currently on the same stolen base pace he was on last year but when you consider the additional plate appearances he will be getting now that he is hitting 2nd in the lineup and he has a pretty realistic shot at surpassing 30 SBs and therefore potentially crossing the 30 HR/30 SB plateau.

Now that we’ve covered Story’s season, I want to revisit the plot point (Can’t stop, won’t stop!) I mentioned earlier about Story being a first round caliber player. In reality, I’m starting to wonder if perhaps I’m shortchanging him a bit. Story might honestly be a top 5 fantasy hitter when all is said and done. So, to wrap things up, I want to compare Story’s 2018 and his prorated 2019 seasons to the 2018 seasons of his peers and see if I’m simply being hyperbolic.  Let’s take a look at the so-called Top 10 hitters in fantasy and hold them up against Story and see if he fits in.

Player PA AVG HR R RBI SB
Mike Trout 608 .312 39 110 79 24
Mookie Betts 614 .346 32 129 80 30
Jose Ramirez 698 .270 39 110 105 34
Francisco Lindor 745 .277 38 129 92 25
Christian Yelich 651 .326 36 118 110 22
Trea Turner 740 .271 19 103 73 43
Ronald Acuna Jr. 487 .293 26 78 64 16
J.D. Martinez 649 .330 43 111 130 6
Nolan Arenado 673 .297 38 108 104 2
Alex Bregman 705 .286 31 105 103 10
Trevor Story 2018 656 .291 37 88 108 27
Trevor Story 2019 Prorated 650 .278 30 123 96 27

Quick note, it is important with the prorated HR total that it’s based off Story’s April and May numbers. For his career Story has a 12.7 HR/FB% in May and 14.5% in June. July? 25.8%. So I suspect that his if we reran his prorated numbers closer to August his HR total would match up better with his 2018 total. I know that’s a lot of numbers to sift through and there isn’t any golden ticket that says who or what makes a fantasy player better than another, but it feels like Story measures up with pretty much all of these guys. At the very least he should be going ahead of the Turner (better in HRs, AVG, Runs and RBIs while still holding his own in SBs), Acuna (If Acuna turned out a season like Story’s 2018we’d be ecstatic), Bregman (Story toasts him in SBs and HRs) bunch and holds his own with Arenado and Martinez as his stolen bases and Runs bridge the AVG gap between him and those players, especially if he makes it to the 30 SB mark this year.  Only five of the top ten broke both 100+ Runs and RBIs, but Story is on pace to come darn close to that as well. I want to draw your attention to two specific players in comparison, namely Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor. Both of these players deservedly got MVP votes in 2018, but take a look at what happens if you line up Story’s 2018 numbers and his 2019 prorated numbers with theirs:

Player PA AVG HR R RBI SB
Trevor Story 2018 656 .291 37 88 108 27
Trevor Story 2019 Prorated 650 .278 30 123 96 27
Jose Ramirez 698 .270 39 110 105 34
Francisco Lindor 745 .277 38 129 92 25

They match up pretty well, don’t they? Now there are some underlying concerns with Story as he does strike out a heck of a lot more than either of those two players but these are guys who started the preseason as the consensus #3 and #4 picks in Roto drafts. If you’re willing to accept the flaws in the prorated HR numbers, his 2019 is looking to shape up almost exactly like these two players MVP caliber seasons and that is worth standing up and paying attention to. Quietly, Trevor Story is turning into one of the best hitters in baseball.  If you were ranking Lindor and Ramirez as the #3 and #4 hitters coming into the offseason this year then I think we have to consider Story at #5 if we had to do it again. Heck, making the jump from the mid to late 2nd round to elite 1st round status was exactly the same leap Lindor and Ramirez made between 2017 and 2018. If nothing else it’s hard to argue with the idea that he is a 1st round value as he has taken everything we loved about his rookie debut and his breakout in 2018 and simply done it again but better. He’s hitting the ball harder than ever and now that he’s batting in the #2 hole in the lineup as opposed to the #5 slot he’s hitting more often than ever as well.  I’m incredibly excited to see what the final numbers are for Story at the season’s end but mark my words, I have a sneaking suspicion that Trevor Story will be writing his own epic tale straight into the fantasy pantheon come draft season next year.  Let the Bards sing about that!

Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Daniel Port

Daniel is a Fantasy Baseball writer, Brewer, and Theatrical Technician, located in Denver, Colorado. A lifelong fan of baseball and the Cleveland Indians since before Albert Belle tried to murder Fernando Vina, he used to tell his Mom he loved her using Sammy Sosa's home run salute, has a perfectly reasonable amount of love for Joey Votto and believes everything in life should be announced using bat flips. If you want to talk baseball, beer, or really anything at all you can find him on twitter at @DanielJPort !

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Comments


K

Are there any other players that you think are going to make huge ADP jumps next year besides rookies since it’s probably too early to judge? I’m going to assume Mondesi is probably going to jump to the 5/6th round, possibly 4th. Springer and Bellinger is probably 1st/2nd worthy as well next season.

Daniel Port

Hey! Thanks for reading! Yeah I could definitely see leaps for all those players for sure. Others that I expect to see rise next year in ADP in big ways are guys like Franmil Reyes (14 HRs already!), Kris Bryant (looking healthy and has a .963 OPS), Tommy Pham (Is quietly one of the best 5 tool guys not in the 1st round), Joey Gallo (on pace to hit over .250 with 45+ HRs.) Matt Chapman (looking like a baby version of Arenado), and finally two Michaels in Michael Conforto (finally hitting for power and AVG) and Michael Brantley (proven can stay healthy and will rack up counting stats in Houston). I’m sure more will come about as the season progresses but those are the guys who stand out to me that will jump at least a couple rounds from where they were drafted this year.

Tom

Here’s what I don’t understand – why does he consistently have such bad Statcast xWOBA numbers? It currently lists him at .327, making him the 16th best SS! Usually Statcast makes some sense but this doesn’t.

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