The Colorado Rockies are in first place in the NL West. With a win last night against the Dodgers and Arizona losing to Milwaukee, Colorado wakes up today at 26-22 and with a half game lead in the NL West.
There are, of course, several reasons Colorado has played so well early on in 2018. Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon are awesome, per usual. Jon Gray has had a really good season as long as you don’t exclusively use ERA to measure a pitcher’s performance, which you shouldn’t be doing in 2018 anyways. Kyle Freeland has been really good, the pitching overall has excelled, DJ LeMahieu has .351 OBA, and Adam Ottavino has been elite. They’re just good.
But there’s another reason they’re playing so well in 2018. Trevor Story is playing like an All-Star.
Story arrived on the scene in 2016 with the unique profile of a power-hitting, defensive-minded shortstop. That profile made him one of my favorite players to follow and jumping out his rookie year as a 3 WAR player put everyone on notice.
But hitting didn’t come as easy in 2017. He maintained his elite defense but offensively, just about everything was worse. He’s average exit velocity dropped, his strikeouts went up, power went down, OBP went down, ground balls went up, and on and on. He fought injuries last year and that’s certainly part of it, but overall, he just wasn’t the same hitter.
So coming into 2018, I was interested to see which Trevor Story was going to show up. For the Rockies to have a chance, they were going to need someone behind Arenado and Blackmon to step up. Well as we sit here on May 22nd, the answer to “which Trevor Story is going to show up” is maybe the best one yet. So far in 2018, Story has posted:
- A career high walk rate
- A career low strikeout rate
- A career high fly ball rate
- A career low ground ball rate
- A career high HR pace
- A career high average exit velocity
That is certainly showing up. Story was a 1.3 WAR player in 2017. In 2018, he’s already been worth 1.1 WAR. And he’s done all of that with a career low batting average on balls in play (BABIP). There’s nothing obviously fluky about it.
Story has also become more of a weapon on the bases. He’s 7 for 7 in steals in 2018. His career high for a season is 8 steals. Look for that to change.
But there’s something else Story is doing that we need to address. Before this year, Story pulled around 39% of his batted balls. In 2018, though, he’s pulling almost 49% of his batted balls. That 10 percent increase is a bigger deal than some may realize.
As most of you probably know, baseball has entered a fly ball revolution the last couple of years. Pitchers want the ball on the ground or in the mitt and hitters want the ball in the air. But what some of you may not know is not all fly balls are equal.
The last 3 years, on fly balls hit the opposite way, the league has a .222 OBA
The last 3 years, on fly balls hit straightaway, the league has a .308 OBA
The last 3 years, on fly balls that are pulled, the league has a .873 OBA
Hitting the ball in the air is great. Much better than the alternative. But pulling the ball in the air is where the real damage is done. There’s just more power there.
Trevor Story is a fly ball hitter. He has been since day one. But this year he’s a fly ball hitter who’s pulling almost 50% of his batted balls. Or put another way, he’s tapping into that .873 OBA a lot more than the other two. By increasing both his fly ball rate and his pull rate, Story is simply taking the batted ball type he does the most damage on, and hitting more of them. If it weren’t for the worse BABIP of his career, his entire offensive profile would probably be at career highs.
It’s still early and we’ll keep tracking it, but like i said up top, there isn’t anything obviously fluky about this. I don’t think anyone would be shocked to see Story as a 4+ WAR player by the end of the season. Or Colorado still in first.
The Rockies are good. I think they need to add one more hitter (*cough* Justin Bour) to be really good, but they should be in it all year. And with Arenado, Blackmon, and now Trevor Story, they’ve got the star power to challenge for a division title now, and something even bigger come October. And I’m guessing their talented shortstop will play a big role.