While today’s middle infielders do have more power than their predecessors, elite power at positions like shortstop is still hard to find. In fact, over the past decade, there have only been ten 30+ home runs seasons recorded at the position. Three players share six of these seasons (Tulowitzki, Lindor, and Machado), limiting this type of production to a very small circle of talented players. When you add speed into the equation, particularly at the 30/20 level, that group shrinks to just four individuals over the past decade:
Oddly, three shortstops hit these marks in 2018, including Trevor Story, the focus of this article. Story had one of the biggest turnarounds in 2019, erasing the memory of a truly awful 2018 (.239/.308/.457 with 24 home runs) with one of the best power/speed performances in MLB. In addition to Baez and Lindor, the only other hitters to notch 30+ home runs and 20+ steals were Mike Trout, Jose Ramirez, Christian Yelich, and Mookie Betts. This type of high-level production is behind Story’s sky-high ADP (19.11), and it appears that most owners buy into his breakout season. However, what fueled this jump in production? In addition, is it sustainable?
Improvements in plate discipline helped Story more than anything else. After striking out 31.3% of the time during his rookie year, Story whiffed at an even higher rate in 2017 (34.4%). His O-Swing% (+3%), O-Contact% (-3.2%), and SwStr% (1.6%) all declined as well, and this lack of ability to make contact greatly impacted his overall slash line. 2018 was a different Story, quite literally. His K% dipped considerably (8.8%), and his plate discipline improved in several areas (+7.3% O-Contact%, -2.7% SwStr%). Moving his K% below 30% was a huge step forward for Story, especially since his lowered strikeout rate remained steady throughout the year. These changes allowed Story to make more consistent contact, a definite positive given the type of contact he was able to generate.
Story barreled 12.7% of pitches in 2018 (Top 8% of MLB), slightly improved his average exit velocity (+0.8 MPH), and increased his Hard Hit% (+7.3%) as well. His batted ball profile changed to include more line drives (+4.3% LD%) and fewer fly balls (-4.8%), though his power was unaffected by these changes. Story actually led MLB in average HR distance (422 feet) for 2018 and registered the longest bomb for the season as well (505 feet). His HR/FB% increased 3.7% compared to 2017, though it trailed the rate he produced during his rookie season (23.7% HR/FB%). His expected production was very strong (.262 XBA/.352 XWOBA/.504 XSLG) and fell right in line with his actual performance.
The biggest change to Story’s offensive profile came on the base-paths. After failing to steal more than ten bases in his first two seasons, Story unleashed himself on the bases, swiping 27 bases in 33 attempts, the second-highest total for shortstops last season. While those 27 steals do represent a large jump for him in that category, Story rated well via wSB (2.6) and posted the 17th best sprint speed last season per Baseball Savant, showing he has the tools to remain a premier base-stealing threat moving forward.
While all of these changes are great to see, Story’s future value hinges on whether or not he can maintain the improved plate discipline he showed last year. If he can stay around a 25-27% K% and continue to be more selective at the plate, he should remain a top-flight fantasy option at the position. If his strikeout problems return, however, he will struggle to make enough contact for his above average skills to play out.
Story offers more potential at the position than every other option except Lindor, but he comes with more risk as well. Despite some uncertainty, I would feel comfortable taking Story above his current ADP (at least to the level Baez currently holds: 14.03) and think he offers more potential value than other shortstop options below him. If his strikeouts hold steady, I expect 30-35 HR along with 17-20 steals as his baseline, with the chance for much more.