Story aims to sharpen shortcomings this winter

October 19th, 2019

DENVER -- Rockies shortstop is quickly shedding the “underappreciated” label. A second straight All-Star season -- one that should earn him a second straight Silver Slugger Award, and should at the very least have him mentioned among Gold Glove Award finalists -- will get a guy noticed.

With the accolades certainly to come from the outside, Story’s attention is chiefly on seeking and sharpening his shortcomings.

“There are so many different ways to get better in this game. It’s such a hard game. You’re never really going to master it,” Story said. “You look yourself in the mirror. You see places you want to get better.”

Key parts of this story will take a deeper dive to find those places. But you have to dig past plenty of highlights.

What went right

Story’s name is all over the list of league leaders.

• Story slashed .294/.363/.554, with his batting average and on-base percentage a tick above previous career highs. He also knocked 35 homers, which made him the first shortstop in MLB history with at least four straight 20-homer seasons to begin his career.

• His 17 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) were one behind reigning NL Gold Glove Award-winning shortstop, the D-backs’ Nick Ahmed. Under FanGraphs’ Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), Story’s 8.6 was third behind the Cardinals’ Paul DeJong (11.4) and the Cubs’ Javier Baez (10.0) in the NL. Story’s 10.3 UZR/150 -- which projects the stat over 150 games -- was second to the Marlins’ Miguel Rojas (12.8).

• By Baseball-Reference's measure of Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Story had one of the best seasons in the NL. He was third in defensive WAR at 2.4 (Ahmed and Nationals outfielder Victor Robles finished at 2.6), seventh in offensive WAR at 4.9 (one tenth of a point behind teammate Nolan Arenado) and fourth in overall WAR, at 6.4.

What went wrong?

Some was beyond his control. Story left a June 19 game at Arizona with a right thumb sprain, which occurred when he was tagged out sliding into second base while trying to move an extra base after a single. The Rox were 39-34 at the time.

Story missed 11 games, six of them Rockies losses. From his July 2 return to July 31 he went 22-for-97 (.227), as the Rockies went 6-18.

Story’s injury and slump weren’t the only reason that the Rockies fell out of contention. His problems were merely part of the list of reasons for the team’s troubles.

Best moment

On May 24, Story parked his 100th career homer -- in his 448th game, faster than any shortstop in history -- in the seventh inning of a home game against the Orioles. No. 101 was a walk-off winner. It was during a period when the Rockies were overcoming a slow start and climbing into relevance, which would not last.

Worst moment

The moment Story identified was instructive.

A July 23 game at Washington was close until the Rockies imploded and gave up eight runs in the seventh inning. As the last of those runs scored, Story fired a relay throw wildly to the plate and allowed a runner to move from second to third.

By then the game was lost. The runner who advanced didn’t even score. Those factors could easily have been grounds to shrug.

“I wasn’t really super locked in on the throw and it was off-line,” Story said. “The runner that was on second went to third and it was an error. That was a lapse. That one really got me, especially in a game that was out of hand. That’s how I feel about it.”

“It’s anticipating, getting locked in for every pitch of every game, which is not going to happen. But if I can be there, locked in mentally, which I feel I’ve done a great job of that this year and last year as well, that’s where I want to be. It’s more a mental game and having an intent with everything I’m doing.”

2020 outlook

Story made his bones as an aggressive swinger, but with risks. He led the NL with 191 strikeouts in 2017, and trimmed that total to 168 during a breakout in '18. Even with his solid overall numbers in '19, his strikeout rate ticked up from 25.6 percent in ’18 to 26.5 in the same number of plate appearances (656).

Interestingly, toward the end of the year, Rockies hitting coach Dave Magadan challenged Story and Arenado to be more selective when ahead in the count. And Colorado manager Bud Black moved Story to the leadoff position (and dropped Charlie Blackmon from leadoff to cleanup), hoping Story's rising OBP and his power could make him effective.

Always effective against fastballs -- his expected batting average and expected slugging percentage (.298, .560, respectively, with 19 homers in '19 and .305, .570 with 19 homers in '18 -- Story has improved against breaking balls. His overall batting average against breaking pitches over the past three seasons has gone from .203 to .242 to .265.

A key will be making sure those pitches are in the zone. His chase rate against curves went from 28 percent in 2018 to 38.1 percent, and his slider chase rates had the same pattern.

Story's home-road split widened -- 1.043 OPS at Coors Field vs. .780 on the road in 2018, and 1.064 to .767 in '19.

Story has already risen on the star meter. Improving his selectivity and finding road success could put him in a new stratosphere.