Trevor Story is one of the most divisive players in this year’s MLB free agent class, but I couldn’t care less. He remains the top free agent option available for the Seattle Mariners.
On one hand, Story is one of the most electric, exciting shortstops in the league that has had an OPS north of .800 each of the last four seasons. On the other, many people see a product of the “Coors Effect” inflating his season stats and giving him abnormally good numbers because of this. Most cite his home/road splits, theoretically indicating that Story is a far better hitter at home than on the road.
While Trevor Story’s home/road splits are undoubtedly true, I’m here to argue that they are not as large of a problem as one might think.
First, let’s address the player as a whole. Looking at his physical tools, Story stands out. Sitting in the 89th percentile of sprint speed, Story has blazing speed and is an instant upgrade on the base paths. Story has also shown the ability to crush the ball, posting solid exit velocities this past year and truly elite exit velocities in both 2018 and 2019.
One of his defensive metrics took a peculiar dive this year, going from the 99th percentile in OAA (Outs Above Average) in 2019 to just the 4th percentile in 2021. That said, this metric may be overblown as both UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) and DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) have Story as a plus defender. (UZR has him as a fringe top 20 defender in the league!) While the OAA may be of some concern, defensive metrics are notoriously fickle and UZR, DRS, as well as the old fashioned eye test grade Story as, at worst, a more than capable defender at shortstop.
Story’s fit on the Mariners is yet another reason why I think he is the best option remaining on the market. With his borderline elite UZR, Story should be able to vacuum balls up at either second or third with no issue. Coupling J.P. Crawford with Story on either side of him is an excellent infield defense ready to hoover up any ground ball.
However, most importantly, signing Story is not prohibitive of any other potential player acquisition. Since he could play both 2B or 3B, it remains an opportunity to bring in any of the potential 3B acquisitions (Kris Bryant, Matt Chapman, and Jose Ramirez to a lesser extent). The option to bring in a suitable third baseman is far more readily available than that of an up-the-middle infielder with plus hitting potential. Thus, I believe Story is the best option for the Mariners.
There are likely two thoughts in your mind that are dissenting of my argument to this point…
- Have you forgotten Carlos Correa exists?
No, I have not forgotten Correa. My consideration is taking into account prospective contract length and dollar amount. The contract I see Story receiving is far more favorable to the prospective contract I see Correa getting, and I don’t think Correa would move off of shortstop. I think Story would. The general logistics of Story’s fit are far superior to that of Correa’s.
2. What about his home/road splits?
This is where the majority of the discourse around Story comes from. For those unfamiliar with this topic, Story has run significantly worse batting statistics when not playing at Coors Field (by far the most hitter friendly park in the sport due to its extreme elevation). Last year, he ran a troubling 91 wRC+ on the road and a 107 wRC+ at home.
Yes, his home stats are superior to his road stats. However, I would argue that this should not be as much of a concern as it appears on the surface. The reasoning? Trevor Story hits the ball hard enough that he isn’t reliant on the altitude to hit for extra bases. I believe Trevor Story hits better at home as he can better acclimate to pitch movement due to playing the vast majority of his games at altitude, not because the increased altitude allows him to have vastly inflated power numbers. Let us dive deeper.
Due to the high altitude, the ball flies much different in Colorado than any other stadium. While it’s regularly thought of when considering batted balls, pitched balls also behave differently. The thin air means a spinning ball has less air to “push off of” and thus breaks less (This phenomena is called the Magnus Effect). A sharp slider in Coors behaves far differently than a sharp slider elsewhere.
Baseball is a game that has a miniscule margin for error and having to read pitches is one of the hardest things to do in professional sports. If Trevor Story’s eyes see a sharp slider, in half of his games his bat needs to be in one location while in the other half of his games, the same exact pitch ends up in a different location. That sounds pretty hard to adjust to, eh?!
While Coors is definitely an advantageous place to hit in, the extreme nature of it leaves for large adjustments to be made from series to series and could easily throw off a hitter’s ability to read pitches. Given a non-Coors baseline stadium, I am confident Story’s home/road splits will normalize and leave him remaining in the conversation of excellent up-the-middle talents for years to come.
The reality of the Seattle Mariners’ situation is clear: Obtain good players. That’s the cut and dry reality of it.
Trevor Story is and will remain to be the best option available due to his defensive flexibility, hitting ability, running ability, and prospective contract. Having just turned 29, he is in his prime and should have at least four or 5 more years of excellent play left. He has little injury concern and won’t cost nearly as much as the other remaining shortstops. Plus, if he is signed, the option to bring in available elite talents via free agency or trade remains open!
I believe Trevor Story should be the Seattle Mariners’ primary target at this point of free agency, and inking a deal to lock him down for the foreseeable future would pay huge dividends for the next half decade or more.