Red Sox aren’t worried about Trevor Story’s scary splits

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 26: Trevor Story #27 of the Colorado Rockies bats during a game against the San Francisco Giants at Coors Field on September 26, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 26: Trevor Story #27 of the Colorado Rockies bats during a game against the San Francisco Giants at Coors Field on September 26, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) /

New Red Sox infielder Trevor Story isn’t hitting at Coors Field anymore

The Boston Red Sox made the splash we’ve been waiting for, signing Trevor Story to a six-year, $140 million deal. The contract includes an opt-out after the fourth season and an option for a seventh year, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.

The excitement of seeing Chaim Bloom pull the trigger on signing a high-profile star is offset only by questions about Story’s fit in Boston. There should be no issue defensively, with Alex Speier of the Boston Globe reporting that Story signed with an understanding that he would be moving to second base to accommodate Xander Bogaerts‘ desire to remain a shortstop.

The skepticism with Story stems from his troubling home/road splits. Story has spent his entire career in Colorado where the thin air inflates offensive production. He put up video game numbers at Coors Field, hitting .303/.369/.603 at home. Story has been a below-average player throughout his career on the road, slashing .241/.310/.442.

At first glance, we might be inclined to believe that the Red Sox overpaid for a product of Coors Field who is destined to be a disappointment in any other park. That narrative fails to put Story’s production into the proper context.

Since Story debuted in 2016, the Rockies are the highest scoring team in the majors at home where they own a major-league best .360 wOBA, per FanGraphs. Colorado has scored the second-fewest runs on the road over that span and they own a major-league low .292 wOBA.

Rockies hitters naturally benefit from playing half of their games in baseball’s best hitting environment but they are also at a unique disadvantage on the road. The ball traveling a few extra feet off the bat isn’t the only quirk to playing at elevation. Breaking balls don’t move as well in that environment, forcing pitchers to rely on a fastball-heavy approach. Hitters who feast on fastballs will thrive at Coors.

The downside is that those hitters need to adjust when they go on the road where they’ll face a wider variety of pitches. It’s not that their hitters are incapable of hitting a breaking ball, but it can be tough to adapt to certain pitch types when you haven’t see them for a series or two.

Story will find more consistency in Boston where he won’t need to worry about those constant adjustments. It’s certainly not Coors Field, but Fenway is a solid hitter’s park. His right-handed bat has significant pull-side power that should play well at Fenway where he can take aim at the towering green wall in left field. The two-time All-Star may not reach the 35+ homers he tallied at his peak but he’ll rack up plenty of doubles.

The ball travels further in Colorado but Story hits the ball hard enough to leave any ballpark. He ranked in the top 10 percent of the league in Hard Hit percentage as recently as 2018 and has remained well above-average since. Story’s 42.6 Hard Hit% last season placed him in the 62nd percentile, per Baseball Savant. His spray chart shows he hits the ball to all fields but the power he displays to left and center field proves he’s capable of getting plenty of distance to crush pitches out of Fenway.

The Coors effect has been a concern for other star players who left Colorado but we’ve seen several examples that proved the doubters wrong. Matt Holliday, DJ LeMahieu and Nolan Arenado all continued to perform at an All-Star level after leaving the Rockies. Good hitters can perform anywhere.

Story was a first-round pick out of Texas. He performed well at the minor league levels while ascending through the Rockies farm system and most of their affiliates don’t benefit from playing in Colorado. Story’s bat showed promising potential long before he showed up to Coors Field.

Story will also add some speed to a lineup that lacks a threat on the base paths. He has stolen 20+ bases in three of the last four seasons and led the league with 15 steals during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Speed is an element of his game that may not age gracefully but the 29-year-old still has wheels, ranking in the 89th percentile in sprint speed last season.

The Red Sox were targeting a right-handed bat to balance their lineup and they found one in Story. While they initially were focused on finding an upgrade in right field, locking in Story at second base ensures Kike Hernandez can stay in center field where he thrived last year. Ideally, Jackie Bradley Jr. won’t be an everyday player but Boston can afford one liability at the bottom of their lineup with Story upgrading the middle of the order. The glove of JBJ still has value and Fenway requires a strong defensive player in right field. Boston can also seek an upgrade at the trade deadline if they don’t address the outfield before Opening Day.

Signing Story should silence the critics who complained that Bloom is never willing to spend. There will still be those who harp on Story’s splits as a reason to doubt Bloom’s plan but those concerns are overblown. We can’t expect the eye-popping numbers that Story produced at Coors Field but he won’t hit nearly as poorly as he has on the road.

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