Welcome to the annual Over The Monster One Big Question season preview series. Over the next 40(ish) days, we will be running through every player on the Boston Red Sox 40-man roster and identifying a key question for them pertaining to the coming season. We will go through the roster in alphabetical order. For the most part, these will run Monday through Friday every week running up to the week before Opening Day, at least as things are scheduled right now. Obviously, the lockout may change the timing of the season, and it also means we will likely see more additions of new faces. If need be, we will add some weekend posts to fit any and all additions to the 40-man before Opening Day. You can catch up with every post by following this link. With that, today we cover Trevor Story.
The Question: Will Trevor Story’s OBP take a big hit away from Coors?
In case you somehow have missed it, which would be truly wild to me if you are reading this post, the Red Sox signed Trevor Story as their big splash of the offseason. It was not planned this way, but Story is set to make his debut in a Red Sox uniform on Wednesday against the Braves after his original planned debut was delayed due to the birth of his child. It is undeniable that Story makes the Red Sox better and puts them in a far greater position to make noise in what is expected to be an uber-competitive American League East, giving the Red Sox a boost in every facet of the game with offense, defense, and base running. It may not have been my first choice for the big move of the winter, but it’s a big-time move for a team that should be aiming for the postseason in 2022 and beyond.
That is not to say there are no concerns about this signing, and I think if you were to do a formal poll of Red Sox fans the biggest worry would be about his transition from Coors, and specifically the disparity from his days with the Rockies with regards to his home and road splits. We’ve covered this a bit already, and people much smarter than myself have thrown cold water on those worries as most abide by the theory that the Coors Hangover Effect, moving away to and from altitude throughout the season, effectively causes more harm than good for most players. I have no reason to doubt that, and would certainly say it’s not fair to look at Story’s career road numbers as his baseline true talent.
Having that said, the move from Coors is going to result in some decline, and specifically with his batting average on balls in play. While there is still some feeling that the benefit from Coors is about home run power, that hasn’t been true in a couple of decades since they added the humidor. It’s still something of an advantage, of course, but the biggest gain from playing in Coors these days is taking advantage of the huge out field and the low altitude to result in high BABIPs. Rockies players in 2021 had a .322 BABIP at home, a pretty significant number for a team that was one of the worst in the bigs.
Generally we don’t really care too much about BABIP alone, but as a key component of OBP it’s worth wondering what kind of affect, if any, this could have on Story. He’s always been a good OBP player, with a career mark of .340, but he also has a career BABIP of .336. There’s certainly going to be some decline here from his career norms, but I don’t think the decrease is going to be as much as it could have been in other situations.
For one thing, he helped himself out quite a bit by coming to the Red Sox. There are worse park transitions he could have made. Consider, for example, that the Red Sox were the only team that had a higher home BABIP than Colorado last season. Now, some of that is because they had very good hitters, but they also have a park that can lead to a lot of hits. Right and center field have a huge amount of space in which balls can fall in for hits, while left field’s short wall consistently turns would-be fly outs into singles and doubles. Story, as a line drive hitter from the right side, should be able to take advantage of that space. Again, there’s some likely decline from Coors, but it could be more significant in other parks.
I’d also point to Story’s plate discipline and the lineup context as a way to make up for the loss in singles dropping in. For one thing, he should see more strikes. While generally the idea of protection can be overblown, it’s also not nothing, and particularly in recent years after Nolan Arenado was traded Story was the real focal point in Colorado’s lineup. As such, it shouldn’t come as much surprise that, per Baseball Savant, Story has seen pitches in the zone at a rate below league-average in each of the last three seasons. Now hitting in a lineup where he’s arguably the fourth best hitter in the lineup, he should have more situations with traffic on the bases and/or big-time hitters behind him, which should lead to more fastballs and more pitches in the zone. That, in turn, should lead to fewer strikeouts and more hard contact.
Story is coming off a relatively down season in which one could argue this is what he’ll look like away from Coors, as he finished with a perfectly average 100 wRC+ along with a career-low .293 batting average on balls in play. The Red Sox are, of course, looking for better than average performance. The good news is, in heading to Fenway Park and playing in a deeper lineup, he should be able to better make up for more typical BABIPs and still be the big addition that this lineup so clearly needed for most of this offseason.