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Trevor Story’s snowballing struggles

Things are not good for the team’s biggest signing.

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Los Angeles Angels vs. Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

With the Red Sox offense performing significantly below expectations to start this 2022 season, the main (though not only) reason the team is already getting to the point of desperation for a playoff spot on only May 10, the focal point of those struggles have been Trevor Story. That’s certainly not to say he’s the only player underperforming, as the same can be said for every Red Sox hitter not named Rafael, Xander, or J.D., but given his big contract and his spot in the lineup, the spotlight is simply greater which makes the shortcomings more noticeable.

And it’s been impossible not to notice. Boston’s $140 man has started this season hitting just .194/.276/.269 for a 62 wRC+. That last number, which puts him at 38 percent worse than the league-average hitter, makes him the 20th-worst hitter in all of baseball by that metric, sandwiched between players like Adam Duvall and Amed Rosario. It’s not what you want from your big offseason addition. Now, there’s essentially no way he is going to continue hitting this poorly, as he’s been too good of a player for too long for this kind of ineptitude to continue. That being said, this also isn’t the case of extended and cruel bad luck. There are real issues that need to be sorted out before, and they’re only snowballing and getting worse on seemingly a day-to-day basis.

We’ll start with his lack of power output, which was been stunning. Granted, power has been down across baseball this year for a variety of reasons, most notably the physical baseball itself, but that still doesn’t full explain the fact that Story is still waiting on his first homer of 2022, nor does it explain his .075 Isolated Power (SLG - AVG), the 26th worst in baseball. Lately though, the lack of power has been overshadowed by his poor plate discipline numbers, and specifically the strikeouts. He’s been piling up K’s over the last couple of weeks, and he’s now striking out exactly a third of the time, something the Red Sox cannot afford at the top of their lineup right now.

It’s the plate discipline stuff that really points to the possibility that he is simply pressing at the plate right now. Story has been visibly frustrated in seemingly more plate appearances than not in recent weeks, culminating with multiple backwards K’s over last week’s series against the White Sox in which he argued with the ump on pitches that were, at worst, borderline. He’s expanding the zone early, then failing to read it properly late, leading to a complete mess in his plate appearances.

Looking at the more granular plate discipline metrics beyond just strikeouts and walks on Baseball Savant, a few things stand out. First and foremost, it stands out just how often he is not swinging at strikes. He’s seeing fewer strikes than he’s typically seen in his career, which could perhaps play into this to some extent, but Story is currently only swinging at 72 percent of pitches in the strike zone. That’s compared to a career rate of about 80 percent, and a league-average rate of 82 percent. It’s strange to complain about a player not swinging enough on a Red Sox team that has been notably hurt by their over-aggressive approach, but good hitters need to attack strikes. Story is just isn’t right now, and it’s leading to hitters counts and way too many backwards K’s.

Chicago White Sox v Boston Red Sox Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images

The other problem is, when he does get the bat off his shoulder and offer at a pitch, he’s not making any contact. The second baseman’s whiff rate to this point in the season is over 36 percent. That’s compared to a career rate of just under 28 percent, and a league-average swinging strike rate of under 25 percent. It looks like a number that would come from a first-year player adjusting to the league, not a multi-time All-Star who just received an eight-figure deal.

And then there’s what happens when he does make contact, which as one can probably surmise from those power numbers above, it’s not pretty. We’re still in a bit of a small sample zone where a few batted balls can skew these numbers, which is presumably how we explain the fact that his average exit velocity is right around the middle of the pack for the league, but his hard-hit rate is only in the 28th percentile. He’s had a few very hard-hit balls, and that skews the overall average. That said, if you’re looking for a positive here, when he is making contact he’s still hitting it on a line a ton, and he’s continuing to use the whole field roughly to the extent he has throughout his career.

The Red Sox need Story to get on track if their offense is going to rebound, as they need a complement to the big three of Devers, Bogaerts, and Martinez. It’s not going to happen with the way he is approaching at bats right now. From the outside, it seems like he’s totally in his own head and completely unaware of the strike zone. There are too many good pitches being watched, leading to bad counts, which in turn is leading to strikeouts and weak contact. Whether it’s a day off or two to get his head on straight, or a move down in the order to light a fire under him, there needs to be some sort of external adjustment here because he is too important to let this slide continue and potentially only get worse.