This is the too little too late part of the season for the Boston Red Sox. As fun as it was for fans to see them sweep the Texas Rangers last weekend and have their longest win streak since the end of June, their chances of making the playoffs are minuscule at this point, and that’s putting it rather lightly. To wit, prior to games on Wednesday, FanGraphs gave them a 0.3 percent chance of making the playoffs. Yikes.
But while the overall season is circling the drain, there is still some fun to be had, even some that doesn’t revolve around finally getting to see Triston Casas take on MLB pitching. In the last couple weeks, Trevor Story has provided quite a bit of that aforementioned fun, as he has been nearly unstoppable since returning from the injured list at the end of August.
Before he came back into the lineup on Aug. 27, Story had last played on July 12, a week before the All-Star Game and several more before the Juan Soto blockbuster. Wow, that was a while ago, wasn’t it? Anyway, prior to his recent stint on the IL, Story had been merely OK in the first few months of his maiden season with the Red Sox after signing a six-year, $140 million deal a few weeks before the regular season got started. With a 93 wRC+ prior to his injury that was buoyed by a spike of power production in May, it was still far too early to label Story a bust, but it wasn’t great for the Red Sox’s biggest free agent signing of the offseason (and the Chaim Bloom era) to be struggling to keep his head above water offensively.
Maybe a little rest is all Story needed, though, because he has looked like an entirely new player over the last week and a half. With the mandatory qualifiers about sample size and such, this is the Story the Red Sox hoped they signed earlier this spring. Even including an 0-for-4 night on Tuesday, in 37 plate appearances since coming off the IL, Story has slashed .400/.432/.629 for an even 200 wRC+. He’s also had six extra-base hits, driven in five and even stolen a couple bases. Obviously Story isn’t going to bat .400 the rest of the reason or be 100 percent better than league average as a hitter. After all, mixed in with those impressive stats is a still very high strikeout rate, a meager walk rate and pretty middling contact metrics in terms of hard hit rate, average exit velocity and barrel rate. In addition, Story’s batting average on balls in play during this recent stretch is sitting at a ludicrous .565. Still, we can all agree the last week has been fun when Story has been hitting.
Such a heater is reminiscent of what the Red Sox starting second baseman did back in May, when he clobbered nine home runs across 120 plate appearances, including a seven-game stretch of seven dingers in the middle of the month. Unfortunately, that torrid pace fell off in the next few months, with Story hitting only six home runs across 148 combined plate appearances in June and July, with his overall production falling to 24 percent below league average in that time. For comparison, he was 29 percent better than league average at the plate during May.
So the pattern we’re seeing develop here is one of a streaky hitter prone to strung out stretches of struggles mixed with sizzling samples of superpowered slugging. But is that what we should expect from Story based on his pre-Boston days? Before last season, the answer would more or less be no. Between 2016 and 2020, Story posted a below average wRC+ for a month only eight times (out 25 months), with a few of those months combining production in March and April and/or September and October. Of those eight instances, only three occurred from 2018 to 2020, making for 12 months with a wRC+ above 100 across a sample of 15 months. While monthly wRC+ isn’t exactly a scientifically perfect way to measure a hitter’s streakiness, it at least sheds some light on Story’s consistency during that time.
In 2021, however, Story was a bit more prone to offensive fluctuations from month to month. From March through May, he hovered in the mid-80s in terms of wRC+ while hitting five home runs. He finally got going in June with a 117 wRC+, before going into a deep funk in July (58 wRC+). The seesaw reversed course from there, with Story producing a 125 wRC+ the rest of the way (133 in August and 117 in September and October). In all, the uneven distribution didn’t make Story any less of a marquee free agent, but it did create at least a little bit of uncertainty.
The up-and-down trajectory has continued in 2022, doing little to quell any lingering doubt, with Story producing a wRC+ of 129 in May and a combined mark of 200 in August and September, which have been weighed down by marks below 80 in the other months of the year.
When you put it all together, Story has clawed his way above average offensively, although just barely at a 104 wRC+. That would be perfectly fine if he were a platoon infielder, but it looks like more of a disappointment when placed in the context of Story’s starpower and paycheck. However, disappointment is certainly too strong a word at this juncture. (Who decided to use that word anyway? Oh right, I did.)
Buoyed by his usually strong defense and the sparks of offensive success he has had, Story is still on his way to a roughly three-win season, which is pretty good considering he missed more than a month of the year and has regressed a bit offensively. We also have to remember that he didn’t sign with the Red Sox until very late in the offseason, giving him precious little time to acclimate to a new team at the beginning of the year. These may seem like excuses, and I suppose they are, but what Story’s recent hot streak has shown us is that in a year that’s been tough to evaluate, he has clearly shown he can still be a superstar. He just needs to do it more consistently.
But that’s not the only thing up in the air as it relates to Story. When the Red Sox signed an All-Star shortstop last spring, it raised red flags about what it meant for Xander Bogaerts’ future with the team. The short-term solution this year was to shift Story over to second base while allowing Bogaerts, an All-Star shortstop himself, to stay at his post. While there were never any rumblings of animosity between Bogaerts and Story, it would be naive to ignore the addition of Story in the context of the ongoing contract negotiations saga between Bogaerts and the Red Sox.
Technically speaking, Bogaerts is signed through 2026. So what’s the problem? Well, for those who have tried to ignore all this with the hopes that it would all work itself out (I envy you), Bogaerts has an opt-out clause following this very year. It’s been assumed for nearly a year that Bogaerts will use said opt-out clause to test free agency, and with the Red Sox failing to work out an extension to his liking, that still seems like the path Bogaerts will take.
Now, that doesn’t mean the Red Sox might not re-sign him this offseason (and it will be no sooner than that), but adding Story complicated the calculus for both sides. If Story continues his late season surge through the end of the campaign, it might get even more complicated. It likely it won’t have a huge effect, of course. It would be foolish to make such a major contract decision with a homegrown star based on a few games, and even if Chaim Bloom has not exactly won over the Red Sox fanbase, he’s not going to make that mistake. However, if Story was actually brought in as insurance for if Bogaerts left or to replace him because Boston wasn’t interested in pursuing a long-term deal, seeing him produce like he has the last couple weeks certainly won’t change the minds of those in the front office.
It feels callous to look at a positive on the field like Story’s recent offensive run in such a callous light. An optimist would see Story succeed and be excited about the future, as it would be insane for a team with the financial resources of the Red Sox to opt for one offensively gifted middle infielder when it could have two. But as the Red Sox have shown over the last few years with moves like the Mookie Betts trade, there is no room for sentiment in the front office.
So as not to leave you on such a dire-sounding note, let’s veer back to the fun Story has provided recently and watch his three-run home run from last Sunday. We can worry about the rest later.
Coming in HOT. pic.twitter.com/1BvVvPCFAA— Red Sox (@RedSox) September 4, 2022
Note: All statistics are from before games on Sept. 7