2023 In One Sentence
Uh-oh, we could have a problem on our hands.
Defense matters, man. It matters a lot. If there was anyone questioning that concept coming into the season, then the doomed Kiké Hernandez experiment put an end to that pretty quickly. The 2023 Red Sox were the worst defensive team I’ve ever seen, and while there were issues all over the diamond, it was the hole at shortstop that caused the biggest problems, putting further pressure on Rafael Devers and Triston Casas, and starting a cascade of defensive ineptitude that seemed to affect just about everyone other than Connor Wong and Alex Verdugo.
And then into this hole stepped Trevor Story (eventually. . . )
Story was so good with the glove upon his return that he somehow ended up eighth amongst all shortstops with 8 Outs Above Average, despite making just 35 starts at the position. He wasn’t just catching the ball well, either, but making the types of instinctual plays that only come from having an innate sense of the position. Had he played the whole year at short, he would have rightly been in contention for the Gold Glove.
Nice play by Trevor Story to catch Kirk going to 3B.— Tyler Milliken ⚾️ (@tylermilliken_) September 15, 2023
So important to play good defense behind Brayan Bello. pic.twitter.com/uJcqIDxHX3
Defense matters. . . but not as much as offense. There was pretty much nothing that Story did well with the bat upon his return to the big leagues — I mean nothing. We’re talking about career lows across the board: a walk rate that was 40% lower than his career average and a strikeout rate that was nearly 20% higher; he didn’t get on base, hit for average, or hit for power; by wRC+, he was the sixth-worst offensive shortstop in all of baseball (min: 140 plate appearances).
If you want some kind of hope to cling to, you can point to the fact that he didn’t have any Spring Training (for the second year in a row) and was coming back from major surgery. But those caveats only apply so much given that he did get 48 at-bats in the minors, which would actually be close to the high-end of a standard Spring Training workload (only four players on the Red Sox totaled more than 48 at-bats this past spring, for example).
There’s no other way to say it: he was awful at the plate.
Best Game Or Moment
On August 13, just his fifth game back with the team, Story went 4-4 in a game against the Tigers with three doubles, two stolen bases, and two runs scored. It very much looked like the old Trevor Story was back that day. He proceeded to go 2-28 with 10 strikeouts over the next seven games.
One Big Question
Can he stop striking out so damn much? His 32.7% K-rate was the 26th-worst mark in all of baseball (though only the second-worst mark on the team; he owes Connor Wong a beer). It is really hard to be an effective offensive player when you strikeout that much. In fact, of the 68 players who struck out at in at least 30% of their plate appearances this season, only 12 of them managed to put up a wRC+ of 120 or above, and they tended to be players like Brandon Belt, who has historically walked much more than Story ever has. Again, you can point to the lack of Spring Training and the elbow injury, but this was the second year in a row that Story has struck out at least 30% of the time, after ending his stint in Colorado with four straight seasons in which he hovered around the 25% mark.
2024 And Beyond
Trevor Story was so good with the glove and on the base paths that, even with his total lack of offense, he still managed to put up 0.8 bWAR in his limited playing time in 2023. Extrapolate that to 140 games instead of the 43 games he actually played in and we’re looking at a 2-3 win season. You can certainly win with a shortstop who provides that kind of value. But that’s not what we expected out of Trevor Story, who is famously the only player who received a nine-figure free agent deal from the now departed Chaim Bloom.
There are plenty of reasons to hope that, with a normal offseason and a relatively injury-free 2024, Story can bounce back and be close to the All-Star he was with Colorado. But on the other hand, he's now on the wrong side of 30 and his offensive numbers have been steadily declining since 2019 (well, steadily until last year, anyway, when they suddenly nosedived). If Trevor Story never becomes anything more than a 3-win player for the Boston Red Sox, his tenure here is not going to be considered a success.