In the era of strikeouts, Rockies' Trevor Story started making more contact and became an All-Star
The Rockies slugger and first-time All-Star cut his strikeout rate quite a bit in 2018
On Sunday, the day before the All-Star break, Story clubbed a walk-off home run against the Mariners to complete a three-game sweep and extend Colorado's winning streak to five games. The Rockies are 13-3 in their last 16 games and only two games back in the NL West at 51-45.
Here is video of Story's walk-off dinger:
Power has never been a question with Story. He hit 20 homers in his final minor league season in 2015, and, as a rookie in 2016, he became the only player in history to go deep for each of his first four big league hits. Story swatted 27 home runs as a rookie and 24 as a sophomore. This year he went into the All-Star break with 20.
Like many players, Story's power came with a trade off: Strikeouts. Story has always struck out a lot, including an NL high 191 times in 2017. From 2016-17 he struck out in 33.1 percent of his plate appearances. This season Story has his strikeout rate down to 25.2 percent, which is close to the 22.3 percent league average.
"That's something that I really took into the offseason," said Story. "I struck out too much last year. I led the National League. That's not good."
The benefits of fewer strikeouts are obvious. Fewer strikeouts means more balls in play, and more balls in play means more hits, especially in Coors Field with that large outfield. Perhaps a graph better shows Story's improvement. Here is his strikeout rate and batting average on balls in play over time:
Story's contact rate on pitches in the strike zone went from 80.6 percent from 2016-17 to 87.4 percent in 2018 -- the MLB average is 85.6 percent -- and, as a result, his batting line went from .253/.333/.504 in 2016-17 to .292/.353/.557 in 2018. More balls in play, more base hits. It sounds easy, but doing it is anything but.
"Mindset. Mindset more than anything. Talking with Bud (Black) and getting a pitcher's perspective on it," Story said when asked how he improved his strikeout rate, referring to his manager, a former big league pitcher. "Talking to guys like Nolan (Arenado) and Chuck (Charlie Blackmon). Just learning from my experiences and learning from what guys are trying to do to me."
Yes, Story does play his home games at Coors Field, and yes, his numbers are much better at home. He's hit .329/.403/.747 at home and only .260/.306/.393 on the road this season. You can't fake contact ability though. The ability to get the bat on the ball isn't something the ballpark can aid. It can up the reward for putting the ball in play, for sure, but playing in Coors Field doesn't explain Story's improved strikeout rate.
Strikeouts have been increasing around baseball for years now -- "Everyone loves seeing home runs. The strikeouts kind of come with that," said Story -- and, with pitchers throwing harder than ever before, chances are strikeout rates will only continue to increase. Cutting down on whiffs is not easy, but Story has managed to do it this season.
"The hitting is going to catch up with the pitching," Story added. "It just kind of works like that. That's what I believe. The game evolves."
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