When labor peace returns to major league baseball, the Seattle Mariners will still need to add a middle-of-the-order bat. One oft-mentioned candidate to fill that role is Trevor Story, formerly of the Colorado Rockies. Would signing Story make sense for the Mariners?

Just last month, we discussed Story along with several other free agent infielders. At the time, I expressed apprehension over the super-charging effect Coors Field has on the statistics of Rockies hitters and how Story might perform once he played his home games elsewhere.

A review of Story’s career home and away splits reveals the basis for my concern. We see that he delivered excellent production in Denver’s mile-high elevation. Conversely, the right-handed hitter was average-ish when on the road with the exception of a well-above average strikeout rate.

Trevor Story's Home/Away Splits (2017-21)
K%
BB%
AVG
OBP
SLG
wOBA
Home
24.1
8.1
.301
.363
.590
.396
Away
30.2
8.2
.242
.311
.440
.322
MLB*
22.7
8.2
.249
.318
.420
.318
* MLB averages for 2017-21

At this point, some of you have probably seen enough and would prefer that the Mariners steer clear of Story. Understandable sentiment, but an article by a super-smart baseball analyst helped soften my stance on his extreme splits. Before getting into that any further, let’s quickly consider the park the Texan has called home for six seasons. Doing so will pay off later in our discussion.

Hitter’s Paradise

We all know Coors Field is an ideal venue for hitters. The prevailing belief is Denver’s thin air affects pitch movement and permits batted balls to travel farther. But we shouldn’t take this to mean that the lone byproduct of the ballpark’s 5,200-foot elevation is a high home run rate.

Don’t get me wrong. There have been 1,401 home runs hit at Coors Field since the beginning of the Statcast era in 2015. That’s a lot. However, more homers have been clobbered at three other ballparks during the same period – Oriole Park at Camden Yards (1,581), Yankee Stadium (1,514), and Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark (1,468). That said, the Mile High City does lead the majors in another category by an overwhelming margin – non-home run hits.

Most Non-HR Hits In Statcast Era
Coors Field (Denver) – 8,986
Fenway Park (Boston) – 8,464
Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City) – 8,279
Chase Field (Phoenix) – 8,022
PNC Park (Pittsburgh) – 7,967
Comerica Park (Detroit) – 7,959
Target Field (Minneapolis) – 7,901
Oracle Park (San Francisco) – 7, 882
Oriole Park at Camden Yards (Baltimore) – 7,674
Nationals Park (Washington, DC) – 7,622

It turns out that Coors Field’s spacious outfield, designed to offset its mile-high elevation, actually generates many hits that don’t leave the park. This helps explain why Rockies players have won 11 batting titles since the franchise’s inaugural season in 1993.

Now that we’ve reviewed the benefits of Coors Field to hitters, let’s get back to discussing Story’s home/away numbers.

Bumpy Road

As noted earlier, something I read convinced me to take a second look at Story’s so-so numbers away from Coors Field. It was a piece authored by Mike Petriello of MLB.com discussing the Coors Field effect when Nolan Arenado was traded by Colorado to the St. Louis Cardinals earlier this year. A key takeaway for me was road numbers of hitters tend to improve once they become former Rockies.

Petriello suggested that adjusting to hitting away from Coors Field is far more challenging for Colorado players than some of us may realize. With this in mind, I reviewed how the road wOBA of notable former Rockies changed once they left the organization.

Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) is a sabermetric version of on-base percentage (OBP) that credits hitters for how he reached rather than treating all on-base events as equals, as OBP does. For instance, a double is more valuable to run production than a single, a home run more than a double, etc. MLB league-average wOBA this year = .319

Arenado, former Mariners Seth Smith and Chris Iannetta, Dexter Fowler, Corey Dickerson, and D.J. LeMahieu became established major leaguers with Colorado before moving on. The following illustrates each player’s road wOBA during their final two seasons with the Rockies and their first two campaigns after leaving the team with one exception – Arenado has just one year with the Cardinals.

Road wOBA of Rockies Before/After Leaving Colorado
w/COL
Post COL
Delta
Nolan Arenado
.338
.367*
.029
DJ LeMahieu
.315
.339
.024
Corey Dickerson
.315
.343
.028
Seth Smith
.323
.332
.009
Dexter Fowler
.315
.328
.013
Chris Iannetta
.274
.361
.087
Trevor Story
.317
??
??

As you can see, every player enjoyed more road wOBA success after leaving the Rockies. This suggests there should be an improvement in Story’s away numbers, assuming he signs with a new club. For this reason, I feel much better about his home/away splits. That said, there are other issues regarding the 29-year-old we should consider.

A Tough Year

This is more perception than reality, but many pending free agents seem to have a career-year as they enter the market. That was not the case for Story. Colorado’s first round pick in the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft slashed .251/.329/.471 with a 100 wRC+.

Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) quantities how a hitter’s total offensive value compares with the league average after adjusting for park effects. League-average is always 100. Therefore, a wRC+ of 150 means a hitter was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 wRC+ would be 20-percent below average.

Story’s overall season numbers were pedestrian, especially for someone considered by many to be an elite player. But it’s important to note that his production rebounded considerably during his final 50 games.

Trevor Story's Poor Start & Strong Finish In 2021
Games
HR
AVG
OBP
SLG
wOBA
wRC+
First 92
13
.244
.317
.436
.321
87
Final 50
11
.264
.353
.538
.377
123

Story’s .377 wOBA and 123 wRC+ over the final two months of the season were certainly more palatable than what he produced beforehand. The issue confronting prospective suitors (and their fan bases) is what version of Story will suit up on Opening Day? The strong August-October performer or the scuffling hitter from the four months prior?

The answer to these questions depends on Story’s health.

What Was The Problem?

In September 2018, Denver Post writer Kyle Newman reported Story was suffering from elbow inflammation and soreness, which led to a five-game absence. The All-Star shortstop returned for the final seven games of the season and then helped the Rockies win the NL Wild Card game by going 3-6 against the Cubs in Chicago. Unfortunately, his elbow began barking again this year.

Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post noted in May that Story suffered the same issue he encountered in 2018. This time, an IL stint was required. Perhaps this was the root cause of his 2021 struggles. To this point, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic suggested Story’s elbow issue could affect his market value at the trade deadline.

In his late-July article, Rosenthal mentioned Story had committed six throwing errors, which was one shy of his career-high. Normally considered a defensive whiz at shortstop, he finished the season with 11 throwing miscues. Rosenthal also included a video of a poor throw on a routine play as potential evidence of an arm problem.

Realistically, we shouldn’t put much weight into a video replay of one bad play. On the other hand, a nerd with a much bigger brain than mine does plant a seed of doubt regarding Story’s arm strength.

After the season, Petriello was asked on Twitter about Story’s throwing. His reply illustrated the number of throws Story made topping 75-MPH. My takeaway from this graphic is he made virtually no throws over 85-MPH this season. I’m also left with the impression that his arm strength was showing signs of degradation in 2020.

What might Story’s elbow issue and its potential effect on his throwing mean to teams interested in signing the free agent? The answer likely depends on an organization’s needs and the player’s wishes.

Seattle Times beat writer Ryan Divish believes the Mariners would play Story at play second base to protect his elbow and permit Gold Glover J.P. Crawford to remain at shortstop. That seems like an appropriate course of action, although it’s unclear whether Story is amenable to changing positions to become a Mariner.

Home Field Disadvantage?

Okay, let’s assume three things happen in 2022. Story is a Mariner, he hits better on the road, and the elbow doesn’t affect his throwing or hitting. If these things become reality, there is another factor we should discuss. Story would be playing half his games at a venue likely to depress his offensive production – T-Mobile Park.

To see what I mean, take a look at the home and away splits of the Mariners with the highest wOBA during the Statcast era. All but two delivered better production away from the Emerald City.

Home/Away wOBA of Top M's (2015-21)
Overall
Home
Away
Delta
Nelson Cruz
.382
.367
.397
-.030
Ty France
.353
.345
.361
-.016
Mitch Haniger
.351
.336
.365
-.029
Robinson Canó
.350
.341
.358
-.017
Seth Smith
.331
.357
.305
.052
Jean Segura
.330
.325
.334
-.009
Kyle Seager
.326
.311
.340
-.029
Ben Gamel
.316
.326
.305
.021
Daniel Vogelbach
.322
.315
.328
-.013
J.P. Crawford
.307
.272
.342
-.070
Mike Zunino
.301
.292
.309
-.017

The negative effect T-Mobile Park has on most hitters makes forecasting Story’s production as a Mariner somewhat problematic. Sure, he’ll probably hit better on the road. But we know his home numbers will be significantly worse away from Denver. Especially in Seattle’s pitcher-friendly venue.

Having said all that, the influence ballparks have on offense varies by MLB venue. It’s part of the business. Some help hitters, others favor pitchers. In the end, the cream will rise to the top. That’s why hitters like Nelson Cruz, Robinson Canó, Jean Segura, and Mitch Haniger were All-Stars as Mariners despite the challenge of playing half their games at T-Mobile Park. Where does that leave Story?

How Good Is He?

To answer this question, I compared Story to 51 shortstops with 1,000-plus plate appearances since his MLB debut in 2016. It’s an imperfect evaluation, but it should provide a measure of insight into where he stands among his peers.

Trevor Story's Peer Rankings (2016-21)
HR
K%
SB
OBP
SLG
wOBA
wRC+
Story
158
27.6
100
.340
.523
.362
112
Rank*
2
45
4
12
2
4
12
*Against 51 shortstops with 1,000+ PA's since 2016

I tend to believe that Story will continue to have home run power away from Coors Field. His career 4% home run rate on the road is better than the 2021 MLB average (3.3%). Then again, I do have reservations about his on-base ability moving forward.

Story had a good, but not great career .340 OBP despite benefitting from the large Coors Field outfield. This is attributable to high strikeout and unremarkable walk rates that probably remain stable with a change of address. We shouldn’t ignore this factor when assessing his fit with the Mariners.

Yeah, But…

Assuming good health, I’ve warmed to the notion of Story’s becoming a Mariner. Yes, there are valid concerns to consider. But there is so much to like about him.

Story is capable of providing a unique blend of plus-power and speed on the bases not seen in Seattle since the days of Ken Griffey Jr., Álex Rodríguez, and Mike Cameron. Still, fans should consider the possibility that he’ll be a different type of run producer away from Colorado.

An aging Story without the benefit of Coors Field may reach base less often but retain his home run power. That isn’t necesarily a bad thing for the Mariners. It’s what Seager and Haniger have become in recent years.

The new version of Trevor Story I’ve imagined may not repeat the prolific stats once produced with the Rockies. But he’d be capable of helping transform the Mariners into a legitimate threat in the AL West division. Does that work for you?

It does for me.

My Oh My…

Got a take on what you just read? Talk about it here!

Image courtesy of David J. Phillip / AP Images
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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up as a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home. In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team. During baseball season, he can often be found observing the local team at T-Mobile Park. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins

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