The Colorado Rockies have had one of the more atypical seasons in franchise history. While the usually free-scoring lineup struggled like a donkey attempting to ride a bicycle, the team's starting pitchers have pitched exceptionally well. Jon Gray has matched his peripherals since his return, German Marquez has pitched like an ace, and both Kyle Freeland and Tyler Anderson give up a lot of soft contact.
While this writer could write about how the Rockies pitching staff has forcefully dragged the Rockies into a playoff position, that is not why this piece is being written. Rather, Trevor Story, somebody in the Rockies’ lineup not named Nolan Arenado or Charlie Blackmon, hit three homers last night, including 459-foot and 505-foot monsters. With much of Colorado's lineup hitting at a below average level, Story could be one of, if not the most important players in the Rockies lineup for the September run.
Balancing the lineup
The Rockies have a wobbly lineup relies heavily on Nolan Arenado and the lucky to be still alive Charlie Blackmon. Arenado has had another average Nolan Arenado year with a 130 wRC+. Blackmon has only had a 107 wRC+, making him slightly above average, but his 113 wRC+ against righties makes him vital to the worst lineup in baseball against righties. Besides last season’s MVP candidates, the Rockies have had trouble with lineup balance. Carlos Gonzalez has rebounded to have an average MLB season while DJ LeMahieu and Tony Wolters have contributed mostly with their gloves.
Both Ian Desmond and Gerardo Parra have had below replacement level seasons, but the replacements, mainly Matt Holliday, David Dahl, and Ryan McMahon, have not made enough plate appearances to undo the negative impact of Desmond and Parra. With a collective 85 wRC+, only the San Diego Padres have a worse lineup than the Colorado Rockies.
Trevor Story’s emergence as one of the best hitting shortstops in the game gives the Rockies lineup some stability. Through the entire season, he has marked an impressive slash line of .298/.354/.566. His 128 wRC+ and his .268 ISO place him in the same class as Manny Machado and Francisco Lindor, two of the best players in the majors. Without his superstar level production, the Rockies would have the worst lineup in the majors and likely sit well outside the playoff picture.
Story has made some significant improvements in his plate discipline, making his progress this season more notable. Most significantly, he has lowered strikeout rate to 25.4%. Even though he still strikes out more than an average hitter, he has significantly improved from an NL leading 34.4% in 2017.
He has not improved simply by swinging less. His overall swing rate has reached a career-high 49.9% in 2018. Instead, he has swung at more hittable pitches. His swing rate at pitches in the zone has increased from 66% in 2017 to 71% in 2018. And while he has become more aggressive across the entire zone (2018 and 2017 zone profiles, per Brooks Baseball), he has made increased his swing rate at inside middle pitches by 17%, a pitch he has become significantly more comfortable hitting. Against inside middle pitches, he has a mesmerizing .434 xwOBA. In 2017, he hit for a .313 xwOBA against pitches in the same location. Story has learned what pitch he can hit, and he has swung at it when he sees it. Sometimes, the simple adjustments make the largest improvements.
Trevor Story has more than doubled his value to the Rockies this season. Without him, the Rockies would trail the Dodgers by several games in the divisional race, and this weekend series would not matter. But Colorado is trying to win its first NL West title, and it will need its shortstop to pencil in part of the final chapter of the story.