Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story is one of the hot commodities in this offseason’s free agent market. While Story isn’t on the same echelon as Carlos Correa and Corey Seager — the two shortstops expect to garnered the biggest deals this offseason — he’s an All Star caliber player who has averaged 5.8 bWAR per 162 games played in his career, has finished in the top twelve in the MVP voting three times, and, having just turned 29 this month, figures to have several more years of high level performance left in him.
The Texas Rangers are among the teams that have been linked to Story, and while the fact of his Metroplex roots is a factor in that, the team has consistently been reported to be pursuing one of the big time shortstops this offseason, and Story would be a fit. There are a number of other teams that are after Story, of course, but Story to the Rangers is a common prediction made by the free agent prognosticators.
There have been concerns voiced, however, about whether Story should be pursued. He had a down year in 2021, impacted by an elbow injury as well as the uncertainty of his future leading up to the trade deadline. The skeptics also, however, point to Story’s underwhelming career road numbers — he has a career .241/.310/.442 slash line away from Coors. That has led some folks to claim he is a Coors Field mirage, that he’s an average at best player away from elevation, and that a team would be foolish to pay him big money given that.
The flip side of the altitude issue is that you can’t simply take a player’s road numbers and assume that is what he is going to do going forward. That is particularly the case with Rockies players, as teams have started to realize that hitters tend to perform worse on the road when they play for the Rockies than they do when the play for other teams. Mike Petriello recently used Chris Iannetta, who had two separate stints with the Rockies, separated by six years, as an example of the effect.
In particular, this effect is found when players first start on a road trip after playing at Coors. Pitches don’t move the same way in the higher elevation of Denver that they do elsewhere. Thus, when hitters start a road trip, they have an adjustment period when they have to re-acclimate themselves to how pitches normally move. If that is true, we would expect to see hitters underperform in the first few games of a road trip before stabilizing.
Now, teams that do this sort of analysis can take a look at the pitchers faced, the quality of the defense, the park effects of the road park, and do a much more detailed examination of the extent to which a hitter may be underperforming expectations in certain types of games, and will do this for all Rockies hitters in order to get an understanding of the overall effect. I don’t have the time or energy to do that. What I can do, though, is go through Trevor Story’s game logs, and break out how he did in the first few games of a road trip, comparing that to his performance later on on a road trip.
So I went to Baseball Reference’s game logs, and separated out games into four categories:
First game of a road trip
Second game of a road trip
Third game of a road trip
All subsequent games of a road trip
Note that the first, second, third, and subsequent games of a road trip are for Story in particular — if he didn’t play in the first game of a road trip, but did play in the second game, that second game was reflected as the first game of the road trip for Story.
For each game I plugged into a spreadsheet Story’s plate appearances, total bases, hits, walks+HBPs, and strikeouts. This would allow me to calculate rate stats in each situation.
Here’s how Story fared in 2021:
1st game of a road trip: .245 OBP, .273 SLG, 24.5% K rate
2nd game of a road trip: .232 OBP, .385 SLG, 17.9% K rate
3rd game of a road trip: .280 OBP, .318 SLG, 26.0% K rate
Subsequent road games: .338 OBP, .574 SLG, 30.0% K rate
That’s interesting! Small sample size, yes, but there’s obviously a pretty dramatic difference in what Story did in the first few games he played in on a road trip compared to the games later on in the road trip.
Okay, so let’s do the same exercise for a longer period of time — from 2018-21,* which encompasses three full seasons plus the weird 2020 shortened season. When the Rockies start their season on the road, I am not including those games, because the purpose is to compare performance on the road after playing in Denver.
* I decided four seasons was sufficient for this look, and I was tired of manually inputting all the data.
Here’s the numbers for Story from 2018-21:
1st game of a road trip: .276 OBP, .346 SLG, 29.3% K rate
2nd game of a road trip: .339 OBP, .488 SLG, 23.0% K rate
3rd game of a road trip: .306 OBP, .361 SLG, 26.9% K rate
Subsequent road games: .327 OBP, .518 SLG, 28.6% K rate
What we are seeing is less extreme, but still a significant difference between his performance on the road at the beginning of a road trip compared to later in a road trip.
If we look at the first three games of a road trip, and compare it to all subsequent games of a road trip, Story’s numbers come out thusly:
First three games of a road trip: .301 OBP, .396 SLG, 26.9% K rate
Subsequent road games: .327 OBP, .518 SLG, 28.6% K rate
I find the data fairly compelling. Story’s numbers over the last four years would seem to support the notion that his overall road numbers are impacted by him hitting worse at the outset of a road trip, as he’s adjusting to the way pitches are moving at sea level, compared to at elevation.
Again, this is a fairly high level analysis, and I’m not telling you that this is any sort of definitive proof of anything. That said, if you are one of those who has been concerned about the Rangers possibly signing Trevor Story because of his overall road numbers, this should at least somewhat alleviate those concerns.
UPDATE — You can check out the underlying data in Google Sheets here.