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In February of last year, we wrote about Nolan Arenado’s uncanny ability—and we don’t use that word lightly—to drive in runs. The “King of Clutch” then went on to have a season that forced us to highlight it again in April, and then one more time in June.
Four years running now, Arenado has been substantially and measurably better at hitting baseballs the more impactful the situation is. Whether you are looking at classic stats like RBI, where he has topped 130 for three straight years, or getting as granular as his sOPS+ in “High-Leverage Situations” there is simply no getting around the fact that the Rockies third baseman has been best when it counts the most.
Whether that can or will continue is still subject for much, often heated, debate. But not for shortstop Trevor Story.
A young player whose imposing offense seemingly came out of nowhere and at random in 2017, Story knows that he can do a better job of situational hitting, whether the stats believe that’s a thing or not.
He came to spring training prepared to adjust his approach, you guessed it, based on the one his teammate has employed to such success.
“I’m trying to evolve and become better every year,” he says. “I felt some good stuff at the end of last year, started paying more attention to things like counts and what pitchers are trying to do and yeah, I feel good with it right now.”
Story says he has been picking the brain of one of the very best in the game in an attempt to learn the tricks of the trade. That trade? Adjusting your swing based on the situation without losing what made you an MLB slugger to begin with.
And it isn’t all just about recognizing when a productive out or opposite single might be the best outcome at the moment, but also knowing who is on the mound and how that factors into your approach.
“If you feel confident against a pitcher you can lean toward [power],” he says. “But if somebody’s nasty up there and they have really good stuff, you might lean toward taking the home run out of the equation and just get the job done.”
The home run has been Story’s weapon of choice for his entire professional career since being drafted by the Rockies in 2011. But that’s by design of the swing, not necessarily the intent. “A lot of times, when I hit them, I’m not really trying to hit a home run,” he says. “I’m just trying to hit the ball hard and I think that kinda takes care of it.”
Story comfortably leads MLB shortstops in round-trippers over the last two seasons with 51 but last season showed much to be desired in the contact department. He wasn’t alone though, BSN Denver highlighted at the All-Star break in 2017 that productive outs might be the most important stat down the stretch, and it turned out to be a huge one.
Bud Black even said he’d have to buy me a beer to commiserate over this dynamic sometime.
This ideology is going to play a major factor for a Rockies team that is built to win games on the margins. The starting pitching staff goes eight deep, the defense should be great to spectacular, and the bullpen is as good and deep as it has ever been.
It Trevor Story and his compatriots on the offense can deliver in those key at-bats, recognizing the moment to win a game with a groundball to second instead of a flyball over the fence, the Colorado Rockies road to the postseason will be paved with 3-2 victories.