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Mariners 2022 Free Agent Target: Trevor Story

Story represents perhaps the greatest fit of this star-studded shortstop class

San Francisco Giants v Colorado Rockies Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

If all goes well over the offseason, the Mariners will have signed one of the star shortstops that make up the upcoming free agent class. At the very least, they figure to be in the conversation. Given the front office’s relationship with Kyle Seager, Corey Seager is probably not an option, and Carlos Correa seems destined for the New York Yankees. That leaves the Mariners with a few options to hone in on.

The Mariners already have a shortstop in J.P. Crawford, one that figures to play there for the vast majority of games. That means that, if they ink a shortstop from this free agent class, they’ll have to be willing to move off of shortstop — yet another reason Correa and Seager seem unlikely. Jerry Dipoto has already spoken on this crop of free agent shortstops — and he’s mirrored this mindset — but he’s also specifically named Javier Báez and Marcus Semien as potential targets, given that they’ve already been willing to move to second base. While I think they’re both worthwhile targets, I find Trevor Story to be perhaps the strongest fit of any of them.

I wrote about Story over at Baseball Prospectus, where I made the argument that, despite his deflated numbers, he hasn’t changed all that much as a hitter. The difference has been that MLB has changed the composition of the ball: deadening the core, changing the height of the seams, and making the ball lighter — all of which benefit pitchers. For hitters, though, the changes have had more mixed, complicated implications. The reduced weight of the ball means that the ball comes off the bat at higher exit velocities, but given that the seams are raised higher than previous iterations of the ball, it also drags through the air more, which means that it doesn’t fly as far.

I don’t need to rehash the entire article, but delving into the meat should help to explain why he’s a strong fit as a Mariner. With a surface look, Story might seem like a hitter in decline, given that his barrel rate has dropped off significantly since 2019. And while his hard-hit percentage has been well above-average over the years, that’s been on the decline in the past year and a half as well. What’s not apparent is that Story has been one of the most impacted players by the new ball.

What hard-hit percentage fails to capture is that some players have the capacity to hit the ball harder, they just hit the ball to the opposite field more, which balls are hit neither as hard nor as far than to one’s pull-side. Alex Chamberlain has considered this phenomenon, and one player that pops when folding spray angle into hard-hit percentage is Story. That means that Story hits the ball hard, but when you consider the horizontal directionality of his batted balls, you’ll find that his batted ball profile is hiding some of his power. Story is a player with something of an all-fields approach — one that he’s had a lot of success with — and that’s one of the hitter archetypes that has been disproportionately affected by the new ball.

And so, my suggestion for Story? Emphasize your pull-side more, and reap the benefits. That’s one way to not only adapt, but potentially grow as a hitter. It’s no sure thing that Story would be amenable to making alterations to his mindset or swing, so it is perhaps most judicious to presume that he’s going to be the same player going into next year. If he is, he remains a strong fit for two reasons.

One is his fit at T-Mobile Park. Consider his expected home runs by park:

You may have to squint, but T-Mobile Park leads all parks for the highest expected home run total since 2019, based on Story’s batted balls. Now, this accounts for dimensions and wall heights, but it doesn’t adjust for environmental effects. Seattle is well-known for its heavy, thick marine layer. Given that Story hits a lot of fly balls the other way — a batted ball that is susceptible to drag, given its sidespin — his expected home runs would surely be lower than the figure listed. Even when accounting for this, Seattle is clearly one of the best environments for Story to hit in whether he changes his approach or not.

The question is if Story will be agreeable to a move off of shortstop. If they pay him like a shortstop, I’m not sure that matters, but there might be a reason it would work well for both the Mariners and Story.

Since 2016, here’s how Story ranks via several defensive metrics:

  • DRS: Third
  • UZR/150: Eighth
  • OAA: 11th

Clearly, he’s been one of the most prolific defensive shortstops since his debut, which pairs quite nicely with his bat, which has also been one of the best. He hasn’t been quite a superstar, but had his production not dwindled in 2020 and 2021, we might be considering him one. The thing is, it may not only be his bat that’s slowed.

By DRS and UZR, Story was still one of the best defensive shortstops in 2021, but OAA raises a red flag: Story ranked 27th of 36 qualified shortstops with a -6 OAA, a far cry from the 24 OAA he accumulated from 2016 to 2020. I’m not convinced that Story is declining defensively — he’s just short of 29 years old — but if whatever was afflicting him in 2021 persists, it may be judicious for him to move to second base. If that’s the case, the Mariners and Story are a match made in heaven, and he and Crawford would instantly become the best middle infield in baseball. For Story, it’s at least something to consider.

Trevor Story is probably going to follow the money, to a point. And he should! But if he’s willing to get a little uncomfortable, as Dipoto puts it, and move to second base, Story might find Seattle to be an attractive destination. The Mariners are set to become a contender, if they aren’t already — something that the Rockies are not — and the added positional versatility will only bolster their depth. His skills are set to age awfully well at second base, so it seems like a win for everyone. And hell, it could catapult him into superstardom.