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MLB

There Are Cold Starts, And Then There’s What Trevor Story’s Doing

Trevor Story looks dumbfounded after striking out.
Winslow Townson/Getty Images

In the third inning of Saturday’s game against the White Sox, on a 1-2 count, Trevor Story watched as pitcher Dylan Cease delivered a fastball right at the top of the zone. Umpire Carlos Torres rung up Story; Red Sox manager Alex Cora came out to argue about the strikeout. It was a borderline call, but Cora felt that he had to defend his player, perhaps out of sympathy. Torres ejected the manager from the game; it would’ve helped the Red Sox’s chances more if he had tossed Story instead.

Trevor Story’s first season with his new team has gotten off to an atrocious start. He has no homers and one stolen base. He’s slashing .194/.276/.269; his OPS is .545, which is currently lower than Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.’s (.561). At this point in his career, Jackie Bradley Jr. is expected to be in the bottom third of a lineup, and the Red Sox did not give Jackie Bradley Jr. a six-year, $140 million contract with the expectation that he’d be a foundational piece of the team’s future.

The Red Sox signed Story in March to prepare for the likely scenario that Xander Bogaerts hits free agency this upcoming offseason. The team hasn’t 100 percent ruled out re-signing Bogaerts, but the two sides couldn’t agree on an extension before the start of the season and the shortstop’s going to cost a lot of money. He’ll cost even more money if he continues to play like one of the team’s best hitters. It’s extremely plausible that Bogaerts goes to another team after the season. In 2020, “Chief Baseball Officer” Chaim Bloom traded Mookie Betts for players who weren’t Mookie Betts, because the team didn’t want to pay him. What do you think Bloom will do with Bogaerts?

For now, Story’s playing second base, and he and Bogaerts are pretending that the setup isn’t awkward. This would maybe seem like a smarter long-term move if Story were performing well, or if the Red Sox didn’t suck. At least everyone would be distracted by the winning. In reality, Boston’s at the bottom of the division, and it’s excruciating to watch Story at the plate. Acknowledge the caveat that lots of hitters are struggling and the baseball might be dead, but those don’t fully explain what Story’s doing up there. He seems baffled and lost. He looks like Bobby Dalbec does every day of his life. Story does not have that dawg in him. Whatever dawg was in him has been surrendered to a shelter.

Story struck out in Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the White Sox, and the crowd booed him. God, he strikes out so much. Out of 105 plate appearances this season, he’s struck out 35 times. There was a moment last week where Story looked to be getting it together, and by that I mean “for one game.” On Wednesday against the Angels, Story had three RBI and two extra-base hits (all of his extra-base hits have been doubles) in his third multi-hit game of the season (all of his multi-hit games have been two-hit games). There he was, the guy who would thrive with Fenway Park’s dimensions and clobber doubles off the Green Monster. The next day, he went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. They all came against two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani, who pitched seven scoreless innings with 11 Ks that day, but this was something else. In the seventh inning of that game, Story worked a 3-0 count on Ohtani. Guess how that at-bat ended? You know how, because I already told you: He struck out swinging. The crowd booed Story that day, too:

“Of course you hear it but that’s part of it,” said Story. “I strike out four times like that, that’s to be expected a little bit. Come up in a couple of big spots and didn’t come through, yeah, that comes with the territory. It’s not something that caught me off guard.”

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Boos don’t catch Story off guard, unlike every pitch he sees. To be fair, this didn’t come out of nowhere. Historically, Story has been a streaky hitter who tends to strike out, whose power makes up for his ability to get on base, and he did benefit greatly from playing in Denver. (His home-road splits are starkly different.) He also faded a bit in 2021 with the Colorado Rockies. He didn’t hit well, and he had elbow issues that led to fielding errors and a decline in arm strength. The Rockies chose not to trade him in the final year of his contract, and earned a draft pick by giving him a qualifying offer they knew he wouldn’t accept. Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times mentioned in a column last December that some scouts were worried about the cumulative effect of Story’s elbow strains, and wondered whether he’d be more comfortable at second base. But even if we accept that regression was inevitable for Story, this is beyond. He is sub-replacement-level right now.

Watching Story on this team evokes the same kind of dread I associate with 2011, when Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford struggled and the Red Sox had a horrific September and everyone had to learn about Dan Johnson. The only reassurance here is that it’s May; Story could build his confidence at the end of the month with a combined seven home games against the Orioles and Reds. The issue is that the Red Sox, as a whole, don’t really look that much better than the Orioles or Reds.