On March 20, 2022, it was announced that All-Star shortstop Trevor Story would be signing with the Boston Red Sox in a six-year, $140 million contract, the largest acquisition for Boston since Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom took over in 2019. Formerly working with the frugal Tampa Bay Rays organization, Bloom finally broke the bank for his guy but still got him on a solid deal, an average of $23.3 million a year. For reference, this is roughly around the same average annual value as designated hitter J.D. Martinez and fellow shortstop Xander Bogaerts.
But here’s the thing. Both Story and Bogaerts cannot play shortstop at the same time, leaving Story to likely play second base for the first time in his professional career. He has some experience at the position in the minors, but it is unclear how his defensive game will translate to the other side of the infield. As evident by the mass contract given out on Sunday morning, the Red Sox don’t seem to be too worried.
With the signing, the lineup projects Alex Verdugo, Jackie Bradley Jr. and former on-and-off second baseman Kiké Hernandez in left, center and right fields, respectively. The infield should consist of power bats Rafael Devers at third, Bogaerts at shortstop, Story at second and Bobby Dalbec or newcomer Triston Casas at first base, with Christian Vasquez behind the plate and Martinez as the designated hitter. That’s a loaded lineup, especially if Casas, the current No. 16 prospect in baseball, is everything he’s projected to be.
Story is coming off of a down year offensively – if he had slashed .294/.363/.554 with 35 home runs like he did in the penultimate, full MLB season in 2019, he probably would’ve brought in a much larger contract. As he enters his age 29 season, Bloom doesn’t seem too concerned about Story’s bat. And why should he be? Most players have these kinds of “off-years,” and when your worst season (.251/.329/.471) still is above league average, it’s not too shabby. In fact, the Red Sox, who finished seventh, second and third, respectively, in the MLB in OBP, SLG and OPS, all have lower 2021 averages than Story. That’s an improvement even before the new acquisition plays to his potential.
How about the impact on the defensive side? Story, historically, is an above-average fielder at shortstop. I realize he is playing out of position, but for now, let’s assume he adapts well based on his minor-league experience and the defensive shift being only 90 feet to his left. His 2021 .975 fielding percentage doesn’t exactly wow anyone (although it is drastically better than Devers’ numbers), and actually his play at second over someone like Christian Arroyo would decrease the team’s already paltry .979 fielding percentage.
Thankfully, there’s more to playing defense than fielding percentage. Take, for example, Rtot, or the total zone total fielding runs above average, which takes into account a few other metrics and calculates how many runs the defensive player was directly worth based on plays made throughout the year. Story’s Rtot in 2021 was 9 runs above average, while the Red Sox combined for -64 runs, ranking last out of 30 teams.
How about a stat you may have heard of, defensive wins above replacement (dWAR)? Very similar to the popular wins above replacement, this statistic only considers the defensive aspect of the game. Taking last year’s starting eight (excluding the pitcher), Boston had a combined 1.4 dWAR, an average of just 0.175 per player. Story finished 2021 with a 1.6 dWAR himself, which would’ve ranked second on the team behind Hernandez. Adding in Bradley Jr’s 1.3 dWAR and taking out the departing Hunter Renfroe and benched Arroyo’s -0.5 and 0.7 dWARs, respectively, and the team gets significantly better defensively. By no means are they a top defensive unit, but it’s becoming less and less of a liability with little-to-no cost to their offensive production.
It will be interesting to see Story’s shift over to second base, but as an already solid defensive player with background experience at the position, it should be a smooth transition by the end of the year. With the addition of Story, the Red Sox have made themselves a better team in not one but two aspects of the game, with or without the projected offensive increase to his typical statistics.