Baseball in the age of analytics has created an alphabet soup of statistics: ERA, ERA+, WHIP, OPS, OPS+, RISP, OBP, wRC+, BABIP, WAR, xFIP.
But there is no way to quantify pressure, and no way to predict how a player will react to it.
I bring this up because one of the first things I did Friday evening was read the box scores to see how former Rockies Trevor Story and Jon Gray did in their debuts with their new teams.
It wasn’t great.
Story, who signed a six-year, $140 million contract with the Red Sox, went 0-for-5 with a strikeout and left four runners on base in a 6-5 loss to the hated Yankees. Granted, Story, who signed his contract late, played in only five spring training games, so he was rusty. Still, it is Boston, it is the Yankees, and it is baseball at a higher level on the intensity meter.
Gray, tabbed as the Rangers’ No. 1 starter after signing a four-year, $56 million deal, gave up three runs on three hits, with four strikeouts and two walks over four innings in the Rangers’ 10-8 loss at Toronto. He left the game with a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand and was placed on the 10-day injured list on Saturday.
Of course, one game out of 162 doesn’t tell us much, but I’m intrigued by how Story and Gray will perform with the heavy load of great expectations on their shoulders.
Texas manager Chris Woodward made it clear that he expects Gray to be more than the third- or fourth-best pitcher in the rotation, as he was in Colorado.
“We knew when we signed him that he was going to be our No. 1,” Woodward told reporters when he announced that Gray would be the opening-day starter. “I knew that, he knew that. He’s good. He’s an elite pitcher. He’s had a ton of success in the big leagues. And I just think with where he’s at right now, there’s another level to him and he believes that. He can’t wait to get to that.”
There is no question Gray has the right stuff in terms of his pitching arsenal. But does he have “the right stuff?” Time will tell.
During his six seasons in Colorado, Story was not only a two-time all-star and a thrilling player to watch, he was a stand-up, no-excuses guy in the clubhouse. He left the Rockies, not simply because of the money, but because he wanted to play for a team he believes will be a playoff contender, year in and year out.
After experiencing his first trip to Yankee Stadium while wearing a Red Sox uniform, Story said he relished the atmosphere.
“It’s intense,” he told reporters. “That’s fun, man. That’s the kind of atmosphere you want to play in. Every pitch counts and that’s the way we’re taking it. I just wish we had gotten it done.”
I believe Story will get it done. He’s not simply a Coors Field creation. That said, adjusting to the inevitable criticism and heat from Boston’s fans and media is going to require some getting used to. When it comes to expectations and scrutiny, the Rockies are in the minor leagues compared to the Red Sox.
But, in a lot of ways, Story reminds me of former Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu, a player with quiet intensity and incredible self-belief.
Before the 2019 season, LeMahieu had to settle for a two-year, $24 million deal with the Yankees. There were plenty of critics who predicted he wouldn’t thrive in the Big Apple. All he did was hit .327 with a career-high 26 homers, lead the Yankees into the American League championship series, and earn the love and respect of his teammates.
He was manager Aaron Boone’s choice as the Yankees’ 2019 MVP, and general manager Brian Cashman said, ‘He’s been a game-changer for this roster and this franchise.”
In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, LeMahieu hit .364 to win the AL batting title, becoming the first player in the modern era to win a batting title in each league. LeMahieu won the National League batting title with the Rockies in 2016, hitting .348.
For Story and Gray, the pressure has been turned up to 11. We’ll see how they handle it.