As a team, you can say the Yankees have been disappointing offensively this year. They have a 99 wRC+, despite being considered one of the best offenses in baseball heading into its season. By a wide margin, their most disappointing player this year has been Gleyber Torres. Even as Gary Sánchez and DJ LeMahieu are heating up following their slow starts and Luke Voit has finally returned from his second stint on the injured list, Torres is still struggling.
Following his arrival to the Yankees organization, Torres quickly rose up prospect lists. He soon proved the hype was warranted, as he exploded out of the gate as a 21-year old rookie. The following year, he blasted 38 home runs, paving the path to becoming the next Yankee superstar. From there, everything changed. 2020 was an off-year, but we could reasonably point that to a combination of injuries and a weird COVID year. Max Greenfield wrote about Torres prior to the start of the season, establishing 2021 as a make-or-break year. He mentions the plethora of talent at the shortstop position in this upcoming free agency class, including Trevor Story, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Javier Baéz, and Marcus Semien. Is it possible the Yankees make a run at one of these guys if Torres can’t get it together soon?
All the projection systems had Torres as an above-average hitter heading into this year. Based on where he was drafted, I’d assume most fantasy managers agreed. I wouldn’t blame you if you’ve already cut bait at this point. It’s frustrating because we know how valuable his power tool can be, especially coming from a middle infield position.
New Approach At The Plate
In his first two seasons, Gleyber Torres had a very aggressive approach at the plate, especially on the first pitch he sees.
He is swinging at fewer pitches in general, but this trend is seen most prominently on empty counts. Now his first-pitch strike rate is down, likely because he is chasing fewer pitches out of the zone. However, he has a career .384 wOBAcon, so he is missing out on opportunities to potentially do damage. A swing and a miss for strike one would not be the end of the world. I’m not sure what sparked this change in style, but a return to his less passive approach may help him return to his former self.
What Happened to the Power?
One quick look at your favorite baseball stats webpage will tell you all you need to know about Torres’s drop in power. He has just three home runs on the season, just two years after hitting 38. His exit velocity is down. His hard-hit rate is down. His xwOBA is down. His barrel rate is down. I don’t need to tell you more. This can’t be all because of a handful of first-pitch takes. There are many parts of his game — mostly approach-based — that have changed between 2019 and 2021, all of which are likely part of the problem.
Last week, Devan Fink took a look at the same issue. He highlighted the fact that Torres is not pulling the ball as much as he used to. Torres has been among the best hitters in the league in terms of quality of contact on pulled balls. His fly ball rate is currently only down a few percentage points, but Devan argues — and proves — that the drop in power can be pointed in the direction of his fly balls.
What if I told you Gleyber Torres‘ biggest problem was that he wasn’t whiffing enough? Bear with me here. Torres has seemingly put extra emphasis on plate discipline as he’s matured as a big leaguer.
His chase rate has gone down significantly from his rookie and sophomore seasons, which is good. He is also whiffing and hence striking out less. Again, these are generally good trends.
However, his in-zone whiff rate has stayed relatively stagnant in all four years of his career, so this trend is largely driven by pitches out of the zone. Let’s take a look at what Baseball Savant’s “Swing-Take profile” for Torres from 2019 and 2021.
One of the biggest differences between these two charts is the run value on swings in the shadow zone, the area right on the edge of the strike zone. Because 2021 is a much smaller sample, this difference would be even more drastic if you were to prorate it. Ironically, his contact rate on such pitches in 2021 is 75.0%. In 2018-2019 put together, it was 69.6%. So when Torres made less contact, he performed better. It seems like Torres is focusing on not striking out rather than putting solid contact on the ball. Here’s an example:
The count is 1-0 here, so a hard swing and a miss would not do much harm. However, Torres tries too hard to make contact and ends up hitting a weak ground ball for an easy out. Related to Devan’s point, Torres is unsurprisingly pulling the ball less often on these pitches as well. Believe it or not, there is a positive relationship between whiffs and quality of contact. Whiff rate and barrel rate have an R-squared metric of 0.49, which is fairly strong. This relationship could not be more apparent than in a player like Torres. If he focuses solely on hitting for power, without worrying about making contact, it should help him return to what he once was.
Putting It All Together
We all know what Gleyber Torres is capable of. He was a top prospect and we’ve seen his upside at the major league level. He still has the talent to be one of the better shortstops in baseball. It’s not too often we see a 24-year-old completely lose the ability to perform at a high level. This is primarily an issue with his approach. Something changed between 2019 and 2020 and it has clearly not been for the better. He’s being too passive at the plate and he needs to return to his 2019 style to regain his success, even if his game has some flaws. All we can do is hope that someone, whether it’s a Yankees coach or someone Torres works with personally, will help him return to greatness.
Photos by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire and Dan Gold/Unsplash | Adapted by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)