A new look at Gleyber Torres defensively

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With Didi Gregorius off to Philadelphia, the Yankees have a new full-time shortstop: Gleyber Torres. We already got a preview of the 23 year-old phenom at the position early in 2019 while Gregorius rehabbed. Now, Torres is the shortstop for the long haul. Though Didi will be missed, the good news is that Torres is more than capable of handling shortstop, his natural position.

There’s no real reason to be excited about Torres defensively, at least not yet. Defensive metrics are nonplussed by his past performance at the position: Torres is +1 in defensive runs saved (DRS) and -4.7 in ultimate zone rating (UZR) in over 800 innings. It’s hard to make much of that — these metrics are a bit of a black box — but the eye test also seems to say that Torres is fine at short. Nothing great, but he doesn’t look like a poor defender by any stretch of the imagination.

Now though, we have yet another defensive stat at our hands: the newly released infield outs above average (OAA) over at Statcast. And in case you missed it, Bobby broke down the release on this here blog. Today, let’s take a look at how Torres fares in this more digestible and intuitive metric (at least, in my view).

Before digging into Torres, I want to highlight one thing about infield OAA that I like quite a bit. Not only does it evaluate defenders based on their lineup card position, but it also accounts for positioning. In other words, infield OAA is able to analyze Torres as a shortstop when he’s positioned as such — even if he’s listed as a second baseman in the box score. So, with shifts permeating today’s game, it only makes sense to grade fielders as such.

There’s a comfort level for everyone based on where they’re positioned, and based on OAA, it’s pretty evident that Gleyber is more comfortable in a traditional shortstop’s position. Mike Petriello discussed this in yesterday’s stat release, which inspired me to look into it further. Here’s the breakdown of listed position vs. standing position:

Outs above average by listing & position 20182019
Listed as SS, positioned as SS-40
Listed as SS, positioned as 2B0-1
Listed as 2B, positioned as SS+20
Listed as 2B, positioned as 2B-2-4

Clearly, Gleyber has fared better on the left field side of second base. That’s to no surprise, either. He came up as a shortstop before deferring to Gregorius upon his big league debut. Now, these numbers positioned as a shortstop aren’t particularly impressive. They’re better than when he’s at the keystone’s area, but nothing more than average. No, Torres isn’t a gold glover (yet!). But perhaps most importantly, he’s not going to hurt the team out there.

Another nice thing about this new metric: it’s granularity. In particular, we can get a better grasp of what Torres excels and struggles with at shortstop. Look here:

Pre-play position
Ending position

On the left, we see Torres’s performance based on pre-play positioning in the shortstop region. On the right, we can see how he did based on where he finished any given play. The one thing that stands out: Torres struggles to his backhand. See that blue box on the right picture? Sticks out like a sore thumb.

Torres isn’t alone in having difficulty going to the hole. 22 of 33 qualified fielders in 2019 — *positioned* as shortstops, but not necessarily listed as one — were below average fielding batted balls in that direction. Meanwhile, only 10 of those 33 were below average ranging up the middle. The backhand is more difficult and the numbers bear that out. And at just two outs below average going that direction, Torres isn’t exactly an abomination. For reference, Amed Rosario was the worst at -8 and Javier Baez was the best at +3.

Now for the good. Gleyber’s at his best ranging to his glove side. Positioned like a traditional shortstop, he was three runs above average going up the middle in 2019 (9th-best). Here’s a nice play Torres made to retire David Fletcher:

Good range and a strong throw to get the relatively quick Fletcher at first. Perhaps not the most difficult of plays, but certainly not routine. Moreover, it’s not a play a legendary shortstop of Yankees lore would have made, that’s for sure…

Past a diving Jeter.

…sorry, I couldn’t resist. All joking aside, there’s more to evaluating Torres at short than strictly looking at him alone. It’s important to compare him to the guy he’s replacing, too. The consensus is that going from Gregorius to Torres is a defensive downgrade. Seems pretty cut and dry, no? Gregorius has always had a great reputation in the field whereas Torres is a bit more of an unknown. Yet, Statcast says otherwise.

As strange as it sounds, going from Gregorius to Torres may be a defensive upgrade. Since 2017, Gregorius has been 22 outs below average when positioned as a shortstop. That…doesn’t seem right. And yet, he’s been at the bottom of the Statcast leaderboards annually. For what it’s worth, DRS is also down on Didi’s fielding and debited him seven runs since 2017. On the other hand, he’s at 12.4 UZR since then.

Charging grounders is the main reason why Statcast loathes Gregorius’s glovework. 19 of those 22 runs below average were on plays he moved in. But that’s not the only area in which Didi was rated inferior to Gleyber:

PlayerInToward SS/3B holeToward MiddleBack
Didi Gregorius-9-1-10
Gleyber Torres-1-2+30

Torres also had a leg up going up the middle. Both shortstops were even going back, while Gregorius has the advantage on the backhand. Overall, things are pretty close if you ignore grounders on the infield grass.

Even though the two aren’t particularly close defensively per OAA, I can’t say my opinion is changed about who I’d prefer defensively. Watching Gregorius field his position has been a joy for the past few years even if the numbers don’t bear that out. My preference isn’t a knock on Gleyber, however. In fact, I feel better about Torres taking over the position than I did before. To me, the more support we have that Torres is a capable shortstop, the better.

Ultimately, I’m not suggesting we take this new metric as gospel, but I can’t deny that it’s somewhat reassuring. I still think Gregorius’s surehandedness will be missed, but perhaps not as much as I was inclined to believe. That said, this is yet another data point that favors the Yankees’ trust in handing the positional keys to Torres.


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  1. Michael Petrocelli

    He will be fine. Big thing is health. Big guys need to produce in clutch when needed in postseason period.

  2. RetroRob

    I’m not sure I’d say it’s reassuring. Yes, it confirms he’s more comfortable at SS and is at least average defensively while at SS, but the game today is about covering multiple areas of the field. His weakness at the 2B position could still hurt him as he’s still going to be playing on the right side of the infield for shifts.

    My hope is that going in knowing he’s the SS and playing it full time will allow him to elevate his defensive game even more. Having DJLM as his partner at 2B should help. DJLM likely remains the best defensive 2B’man in the game, so maybe a permanent pairing will lead to overall improved defense. I do believe Gleyber has the skills to be a plus defender. You can see it. On the flip side, I’m not convinced Andujar will ever even be a break-even defender at 3B.

  3. CountryClub

    I have nothing against him. He was a good overall player. But, I’ve thought for years that DiDi was overrated by fans defensively. I guess he just looked like a big upgrade because he was replacing late era Jeter.

    As long as Gleyber is avg or barely below avg defensively, his bat will more than make up for it.

    • D.B.

      You took the words right out of my fingers, and by that I mean I came down to the comments to say EXACTLY this.

    • Mungo

      I can’t say how others viewed him, but I viewed him as a plus defender at SS, but not an elite defender at SS. He definitely was not himself at the plate and in the field post TJS. He was vulnerable to velocity inside, which is not surprising as the surgery impacted his lead arm. I suspect he’ll recover that part of his game this year. His fielding, however, was what surprised me. He didn’t look good out there at times and the numbers back that up. Rust? Surgery? Age? He’s still only 30, but defense is a very young man’s game and SS is demanding. I do expect some bounce back, but the Yankees likely got his best years. No issue moving on.

  4. I know SS is his natural position and he’s logged plenty of time there over his career, but let’s not forget he was probably doing more side work at 2B than SS for the past couple of years. I think this year he will be focusing on one position and that could lead to a bump. Not everyone is DJLM!

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