Unfortunately, Gleyber Torres played a fairly big role in the Yankees’ disappointing 2020 campaign. Dreadful defense, a mediocre offensive performance (106 wRC+), and a brief injured list stint marred Gleyber’s third season in pinstripes. It was a far cry from what he had done in his age-21 and 22 seasons. Let’s break it down.
Where’d the power go?
After an impressive power display in each of his first two big league seasons, Torres couldn’t find his power stroke during the regular season in 2020. Last year, Gleyber swatted 38 dingers in 604 plate appearances and recorded a gaudy .256 isolated power. That came right after 24 dingers and a .209 isolated power in his rookie campaign. This year? 3 long balls in 160 trips to the plate and a .125 ISO.
We wrote about the 23 year-old’s offensive struggles on three separate occasions during the 60-game slate. He looked bad early on, continued to struggle into mid-August, and remained punchless in September. There were a number of things that were troubling which we addressed, including missing hittable pitches and being overly passive at the dish. Now that we have the entire season in the rearview mirror, we can take a more wholesome look at what went awry.
First, a look at what Torres did against pitches by zone location vs. last year:
There’s just one square in the strike zone where Gleyber improved compared to last year: middle-in. Everywhere else is a stark decrease. How does that happen? I’m sure part of it can be attributed to a lack of aggression. Just look:
Some of the changes here are quite significant. The 2020 plot just screams of passivity and not improved discipline. Sure, he laid off far more pitches out of the zone, but at the same time, his in-zone aggression was bad. Just look at the 15 percent decrease in swing percentage on middle-middle pitches. So, it should come as no surprise that Torres’s meatball swing percentage went from 84.9 percent in 2019 to 69.8 percent this season. That type of approach is really going to sap power.
Approach is key for Gleyber’s success at the plate because he’s not exactly a Statcast darling in the first place. Last year, even with the big power output, he was in the 46th and 35th percentiles in Exit Velocity and Hard Hit percentage, respectively. This year: 45th and 42nd. But because he was smartly aggressive last season, Torres had a 70th percentile barrel rate vs. just 13th this season. In English: Torres is not a guy who hits the ball overly hard, so he needs to have a sound plan in the batter’s box to succeed. That’s not something he appeared to have in 2020.
Assessing his play at shortstop
Torres took over the mantle at shortstop from Didi Gregorius this year, but didn’t impress. He made nine errors, four fielding and five throwing, in 40 games at the position. Last year, Torres started 73 games at shortstop, mostly while Gregorius was on the injured list, and made 11 errors (five fielding, six throwing).
No one was expecting Torres to be a gold glover at short. I know that Randy had concerns about his glovework entering this season. But at the same time, I don’t think anyone expected things to be this bad. Whether it was the eye test or defensive metrics, nothing shined favorable on Gleyber’s defense this season. Let’s look at some of the numbers:
Yikes yikes yikes. DRS and UZR had him as the worst defender at his position. Gleyber also had the lowest fielding percentage among shortstops. Meanwhile, Statcast’s OAA had him as the 2nd-worst defensive shortstop in the league this season, only ahead of Tampa Bay’s Willy Adames.
Aaron Boone noted in the season’s post-mortem press conference that Torres can do better with the routine play. He’s not wrong. Take a look.
That error in the first clip was in Game 5 of the ALDS and was a real gift to the Rays. It forced Gerrit Cole’s pitch count up in the team’s most pivotal game of the season. Obviously, there are other things at fault for the Yanks’ loss to Tampa Bay in that series and Game 5, but that error was pivotal too.
Now, at the same time, shortstop just might not be Gleyber’s best fit. Anecdotally, Torres looked much more comfortable at second base in prior years. I’m sure we wouldn’t mind seeing him slide back over to the keystone in 2021 if it meant he’d have a new double play partner in Francisco Lindor. And that’s nothing against DJ LeMahieu, of course.
It wasn’t all bad
I don’t like that this entire piece has been a downer thus far. Before closing out, allow me to note a few good things for Torres in 2020.
Torres set a career-high in on-base percentage (.356) thanks to a 13.8 percent walk rate, also a lifetime best. Now, a big part of that has to do with his aforementioned overly passive approach this year. Still, this is a positive. Even without the power of prior years, Torres found a different way to contribute.
It’s also worth noting that even though Torres never rediscovered his power stroke, he actually was pretty good for a good portion of the season. From August 8th and onward, the shortstop hit .298/.426/.447 (148 wRC+) in 115 plate appearances. That came after a .119/.178/.190 (-1 wRC+) start in his first 45 opportunities. Again, the power didn’t really come around during the regular season, but other facets of his game did.
Gleyber also shined at the plate in October. In 30 plate appearances, Torres had a .435/.567/.696 (246 wRC+) and hit two dingers.
Torres also led the Yankees in championship win probability added (+3.25 percent), mostly from his destruction of Cleveland pitching. Torres reached base in 8 of 10 opportunities in the Wild Card series and launched a dinger against Shane Bieber. In the ALDS, Torres hit a pretty big homer in Game 4’s victory:
Hopefully a better 2021 at the plate and in the field. I’m not so concerned about the bat and am willing to write off what happened this year under the umbrella of the general terribleness of 2020. But the defense was something many were worried about entering this year and his future position is still up in the air.
Brian Cashman did note that the front office will evaluate all possibilities at the position, though he also pointed out that he still believes Torres can play shortstop adequately. In any case, I think only Lindor could bump him from the position in 2021. Otherwise, expect the Yankees to give Gleyber one more chance at the position. If that doesn’t go well, next winter’s shortstop free agent class is stacked.