Sunday night’s game against Boston is best remembered now for Clint Frazier’s defensive mishaps and subsequent media drama, of course. There was, however, another moment that got me thinking: Gleyber Torres’ attempted stolen base when Aaron Hicks was on third and two outs. Torres took off for second base, got a bad jump and got into a rundown. Hicks, trying to make the most of a bad situation, broke for home and was promptly tagged out. It wasn’t pretty.
For some reason, I can’t find a video of the play, but Torres, Hicks and Aaron Boone all spoke about it after the game. The blame, according to them, lies with Boone. Torres told the New York Post that “[Boone] gave me a sign to steal the base, so I [went].” Boone didn’t deny it, though he did decline to shine more light on his decision-making.
Anyway, the play was notable because it reminded me about Gleyber Torres’ struggles on the base paths last year. To be clear, there’s no reason to think that Sunday’s debacle was on Torres, but it got me thinking.
I’ll get into it in more detail in the next section, but long story short is that Torres was one of the worst baserunners in baseball in 2018: bad decision-making, shaky instincts, and terrible advanced metrics. It was his big flaw. (Although, obviously, if your big flaw is baserunning, things could be much, much worse.)
So with the caveat that it’s very early in the season to draw any real conclusions from this, let’s take a look at Gleyber’s baserunning metrics to see if he’s improved in this area.
A Refresher on 2018
Boy, was Gleyber rough on the bases in 2018. Last year at River Ave Blues, Mike Axisa took a detailed look at Gleyber’s performance in this department. No point in reinventing the wheel, so here are the most interesting takeaways from that.
First, Gleyber took the extra base on a base hit (i.e. going from 1st to 3rd on a single) 21% of the time last year. You might be wondering what that actually means, so, for some perspective, check out how that stacked up against the competition last year:
334. Omar Narvaez: 21%
335. Austin Romine: 21%
336. Gleyber Torres: 21%
337. Roberto Perez: 20%
338. Matt Wieters: 20%
Yes, those numbers are correct. Gleyber ranked 336th out of 356 players with 200 plate appearances last year, flanked by catchers. Not the company you want when you’re a then-21-year-old middle-infielder. He was a decent base-stealer, though, for what that’s worth.
Baseball Prospectus offers even more in-depth data on baserunning (the prior figure comes from Baseball-Reference), assigning value to base running events broken down by hit type. Here is how Gleyber was valued:
- Advance on Grounders: -0.59 runs on 24 opportunities
- Advance on Fly Balls: +0.69 runs on 39 opportunities
- Advance on Hits: -0.13 runs on 27 opportunities
- Other Baserunning: +0.32 runs in 15 opportunities
I’d take that with a grain of salt, as those are pretty insignificant sample sizes, but there it is.
Finally, Gleyber ranked poorly via FanGraph’s BsR stat (his -1.0 rating ranked 233rd out of 355) and its more advanced UBR stat (his -1.7 rating ranked 288th out of 355). Again, there are worse problems to have, but it should be clear by now that almost every advanced baserunning metric doesn’t like Torres. Check out the old RAB article to see how this is backed up by the eye-test, too, if you don’t remember.
Early Returns in 2019
So, with that established, let’s take a quick look at how he’s stacked up so far this year. This should be pretty obvious, but please do take these with a pretty big grain of salt. Baserunning metrics are shaky at best in my opinion, even when informed by a full season’s worth of plays. That’s because there just aren’t a lot of the specific situations that occur for each player each year, which limits the sample size. Point is, we’re only through 61 games, so take these with an even larger grain of salt than normal.
I think the most useful stat of the bunch is Baseball-Reference’s XBT% (extra-base taken). It’s straightforward. No guesswork, nothing. Just describes what happened on the field. 190 players have at least 175 at-bats so far in 2019, roughly the amount needed to qualify for the batting title. Torres ranks 112th of that bunch, tied with:
- Andrew Benintendi: 39%
- Corey Seager: 39%
- Gleyber Torres: 39%
- Christian Walker: 39%
- Freddy Galvis: 39%
That’s a dramatic increase from last year’s 21%, and some much better company. I’m not sure how much to read into this. On the one hand, it could be that Torres is simultaneously more aggressive and smarter with his choices. That would be nice! Or it could be an example of small sample size noise. I don’t know. Nobody does. Remember, the statistic itself has absolutely zero predictive value–it just tells us what happened.
Here is the more detailed Baseball Prospectus breakdown. Again, grains of salt, etc.:
- Advance on Grounders: -0.10 runs in 13 opportunities
- Advance on Fly Balls: -0.19 runs in 11 opportunities
- Advance on Hits: +0.76 runs in 22 opportunities
- Other Baserunning: +0.00 runs in 4 opportunities
It is interesting to see Torres is a net positive when it comes to advancing on hits. He was not last year. This could be connected to the rise in his XBT%, at least for now. The two figures certainly don’t contradict themselves, which is always nice. Maybe there is something there, after all. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on it throughout the rest of 2019.
Finally, let’s take one last look at the FanGraph’s statistics. Overall, he is still rating poorly, with his -1.5 BsR ranking 169 out of 198 and his -1.2 UBR ranking 173rd out of 198, so still not good. But we’ll see. Something To Watch.
Make of this what you will. These metrics are based on small samples, but it’s worth tracking this throughout the rest of the year. Gleyber Torres is already so damn good (the kid is 22 freaking years old and owns a .274/.335/.495 batting line in 727 plate appearances, after all), but this is one area where he can stand to improve.