Coming Up Short [2021 Season Review]

TAMPA, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 28: Gleyber Torres #25 of the New York Yankees fields a ground ball from Lourdes Gurriel Jr. #13 of the Toronto Blue Jays (not pictured) during the second inning during a spring training game at George M. Steinbrenner Field on February 28, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

When the Yankees signed DJ LeMahieu before the 2021 season and passed on trading for/extending Francisco Lindor, the Yankees were making a statement: “Gleyber Torres is our shortstop.” Despite a relatively disappointing 2020, the Bombers banked on 2018 and 2019 and went full steam ahead with Gleyber. It did not go as planned.

All told, Torres hit .259/.331/.366, ‘good’ for a .307 wOBA/94 wRC+. This came with a drop in walk rate (about 4%), a rise in strikeout rate (about 3%), and a career low ISO (.107).

A main culprit in Torres’ second down year in a row? Underperformance against fastballs. While his xBA/xSLG/xWOBA on number one were respectable–.235/.449/.335 respectively–the actual numbers were, uh, bad: .196/.322/.282. In terms of raw run value, Torres was -15 on fastballs in 2021, -2.2 per 100 fastballs; he had a similar mark in 2020 (-2.1). We can wave away some of the pandemic season, but to see that trend continue is disheartening and we’ll have to hope Torres doesn’t have Greg Bird Disease and forgot how to hit a fastball.

But the most damning thing about this season for Torres isn’t the unspectacular performance at the plate. It’s the fact that he ended the year as a second baseman instead of a shortstop. Here’s a look at his defensive numbers:

SystemScore
UZR+0.1
DRS-2
FRAA-2.6
OAA-9 

A note on that -9 Outs Above Average mark: it’s in the 1st percentile among Major Leaguers. Excuse my hyperbole, but that’s where you and I would rank if we played shortstop at the Major League level. There isn’t too much to say here except that his defense became unacceptable at the position and the Yankees moved him off with good reason.

To add injury to insult, Torres missed time in the spring with COVID and in the summer with a thumb sprain. Just before the latter–first missed game was August 9th–it looked like Torres was turning a corner, hitting hot for the beginning of the month. He did manage to end the year–he returned September 3rd–on what constituted a hot streak for him, hitting .280/.339/.420 for the final month of the season. While it’s a far cry from his breakout years in 2018-19, it’s tempting to say that we’d take that from him in 2022.

Few players come into a season with the type of expectations Gleyber Torres had going into 2021. Unfortunately for him and for the Yankees, he not only didn’t live up to those expectations; he fell well short. Hopefully he bounces back in 2022 and lives up to the commitment the Yankees made to him in some way.

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3 Comments

  1. MikeD

    The issue with Gleyber is I don’t believe he’s a particularly good defensive 2B either. He’s less bad than he is a SS, but that’s not to say he’s good. The regression in Gleyber is a Yankee failure. A significant one. He was a SS in the minors, one who was rated solidly. Then they started bouncing him around 2B and 3B to try and find an opening. I believe in the process they made him bad everywhere, instead allowing him to focus on one position. Then when he arrived in the majors, they took his line-drive, all fields approach and decided to turn him into one of Cashman’s hairy monsters. It worked because the ball was juiced. That ended, and Gleyber became a shadow of himself. It’s not too late to get him back to what he was in his rookie season, and indeed we saw that begin to re-emerge starting around mid-July.

    I understand that Cashman won’t want to sell low on Gleyber and other players, but he also doesn’t seem to like selling hi either. Case in point: Clint Frazier. I was a Clint fan. I was happy to see him bounce back in 2020. A 149 OPS+, a finalist for the gold glove. That was the time to sell high. I was hoping for Michael Brantley in LF to bring in a nice contact-oriented left-handed bat, and then Clint could be moved for other needs. I wasn’t upset he wasn’t moved, but I did feel it was something they should have considered.

    Trading Gleyber now would be at a low, but he still has value. Only 25, three more years of control, had a strong finish to 2021. He’s a two-time All-Star. There will be a lot of interest in him. It might be selling low, but they will get value back. The reason to consider a trade is he doesn’t really fit on the team. DJLM remains a plus fielder at 2B. If the Yankees want to improve their infield defense, DJ should be the 2B’man, not Gleyber. Putting Gleyber at 2B and having DJ rotate weakens the defense. Sign a top SS, bring back Rizzo, install DJLM at 2B and they would have one of the top defensive infields in the game. Gleyber will never get them there.

    • Wire Fan

      The defensive stats also tell you a bit about UZR and DRS, they don’t adequately account for starting position of the player (in the case of UZR, it ignores it).

      That these stats were significantly better than OAA, which does account for the fielder’s starting position, points to the Yankees doing a good job with IF positioning (or at least the SS positioning) to overcome Gleyber’s shortcomings.

      Also makes you wonder what the error bar is in the public WAR models, which as I know has never been truly studied or at least publicly published about.

      And from a baseball perspective while Gleyber will be helped moving to 2nd, unless the bat rebounds he will be an issue there too.

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