In 2019, Gleyber Torres set the baseball world on fire, knocking 38 homers and loudly announcing himself as a star in the making. But a funny thing happened on the way to true superstardom in 2020: his power completely dropped off the table. While power wasn’t his calling card as a prospect and it seemed unlikely he’d push 40 homers again, the drop has been dramatic, though subtle. In fact, I didn’t realize just how drastic it was until Derek mentioned on the most recent edition of the podcast that, at the time it was published, Gleyber Torres and Mike Tauchman had the same amount of extra-base hits. If you’re tied with Mike Tauchman in any sort of power category, something has gone wrong.
After processing what Derek said, I went to Statcast to see what I could find about Torres’ power and the first thing that jumped out at me–given its position on the page–was the display of Torres’ percentile ranks:
That is a lot of blue. It’s worth noting that Torres didn’t tear it up by Statcast stuff in 2019–his exit velocity wasn’t anything special then, clocking it at under 90 MPH as it does now. Still, though, it’s shocking to see a hitter so good rank so low relative to his talent and skill. This made me dig into the swing data to see what’s behind this bevy of blue.
Overall, his swing rate his down over 10% from last year–41.2 this year compared to 51.8 last year. As such, his in-zone swing percentage has dropped, too, from 75.6 to 65.6. On the plus side, his chase rate is way down and he’s walking more than he ever has. This comes despite a whiff rate–28%–that’s identical to last year’s and has led to a career low in strikeout rate–18.1%, part of a positive trend since 2018. But there’s a tradeoff to this drop in swings. Swinging at fewer pitches in the zone isn’t necessarily good or bad, but when you’re passing up good pitches to hit, it can be detrimental. Torres may be doing that.
While pitchers aren’t throwing him as many ‘meatball’ identified pitches–he’s seeing a career low 5.6% of those, indicating they’re are being careful with him–he’s swinging at drastically fewer of them than he did last year: 74.1%, down from 84.9%. This would suggest he’s not taking advantage of the few very easy-to-hit pitches he’s seeing. Those are pitches he–and anyone, really–should be doing damage on. By not swinging at them, he may be robbing himself of XBH opportunities. The same might be true when it comes to attacking pitchers on their first pitch to him.
Last year, Torres hit .362 on first pitches while slugging .862. This year, he’s hitting .400 and slugging .800 on them. Those numbers are similar and both great. However, since his first pitch swing percentage has dropped from 36.4 to 25.0, the overall impact may be lessened.
Aside from swinging less overall, there seems to be another problem: breaking balls. In 2019, Torres hit .256 with a .442 SLG against breaking balls, good for a .302 wOBA. Those numbers don’t look great (though that’s a solid ISO of .186), but that’s the point of breaking balls, isn’t it? So far in 2020, the numbers are way worse: .125 BA; .156 SLG; .197 wOBA. His whiff rate on breaking balls is also way up from 32.2 to 40.9. It’s hard to hit for any sort of power when you’re missing on that many breaking balls.
And that brings us to the last bit I found, everyone’s favorite bugaboo, from the aforementioned Mike Tauchman to the much-maligned, much-struggling Gary Sanchez: middle-middle pitches. Torres, like those two, is failing to punish pitchers for leaving balls over the plate.
He’s hitting .273 on pitches right down the middle that he makes contact with. Not bad in a vacuum, but considering where those pitches are and who he is, that should be much higher. Slugging?
He’s slugging .462 on contacted middle-middle pitches. Fine…ish, but not for him. And not for that location. It’s possible that Torres is experiencing some bad luck on those pitches, though. His expected batting average on contact for the zone is .383; his expected slugging on contact in the zone is .622.
However, given that this is a shortened season and that it’s almost over (went fast, didn’t it?), there may not be time for things to even out, to progress to the mean. Torres has to make some adjustment to get the power back–swinging more? swinging at different pitches?–because it’s not just going to fall into place like it might over 162. With his talent, I’m sure he can.