This is always a difficult time of the season in terms of finding topics to write about. Samples are small and I gravitate toward writing statistical pieces. But on occasion, there are teamwide trends or simply obvious things to point out. Randy astutely noticed the Yankees’ changeup emphasis in the other night’s takeaways. Today, I’m going to focus on something that’s obvious: Gleyber Torres is not assuaging anyone’s concern about his ability to play shortstop. Last night’s costly error was yet another example.
As Matt pointed out just before the season began, Torres has a lot of trouble going to his right, or third base side. And if you’ve listened to our podcast since last year, you’ll know that Randy has had his doubts about Torres playing the position for the same reason. Having good range is a combination of things: reaction time and lateral agility. It’s hard, from our perspective, to say whether or not Gleyber has a quick first step. But his ability to close on a ball to his right simply isn’t very good, and hasn’t been for a while now.
Unfortunately, it’s not just Gleyber’s range that’s an issue now, either. Torres has already made a handful of poor throws to first base this season. Some of these have been on more routine plays, whereas others were arguably difficult, long throws. Regardless, that there have been so many poor throws already is worrisome. Poor range can be tolerated at short if the routine play is made. The Yankees survived with a certain shortstop for two decades who had very little range, after all. But add in off-target throws to first and things start to get untenable.
Let’s take a look at some of the hiccups Torres has had in the field so far this season.
First, here’s a Marcus Semien single from the opening series against Toronto:
This batted ball had a .283 xBA per Statcast. Now, my understanding is that xBA is a product of exit velocity and launch angle, exclusive of direction. So this xBA may appear a little low considering it was hit in the 5.5 hole, especially with the speedy Semien running (80th percentile in sprint speed last year). It might be a little bit unfair to give Torres a hard time for not converting that one.
This one from Opening Day, however, wasn’t so good.
It was hit hard and had a .460 xBA, but again, that’s a product of exit velocity and launch angle and nothing more. I’d like to think that a good chunk of major league shortstops don’t need to go to the backhand for this one. Torres might be fortunate that this one was scored an error.
Again, Gleyber’s issues to his right isn’t anything new. There was some hope that a non-pandemic season would allow for Torres to be better prepared for the rigors of the position, but the early returns have not been good.
At this point, I don’t think anyone is questioning Gleyber’s fitness. The coaching staff was raving about how Torres looked coming into camp, especially after the admission that he wasn’t in his best shape in 2020. Rather, this just might be something natural that’s not in the young shortstop’s control. Not everyone has the ability to get a good read on balls of the bat and get a quick first step. Let me re-emphasize, though: Gleyber’s lack of range is not going to hurt the Yankees too badly. He just needs to record outs on the balls he can get to consistently.
Here’s where things are a bit more concerning. The 24 year-old shortstop has already made a number of misfires to first base in just six games this season. Here are the lowlights, followed by some notes on each errant throw:
- First clip (.589 xBA): This was a long throw that’s not necessarily easy, but Torres hurried it and threw it away. Yes, Jay Bruce didn’t do a great job there either, but that doesn’t prevent Torres from taking any accountability.
- Second clip, from last night (.290 xBA): This is about as routine as it gets. There’s no other way to put it: Torres has to make this throw. If it happens once in a season, whatever. But it’s not the only one already. See the next bullet.
- Third clip (.083 xBA): Another mistake on a routine play. Torres took too much time here, then appeared to rush the throw.
- Last clip (.509 xBA): DJ LeMahieu bailed out a rushed throw from Torres here.
So what’s the issue? I think there’s some combination of miscalculating how much time he has along with some poor mechanics. A couple of these throws came from hurrying when he had time to spare, and another came from taking too much time. You can also see that his arm slot is very low, sidearm even, on these plays.
I’ve seen some rumblings about Gleyber having the yips, but I think it’s way too soon to say that. He’s not bouncing every single throw to first base. There are extenuating circumstances that seem to result in him missing his target, whether it’s rushing or throwing sidearm.
Torres’ play at shortstop has been undeniably frustrating so far, but it’s still very early. I’ll concede that my bold prediction for him to be a Gold Glove finalist is looking rather…bold…but I still think he can be passable at the position this year.
I doubt he’ll be able to do much to improve his range this season, but his throwing issues can be corrected. Fixing the latter will at least make him tolerable at shortstop for the rest of 2021. The Yankees can decide what they want to do at the position going forward at a later date, because for now, Torres isn’t moving off the position. There’s nowhere else for him to go on the diamond.
Now, if Gleyber’s poor defensive play continues for the remainder of the year, you can be sure that the Yankees will pursue another shortstop in the offseason. The Yankees would then move Torres elsewhere on the diamond and perhaps trade away someone like Urshela. But that’s a long way from now. The season just started and now’s not the time to speculate about winter roster moves.