Tampa Bay has held the Yankees’ offense to three or fewer runs in all but one game between the two sides this season. The last two games, both frustrating losses, have featured lineups without DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton. Those absences once again leave the Yankees yearning for the next man up mentality that carried the team last summer. In fairness, they’ve gotten some of the replacements to step up: Clint Frazier has made an impact immediately, for instance. However, there are still star caliber players in this lineup not performing up to expectations. Gleyber Torres is one of them.
It wasn’t long ago that Torres seemed to be snapping out of his slow start. He hit .480/.594/.560 (229 wRC+) in 32 plate appearances from the 8th to the 16th, but now is back in a mini-slump. He’s 1-for-11 since the last game of the Boston series, but that’s not necessarily a big deal. The Rays just threw its two best starters and its dominant bullpen against the Yanks, after all. That said, even when Gleyber seemed to be getting going, his power remained absent. For as long as Judge and Stanton are out, the Yankees are going to need Torres to bring some oomph to the lineup that’s sorely missing it. Luke Voit can’t hit all the dingers for the time being.
Torres has just three extra base hits this season and a .066 isolated power in 89 plate appearances. Is that still a small sample size? I suppose, but he also doesn’t have 162 games to figure this out. Torres has posted big power numbers early in his career, including 38 homers and a .256 ISO last season. This early career performance resulted in some remarkable power long-term power projections, namely from ZiPS. You may recall that Dan Szymborski’s system forecasted 40 home runs annually through 2024. Where has the power gone?
|Exit Velocity (MPH)||89.1||86.8|
|Hard Hit %||36.5||36.8|
The 23 year-old shortstop’s bat control really helped him tap into his power in his first two seasons. He struck out just below league average last year, and has improved upon that this season while also exhibiting an uptick in walks. Yet, he’s still not making good contact (as you can see in the table above) and part of the problem might be his approach. Torres has been dramatically more passive at the plate this season.
The first thing that stood out to me is that Torres has been less aggressive against the first pitch of a plate appearance. To be fair, he’s seeing far fewer first pitch strikes (55 percent, down from 61 last season). Still, I’d like to see Torres try to pounce on opposing pitchers early if possible. Perhaps more importantly though: Gleyber has been more tentative against pitches down the middle. Torres is swinging much less often at what Statcast defines as a meatball, or a crushable middle-middle pitch (zone 5 below). That’s no good.
That’s also an extremely small subset of pitches this season (19). Let’s expand that to all pitches in zones 1 through 9, or the heart.
Again, not ideal. Going from swinging at 80 percent of pitches in the heart of the zone last year to 70 percent this year is a significant drop. To make matters worse, he’s not lifting these pitches either. His launch angle is down to 10.9 degrees from 21.4 a year ago, so it’s no wonder his SLG and xSLG are way down as well. By way of example:
On a 3-1 count, Nate Eovaldi challenged Gleyber with a 92 MPH cutter down the pipe. Torres singled, but I think we’d all agree he could have done better. Want to give Eovaldi credit for using the cutter in that spot, perhaps preventing more damage against what could have been a four-seamer? Fine. But there are other examples, too:
That’s a 1-0 four-seamer with the bases loaded an no one out. A potential damage pitch. It’s up and over the middle of the plate. Instead of rocketing it into the gap or over the wall, Torres bounced into a double play.
So, while his lack of aggression on hittable pitches has been an issue, he’s also not getting desired results when he swings at them. I’d bet something is off mechanically because Torres is simply too good to continue chopping pitches over the heart of the zone.
It’s frustrating to see Torres have difficulty tapping into his power this season. This isn’t something to worry about long-term and I have to imagine he’ll work things out. Hopefully sooner rather than later, though. It’s strange to say just 24 games into the season, but he doesn’t have much time left to start swatting homers again. I wouldn’t mind seeing one this afternoon in a victory to salvage the final game of this series vs. the Rays.