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2022 Storylines: Is this Gleyber Torres’ last stand?

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In lieu of our traditional player-by-player season previews, we’re making a change this year. Instead, we’re going to focus on a number of topics that will be team storylines all season long. Today, we kick off this series with the possibility of 2022 being Gleyber Torres’ last chance to stick in pinstripes.

“Gleyber Torres is 22 years old”, we all gleefully reminded the rest of the universe as he burst on to the scene in 2018 and 2019. Those were the good old days. Torres was a budding superstar and a franchise cornerstone. Oh, how the tables have turned.

Now, Torres enters 2022 without any certainty of an everyday role. He’s no longer the shortstop after the team pulled the plug on that late last season. He’s no sure thing at second base this year, either. The amount of time he gets at the keystone will be contingent on his bat. We already know that DJ LeMahieu is a far better defensive option at second, but if Torres shows any semblance of his old self, he’ll get plenty of run at the position. If not, not only will he lose playing time to LeMahieu, but he may also lose his job in New York.

Reviewing the Yankees’ 2022 Projections: PECOTA

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As we await the daily updates from the league and union’s collective bargaining sessions, the Yankees made some news this morning. The team will retire Paul O’Neill’s no. 21 on August 21, finally putting an end to its unofficial retirement for two decades. That’s a Sunday afternoon game against the Blue Jays. There’s been some consternation about not issuing O’Neill’s number over the years, so if you want to discuss any of this news in the comments, have at it.

This morning’s news aside, today I’m breaking down Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections for the 2022 season, which were released last week. As rosters currently stand, PECOTA envisions a second place finish for the Yankees, projecting a hair under 94 wins, trailing the Blue Jays by a game. Obviously, signing one Freddie Freeman or Carlos Correa would change things. For now though, allow me to break down some of PECOTA’s individual projections on the Yankees’ current roster.

Reviewing the Yankees’ 2022 Projections: Steamer

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Earlier this month, I broke down the Yankees’ 2022 ZiPS projections which are published at FanGraphs. Also on display at FG is Steamer, another projection system that I’ll take a look at today. And once Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA is published, I’ll get to that one as well.

On the whole, Steamer projects the Yankees to accumulate roughly +49 WAR. That’s three more than ZiPS and translates to a high-90s win ballclub as presently constituted. Granted, the process of adding up the WAR is often foolhardy, but it serves as a reminder that the Yankees should still be very good in 2022. Now, to the individual player projections:

Fun with ZiPS

On Thursday, Derek took a look at the Yankees’ 2022 ZiPS projections. Today, let’s do something similar and have some fun–since there’s very little fun to be had in the baseball world these days–and run these projections through an old friend: the Baseball Musings Lineup Analysis Tool.

For those unfamiliar, the concept is simple. You drop in player names and their OBP and SLG numbers and the tool spits out a bunch of lineup permutations to see which one is the best. Now, the models that the tool uses are a little outdated and it isn’t foolproof, but, like I said, it’s fun! I’ll use the 1959-2004 model to cover more dates, get more of a variety of run environments in there.

First, let’s roll with players currently on the Yankees, so we’ll exclude Anthony Rizzo and Brett Gardner. The lineup will look like this (OBP/SLG):

C: Gary Sanchez (.304/.432)

1B: Luke Voit (.342/.468)

2B: DJLM (.344/.402)

SS: Gleyber Torres (let’s just roll with it for now; I’ll play with other versions later) (.332/.426)

3B: Gio Urshela (.318/.458)

LF: Joey Gallo (.352/.507)

CF: Aaron Hicks (.340/.400)

RF: Aaron Judge (.369/.538)

DH: Giancarlo Stanton (.338/.491)

Assuming the batting order is as follows, this team should score 5.257 runs per game, about 852 over the course of the season:

  1. DJLM
  2. Judge
  3. Gallo
  4. Stanton
  5. Voit
  6. Urshela
  7. Hicks
  8. Torres
  9. Sanchez

The best possible lineup–5.293 runs per game, 857 per 162 is:

  1. DJLM
  2. Judge
  3. Voit
  4. Gallo
  5. Stanton
  6. Sanchez
  7. Torres
  8. Urshela
  9. Hicks

Even without any upgrades at the plate, the Yankees figure to be a good hitting team. Granted, we thought that last year…but I doubt they’ll be as shaky as last year and that the team will be as it is above. So let’s get frisky and do some wishcasting on this roster.

Last night, someone asked me, while I was tweeting from the Views account, what I want the infield to look like in 2022. I said I’d want Matt Olson at first, Carlos Correa at short, with DJLM at second and Gio at third. Let’s keep the rest of the team the same and fit that infield into the tool (while remembering that the Correa and Olson projections wouldn’t be adjusted for being Yankees). If that were the case, I assume the lineup would be:

  1. DJLM
  2. Judge
  3. Olson
  4. Stanton
  5. Gallo
  6. Correa
  7. Urshela
  8. Hicks
  9. Sanchez

That lineup would average 5.448 per game, 882 over 162. The best possible lineup with those projections would be

  1. Correa
  2. Judge
  3. Stanton
  4. Olson
  5. Gallo
  6. Sanchez
  7. Hicks
  8. Urshela
  9. DJLM

Is any of that going to happen? It’s highly unlikely! But it’s still fun to think about. Next time, I’ll revisit this with some other players plugged in and fool around with positions and playing time. Until then, be well and hope this owner-enforced lockout gets resolved.

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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