There were a number of reasons to write off Gleyber Torres’ down 2020 campaign. Mainly: the pandemic-shortened season and all the oddities that came with it. That, along with a strong September and postseason, made it seem pretty likely that the 2018-2019 Gleyber would return during a more normal 2021 campaign. Except, of course, his form hasn’t. Torres now has a .248/.328/.326 (87 wRC+) in 260 plate appearances this season. Most alarming is his absent power, with just three homers and a .078 isolated power.
Torres blasted 62 home runs in 1,088 plate appearances to start his career. There were some pretty lofty projections about his home run output thereafter. You surely remember that ZiPS forecast, right? You know, the one that projected Gleyber to swat 85 homers from 2020 to 2021 (this projection came before COVID-19 and assumed two 162 game seasons). Instead, Torres has just six homers in 420 plate appearances since 2020. Six! 85 may have seemed high, but I’d have expected Torres’s results to be much closer to that than six. Frankly, it’s hard to fathom Gleyber’s power outage. And yet, it also feels like the new normal.
Even when Torres was hitting well this season, his power wasn’t there. As good as he was when he returned from COVID-19 in late May (.356/.415/.479, 150 wRC+ across 83 PA), he only hit two bombs and posted a .123 ISO. And since then: Torres is 2-for-33 with a double, three walks, and 14 strikeouts. That includes last night’s golden sombrero.
So, what’s gone wrong? There are a number of very concerning trends with the shortstop’s offense. His quality of contact has taken a hit, he’s not lifting the ball enough, and pitchers seem less afraid to challenge him as a result. That’s not a good combination!
First, let’s touch on his exit velocities, or lack thereof. Now, Gleyber has never lit up Statcast leaderboards. He was in the 46th and 33rd percentiles of average exit velocity and hard hit percentage in 2019, the year he launched 38 round-trippers. Perhaps that was an indication of regression coming, but at the same time, I don’t think anyone anticipated Torres to experience a 3 MPH decrease in average exit velocity since then. He’s now near the bottom of the league in average exit velocity (5th percentile) and hard hit percentage (14th percentile).
You can really see things taper off in 2021, and that’s a problem. It’s pretty simple: hitting the ball hard is good. Torres isn’t doing that with enough consistency anymore.
On top of that, Torres is now hitting the ball into the ground more than ever. His ground ball rate sits at 43.9 percent and has been trending upward since his rookie season:
It’s no wonder that his power has dissipated. Pair more weak contact with lower launch angles and you have a player struggling to match his previous power output.
To make matters worse: opposing pitchers are taking advantage of Gleyber’s poor contact profile by challenging him more often. This year, Torres has seen a career-high 50.4 percent of pitches in the zone, up from 46.9 percent last year and 47.0 percent in 2019. It’s uglier if you isolate just fastballs.
My takeaway from this: more fastballs, particularly in-zone fastballs, means that pitchers don’t fear Torres like they did a couple years ago. Seeing more heat should be a welcome sight for Torres, but sadly, it’s been the opposite. The 24 year-old has a .221 batting average and .316 slugging against heaters this season. His expected stats aren’t much better: .230 xBA and .381 xSLG.
All of this is pretty alarming, to say the least. Torres went from a budding 22 year-old superstar to a 24 year-old punchless hitter pretty inexplicably. Young players can have down offensive seasons — look no further than 2008 Robinson Canó — but that doesn’t mean a rebound is imminent. Canó wasn’t a power hitter, at least not at the time of his bad 2008, which was driven more by a fluky low BABIP than anything else. For what it’s worth, Torres has the second-highest BABIP of his career this season. Batted ball luck can change on a dime, but power doesn’t often vanish overnight which seems to be the case for Torres. Again, that’s the cause for concern here.
I’ve gone this entire piece without mentioning Torres’s glovework at shortstop, by the way. It’s not been good, as you surely know by now. It’s fine to tolerate below average defense at a premium position when there are carrying offensive tools. As frustrating as his fielding can be, we’d probably be more willing to look the other way if he was hitting .275/.350/.500 with double-digit homers.
As said at the outset, I was willing to ignore Torres’s 2020 because of the pandemic-shortened season. But now that many of those issues have continued into this season, I’m very concerned. He’s regressed and 2021 has been an all-around nightmare for the 24 year-old shortstop. He badly needs to turn things around soon, otherwise, the Yankees could seek out a new shortstop in free agency this winter. That may have happened anyway given Gleyber’s defensive woes, but in any event, it could also mean that Torres has to fight for a lineup spot in the future rather than a mere positional change. For now, the Yankees will ride things out and hope Torres can rediscover his pre-2020 form.