Normally I try to come up with a gripping lede to my posts. It helps draw in the attention of you, my beloved reader, and gets the proverbial juices flowing while I write. This time though, there will be no lede, just this:
Gleyber Torres. Drink it in, it always goes down smooth.
Since being called up three weeks ago, Torres hasn’t known anything but winning, as the Yankees have won 15 of the 16 games for which he’s been on the big league roster. To his credit, Torres has played a significant role in those games, surprising many people with his defensive aptitude, and of course, hitting the above home run on Sunday. All in all, his 132 wRC+ in his first taste of big-league action has fans certain this is another of the Baby Bomber success stories.
It just may get better, though. Torres is hitting at about the same rate as he did historically in the minors, making a little bit more contact. One area that’s dropped off noticeably is his walk rate, where early in his career Gleyber walked in 6.8% of his plate appearances, down from 8.9% in Triple-A and over 13% a year ago. He’s certainly looked a little overeager at times, and that’s to be expected of a rookie barely a dozen games into his major-league career.
That walk rate can be expected to rise, and soon, thanks partially to Torres’ track record and billing as an extremely mature hitter. Once the rookie jitters settle down, you should see him work the count more. The other notch in his favor is the team that he plays for, which has made plate discipline scripture.
The Yankees work counts better than they do just about anything else. Only the Nationals walk more in all of baseball, and the pitches per plate appearance leaderboard is littered with Yankees, with Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner and Giancarlo Stanton all around the top. This patient approach is most striking in the developed talent, as you can see:
Here we have the five players in the Yankees’ everyday lineup that have been truly developed in the Bronx. Hicks and Gregorius were acquired after brief stints in the majors, but both have showed drastic changes in approach since donning the pinstripes. Judge, Gardner, and Gary Sanchez came up through the system. All told, four of the five players here saw their walk rates spike after their first full season in the Bronx.
Combined with the other, newer players in the Yankee lineup - Stanton comes to mind, and even Neil Walker has shown a modicum of discipline despite a terrible 2018 - it’s clear that the culture of the Yankees ingrains getting deep into counts. That’ll rub off on the youngsters, and we should see Torres’ walk rate start to creep up with more games under his belt.
Gleyber’s power could also be expected to jump with more time in the majors. With the juiced ball and swing changes rampant in baseball, power is quickly becoming the hardest tool to project. Francisco Lindor, very much a contact-first hitter in the minors, never hit more than five home runs before being called up. Last year he swatted 33, and is on pace to equal that again in 2018. Gregorius and Andrelton Simmons have also seen big spikes in power, despite starting their careers as hit tool rather than power tool players.
Torres’ power potential as it is is probably a bit better than all three of the above mentioned players. FanGraphs rates him a 60 with a 55 in Game Power, both of which are above average for a middle infielder. A juiced ball, hitter friendly division and team that preaches fly balls and patience all help to boost the chances Torres eclipses Lindor’s power output.
These two traits, patience and power, help Torres so much because they make him much more slump-resistant as a player. Nobody is immune to slumps, and even “consistency” is a bit of a misnomer. No player actually consistently hits .300 month after month. What separates good hitters from bad is the former have incredible hot streaks, but their cold streaks are just a little bit better than most.
When Judge fell off last season, his worst month was August, and he still posted a 90 wRC+. That’s not great for a player of his talent and potential, but it’s far from the worst production a player will post in a given month. Even though Judge struggled with contact, he was kept from cratering completely by walking 16.7% and slugging near .500.
Patience and power help keep players respectable, and as close to “consistent” as you can hope to be in MLB. The Yankees ply their trade off those traits, and it’s only a matter of time before Torres picks up on it.