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What is going on with Gleyber Torres?

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The Yankees second baseman isn’t hitting well. Is it rust, or should we be concerned?

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Since returning from the disabled list on July 25th, Gleyber Torres has struggled on both sides of the ball. While the occasional botched play in the field is par for the course as a rookie, his performance at the plate stands out as more concerning. Save for a home run last night and a two-homer game against the Orioles, Torres has been mostly absent in the batter’s box. With critical absences in the lineup, namely Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, the Yankees desperately need the second baseman to hit to his potential.

Torres, 21, came up in late-April and put on a tour de force with his bat. He rejuvenated a sluggish lineup and impressed many with his advanced approach at the plate. By early July, however, reports surfaced indicating Torres suffers from chronic hip pain. It got to the point where the club placed him on the disabled list on July 5th. He rejoined the squad 20 days later, but his offense has yet to fully arrive.

Consider his batting breakdown across a number of categories.

Gleyber Torres 2018 Splits

Dates PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% ISO wRC+
Dates PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% ISO wRC+
4/22 - 7/4 241 .294 .350 .555 7.1% 25.3% .261 142
7/25 - 8/6 48 .200 .313 .450 14.6% 27.1% .250 105

Of course there’s some sample size noise to work around here. This still gives us some insight into his struggles. Since returning from injury, Torres has struggled to rack up hits. His on-base percentage derives almost exclusively from a lofty 14.6% walk rate. His power has also diminished to a degree.

Curiously enough, his strikeout rate hasn’t changed all that much. Upon digging a little deeper, Torres hasn’t experienced any wild swings in plate discipline numbers either. Prior to the injury, he swung at 34.6% of pitches outside of the strike zone, compared to 69% in the zone. Following Monday night’s game, those numbers stood at 32.3% and 72%. There’s some slight variation, but it stands to reason he’s seeing the ball well. His approach seems sound.

When a player slumps, I find it useful to compare their hard contact rate to groundball percentages. A decline in quality of contact almost assuredly signals an underlying problem or injury. These usually exist in an inverse variation. As hard contact rises, groundball rates drope, and vice versa. Torres’ chart plays out somewhat differently.

His hard contact rate fell off immediately upon his return, but that continued a trend that began well before the injury. It also started the process of correcting itself. I’m not too worried about that. There are a few too many groundballs for my liking, though, and that may prove the key to unlock the mystery.

How does one explain the simultaneous rise in hard contact rate and groundballs? The answer could lurk inside launch angles. Sure, Torres is striking with authority, but he isn’t lifting the ball in the air either. Consider the following chart:

Credit: Baseball Savant

Before hitting the disabled list, a majority of Torres’ batted balls fit into that sweet spot of 20-35 degrees. Now, however, most of them hover closer to zero degrees. That explains the power outage and lack of overall hits. When a batter hits the ball on the ground, it’s routinely turned into an out.

This sure sounds like an issue of mechanics, doesn’t it? Following his return from the disabled list, Torres looks uncomfortable driving the ball. His leg kick doesn’t have the same power as it used to. He’s quicker to drop his front leg down, and that makes some sense. He suffered a hip injury after all.

It’s evident when examining two clips, the first from last weekend in Boston:

Now compare that to a home run in June against the Mariners:

In the second GIF, it appears Torres’ front leg gets longer hang time. That means more power and the greater ability to lift the ball in the air. A swing starts from a batter’s legs, after all. Adjusting that leg kick could help him get back on track.

For his part, Torres sees this as just a matter of rust. “I feel good,” he told the New York Post. “The first games back, I felt rusty at the plate, but that went away. Now I have to get back to hitting better.”

I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on this. He’s already shown, in limited time, that he can make adjustments on the fly. Getting more comfortable at the plate and lifting the ball shouldn’t be out of the question. Considering his home run last night featured a 31 degree launch angle, the turnaround may happen sooner than we expect.

When the Yankees called up Torres, they were very much a team in need of a spark. He came up and provided an immediate jolt, catapulting the Yankees into the thick of a playoff race. With a series of humiliating losses in the rearview, they need that Torres again. The sooner he shakes off the rust and corrects his mechanics, the better the team can perform down the stretch.