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How can Gleyber Torres improve in 2019?

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The Yankees are relying heavily on the 22-year-old second baseman.

Wild Card Game - Oakland Athletics v New York Yankees Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Gleyber Torres was a very pleasant surprise for the Yankees in 2018. Offensively, he burst onto the scene with 14 home runs in his first 59 games, earning an All-Star nomination. While his offense slowed down a bit and his defense and baserunning featured some rookie mistakes, Torres was a high-impact player for the Yankees at age 21.

The Yankees are looking to expand Torres’ role even more in 2019. He is the unquestioned starter at second base, and will likely play extensive time at shortstop in the wake of Didi Gregorius’s injury. After batting seventh-through-ninth most frequently last season, Torres could bat anywhere from fifth, sixth, second or even leadoff in 2019, which will give him more high-leverage at-bats.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on a 22-year-old entering his second big league season! However, the Yankees wouldn’t be doing it if they weren’t totally confident that Torres could handle it. That said, there are some areas where Torres can still improve to really take his game to the next level, and go from just a really good contributor for the Yankees to one of the best second basemen in all of baseball.

First off, let’s evaluate where Torres ranked as a second baseman last year. Believe it or not, Torres finished 20th out of 29 second basemen (with 400 plate appearances) in WAR. This, however, is not an entirely accurate depiction of Torres’s true talent level. First of all, WAR is a cumulative statistic, and Torres missed almost two months of the season due to injury and his time in the minor leagues. Thus, if he had been able to extrapolate his numbers over a full season, his WAR would likely be at least a half-win higher, which would put him in the top 12 of second basemen.

However, that still seems too low of a ranking for a second baseman that hits as well as Torres does. In fact, he’s actually one of the elite second basemen at the plate. Torres finished 6th among second basemen in wRC+ (120) and wOBA (.349). He was also second in ISO power (.209). For those who prefer more traditional statistics, Torres was third among second basemen in home runs, fourth in RBI and OPS, and ninth in average and OBP. Any way you slice it, Torres is a leading man offensively among second basemen.

Torres does have one weakness with the bat though, and that’s his plate discipline. He had the sixth-worst strikeout rate among qualified second basemen, and just a middle-of-the-pack walk rate. When Torres went into slumps at the plate last year, his chase rate (red) skyrocketed, and his walk rate (blue) plummeted.

The graphs seem to mirror each other, and it makes sense. When Torres is chasing, he’s going to walk less. If he can better control his plate discipline, his walks will increase, his strikeouts will go down, and he’ll be close to unstoppable at the plate.

Still, this is just one small fix that could really push Torres’s offense into the stratosphere. So why does his WAR still reflect a good but not great second baseman? Torres’s offense may be great, but his defense and baserunning still leave a lot to be desired. Torres had the second-worst UZR (-7.7) out of the 25 second basemen who played at least 700 innings in the field. This paints the picture that Torres doesn’t have exceptional fielding at second base. Oddly though, Torres’s defensive runs saved is almost average, at just -1 run.

To me, this says that Torres has the tools to succeed in the field, and just needs more time to hone his craft. Remember, this is a 22-year-old who is still relatively new to playing second base after spending all of his developmental years at shortstop. He still made several highlight reel plays in the field last year, but needs more consistency. Splitting time between second base and short may not help matters, but Torres’s defense is likely to improve with time given his stellar instincts and baseball IQ.

One more area where Torres can improve is his baserunning. FanGraphs’ BsR is one of the most accurate ways to measure a player’s baserunning skill. Torres came in with the seventh-worst BsR among second basemen, thanks to his eight baserunning outs this year. He has had trouble with his sliding before and is slightly below-average when it comes to sprint speed. Thus, it may benefit Torres to be less aggressive on the basepaths moving forward. Given the Yankees’ dynamic offense, they should still be able to move him around station to station and avoid outs with conservative baserunning.

Ultimately, Gleyber Torres is already an All-Star second baseman. He’s offensively elite, defensively gifted and can very easily improve on the basepaths. Transitioning into a larger role in his second year in the majors, Gleyber Torres is a good bet to keep improving moving forward.