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Under the hood: The Yankees have witnessed Gleyber Torres’ rise to stardom

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The infielder has improved across the board and the arrow keeps pointing up.

MLB: Texas Rangers at New York Yankees Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The Aroldis Chapman trade has the potential to be one of those rare transactions that radically changes both of the franchises involved for the better. Back in that 2016 season, where the Yankees boldly decided to sell a couple of assets to real contenders, they flipped the hard-throwing reliever to the Cubs in exchange for prospects.

The headliner of the deal, for the Yankees, was Venezuelan infielder Gleyber Torres. Flags fly forever, they say, so no matter how significant were the assets that the Cubs gave up, Chapman was a significant contributor in breaking a decades-long World Series drought. Giving up Torres proved worth it.

The Yankees pounced on a prime opportunity to acquire a potential All-Star at the time. Gleyber Torres the prospect has ceased to be, and he is Gleyber Torres, the star, in every sense of the word.

The middle infielder is a star by any measure. According to FanGraphs’ rule-of-thumb chart for the representation of Wins Above Replacement (WAR,) he certainly earned that label:

Scrub: 0-1 WAR

Role Player: 1-2 WAR

Solid Starter: 2-3 WAR

Good Player: 3-4 WAR

All-Star: 4-5 WAR

Superstar: 5-6 WAR

MVP: 6+ WAR

As of today, Torres has accumulated 3.9 fWAR, with a couple of weeks of play left. He will, barring injury, surpass the 4 fWAR threshold, effectively making him an “All-Star” according to FanGraphs’ chart. Perhaps even more straightforward: Torres has made the All-Star team in both seasons of his young career.

The most impressive thing of all is that Torres is only 22-years-old, so he is theoretically still a few years away from his peak. Torres is a four-to-five WAR player who could still improve in the future.

Improvements across the board

Torres’ first full season came last year, in 2018. He accumulated 2.0 fWAR in 123 games played, and so far in 2019, he has 133. It is a perfect time to make a comparison from a numbers’ standpoint.

The first notable improvement that Torres has shown so far is in his contact rate. In 2018, he put a 70.9% mark, and he has upped that to 75.4% this time around, more than four percentage points.

He is chasing pitches outside the zone at a similar rate (34.3% in 2018 and 35.3 in 2019,) but his swinging strike rate has improved from 14.0% to 12.8%. He has also done a better done identifying and pouncing on pitches in the zone, as evidenced by the fact that he has increased the frequency with which he swings at “good” pitches by almost nine percentage points, from 68.7 in 2018 to 77.1 this season.

When he does make contact, good things happen: he has improved in batting average (.287 in 2019, .271 in 2018), OBP (.346/.340), slugging percentage (.550/.480), wOBA (.368/.349), and home runs (36/24).

While it is true some of the team’s best sluggers have missed time, most notably Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, it is worth noting that Gleyber Torres leads the New York Yankees in home runs with 36. The second-placed Gary Sanchez has 34, and three more have hit over 20.

What does Statcast think?

While he is no Stanton, Torres makes enough hard contact to maintain a solid xwOBA of .350, although he’s been perhaps a touch lucky, given his .373 actual wOBA. His hard-hit percentage has remained nearly the same as in 2018 at 36.5, per Statcast (it was 36.8 last year.)

Statcast also confirms he has been slightly better in barrel percentage (10.7 in 2019 compared to 9.2 in 2018,) exit velocity (89.0 MPH/88.7 MPH,) expected batting average (.265/.257,) and expected slugging (.492/.464.)

A sizable portion of Gleyber’s improvements can be attributed to the fact that he is murdering fastballs in 2019, with a .325 batting average and .659 slugging, compared to .280 and .551 marks last season.

What about his glove?

Last season, Torres was 7.9 runs below average on defense, per FanGraphs, which raised some concerns about his long-term ability to stay in the middle infield positions. This year, he’s raised his overall defensive value to a much more palatable 0.4 runs below average. As a prospect, he was said to have the instincts and chops to play a good shortstop, so it is not out of the question that he grows into an above-average second baseman in the field, or a solid shortstop should he play there every day.

DRS rates Torres slightly worse in 2019 than 2018 at second base, and about the same at shortstop. Conversely, UZR rates Torres as better at both the keystone and shortstop in 2019. Both metrics put him at right about average.

All in all, the Yankees should be excited at the prospect of having a 22-year-old All-Star with the potential of putting together superstar and MVP-caliber seasons in the not-so-distant future. After all, he is the 16th-ranked position player in the American League when it comes to fWAR, and the youngest in the top 20. The future is bright in the Yankee infield because of Torres.