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How the Yankees can make Gleyber Torres even better

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The power-hitting young infielder can make improvements to join the true elite.

MLB: ALCS-New York Yankees at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Gleyber Torres is a star, and he is a rising one at that, being just 23 years old. The Yankees have a gem. However, the numbers say - and this is a scary thought for the rest of the AL East and MLB in general - that he has considerable room for improvement, both offensively and defensively.

For starters, let’s consider Torres’ fWAR, which is the best and most direct indicator of overall performance. He ranked 45th in fWAR in 2019, with 3.6, among qualified MLB batters. Good, but not quite elite.

He can greatly improve his offense

In FanGraphs’ “Off” rating, which is basically batting runs above average, Gleyber registered 18.7, enough to rank him 46th among major leaguers. Again, good, but far from the leaders.

One of the preferred ways to judge offensive performance is by looking at a batter’s wRC+, which is Runs Created adjusted to account for important external factors like ballpark or era. And, since it’s adjusted, 100 is league average. A 140 wRC+ means offensive production that is 40 percent above-average, and an 80 wRC+ means 20 percent below-average.

Torres’ 125 wRC+ was 25 percent better than the average, but 41 MLB batters had a higher mark than him. His .358 wOBA ranked 46th.

The shortstop excelled in the power numbers. His 38 homers tied for the 12th spot and his .256 ISO was 27th. His .535 SLG mark came in 28th place. However, his OBP skills could definitely improve: he registered a .337 mark, good for the 78th spot among qualified major leaguers.

A not-so-high average (.278) and a not-so-high BB% of 7.9 percent can only take a batter so far in the OBP department. He has the tools to become a .280-.290 hitter but needs to hit the ball hard more consistently, as he was in the 33rd percentile in hard-hit rate with a 35.8 percent mark.

There are some silver linings about Torres and his projections for the future. For starters, he has showed in the minors that he can approach .300 and he has the ability to hold a BB% well north of 10 percent. There could be improvements in those fronts.

Secondly, he already showed the ability to improve from season to season in the major leagues. From 2018 to 2019, he upped his ISO from .209 to .256, his batting runs above average (Off) from 11.5 to 18.7, his SLG% from .480 to .535, and cut his strikeout rate from 25.2 to 21.4.

His glove could use some refinement

One critical component of fWAR is defense. Torres’ was not disastrous by any means, but he did finish 2019 with a -2.6 “Def” rating, or 2.6 defensive runs below average.

Torres played second base and shortstop last season. Let’s review his numbers at short, since it will be his position in 2020. In 659.2 innings, he had a -2.1 UZR and a -4.7 UZR/150, with 1 DRS. A total of 30 shortstops logged at least 650 innings at the shortstop position, and 22 of them outperformed Torres’ 1.3 “Def” rating.

As a second baseman - which to be fair is not his primary position - he had a -4.2 UZR, a -11.7 UZR/150 and -7 DRS in 547.1 frames. According to Statcast’s new Outs Above Average stat, he was very poor with the glove as a whole last season, ranking in the 4th percentile (!) or among the league’s worst. Each advanced fielding metric comes with a different caveat, so take all the stats with a grain of salt.

He is young!

Yankees fans should be proud of the player they have. Torres has done many things that most 23-year-old’s could only dream of. And that’s the primary thing that leads us to believe he will, in fact, accomplish some of the improvements listed here: he is very, very young.

Hitters so young that are capable of hitting 38 home runs are quite rare. Batters so good that are capable of cutting almost four points off their strikeout percentage from season to season are mighty impressive.

Since Torres has a track record of making improvements from season to season, there is reason to believe he can achieve at least 5.0 fWAR in his peak and finally enter the conversation of elite and complete ballplayers. He just might not be there quite yet.