Following a down year in the COVID-shortened 2020 season that saw his power dry up and his defense suffer, Gleyber Torres came into 2021 looking to remind everyone in his age-24 season why he was once a top-five prospect in all of baseball. Instead, he took his 2020 struggles to new heights, ultimately losing his spot at the starting shortstop and putting his Yankees future in question.
2021 Stats: 127 G, 459 PA, .259/.331/.366, 9 HR, 51 RBI, 93 OPS+, 94 wRC+, 0.8 bWAR, 1.7 fWAR
2022 Contract Status: second-year arbitration-eligible
It takes just one word to describe Torres’s 2021 season, and that word is “disastrous.” From Opening Day, he struggled both at the plate and in the field. He alternated a couple of hot streaks — he slashed .345/.406/.460 from April 21st to May 23rd and .316/.353/.526 from July 17th until he hit the injured list on August 8th — with stretches where he looked like a pitcher at the plate (for example, he had just seven hits and no extra-base hits from June 15th to July 8th). After hitting three home runs in four days from July 17th to July 21st, Torres did not put one over the wall until September 10th — even factoring in the fact that he missed three weeks with a thumb injury, that’s the definition of “not good.”
It wasn’t just luck, either. Although he barreled up the ball more than twice as much as last year (up to 7.8 percent from 3.7), Torres’s overall Statcast profile took a nosedive. For the third straight year, his average exit velocity dropped slightly (to 87.1 mph), while his hard hit percentage dropped from 38 to 35.7 percent. Furthermore, his strikeout percentage increased slightly to 20.2 percent (although it’s still above-average), and his walk rate reverted almost completely to its 2018-2019 levels.
Somehow, he was even worse defensively, accruing -9 Outs Above Average and -10 Defensive Runs Saved at shortstop en route to making 18 errors. By the middle of the summer, the Yankees had already begun looking for a replacement, pursuing Trevor Story, Andrelton Simmons, and Javier Báez in order to return Torres to second base and shift DJ LeMahieu to first. None of those trades came to fruition, which left Torres at the position until mid-September, when Aaron Boone finally pulled the plug on the Shortstop Gleyber Torres experiment.
And then something funny happened: Torres began to turn it around at the plate. From September 13th through the end of the season, he slashed .300/.372/.443 with two homers and four doubles, good for a 124 wRC+. More significantly, as Josh wrote just after the season ended, he became more disciplined at the plate, swinging at fewer pitches outside the zone and barreling up pitches in the zone at a much higher rate. Although he still had not tapped into the power he demonstrated in his first two years, for the final three weeks of the season, he was an asset at the plate once again.
Entering his age-25 season, Torres stands at the crossroads of his Yankee career. Can he re-ignite his career at the position where it began, or will the Yankees look back and regret not trading him while he still had value? Only time will tell.