It’s so hard to fairly evaluate the 2020 campaign. Not only does the abbreviated season throw off stats in a sport that needs large sample sizes, but the toll of a global pandemic on people’s mental health needs to be considered as well. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the best player in baseball right now, and by his own admission, 2020 took him outside himself completely.
You can tell a similar story about Gleyber Torres, just in reverse. Whereas Vlad has taken tremendous steps forward in a more “normal” season, Gleyber’s bat has stagnated, virtually identical to his disappointing 2020. He has now played in more games and taken more plate appearances than he did last season, but he’s walking less, striking out more, and of course, his batted ball performance is dreadful.
The batted ball part in particular should worry people. Torres’ average exit velocity is just 85 mph, and he exceeds 95 mph just a third of the time. What this really means is that there’s going to be a cap on how much damage he can do:
This is what I’m talking about. Torres has had two real hot streaks in 2021, but they’ve been almost completely single-driven — his wOBA almost perfectly tracks his batting average. If Torres was hitting for power, the weighted elements of wOBA would show us much more of a gap between the two curves. There’s nothing wrong with getting hits, of course, but the key problem with the Yankees has been a lack of extra-base power with men on base.
So what’s causing this complete power outage? Yes, Torres hit 39 home runs in a juiced-ball 2019, and we need to discount said juiciness. Going back over his old scouting reports, though, he was always discussed as a player with at least above-average power. His final prospect report before debuting in 2018 graded him with 55/60 game/raw power — not as much as Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton, but no slouch with the stick.
And yet, over the past two years, that power has vanished. Since the start of 2020, Gleyber’s ISO is lower than Tyler Wade’s, at a time when shortstops as a position are greater offensive weapons than ever before, and that all comes back to those subpar contact metrics. Having Juan Pierre-quality contact isn’t good for anyone, especially if you’re neither as fast nor as good at putting the bat to the ball as Juan Pierre.
Perhaps the most confounding portion of this whole issue is the sample size. Yes, Torres has more plate appearances this year than last, with far less power and worse batted ball data. Those 343 plate appearances, though, are a whole lot less than the combined 1,088 PAs of .235 ISO ball in his first two seasons, average exit velo almost four full mph harder, and a barrel rate double what it is currently.
Gleyber Torres has been regressing for some time. Maybe he’s able to make more contact, and that’s valuable, but he’s an object example in what’s going wrong with this Yankee team. Torres isn’t striking out too much, he’s not swinging out of his shoes, and he’s actually making more contact than he has historically. There’s just no “oomph” behind his swings, and singles are perfectly good, but at this point, this team needs power to get going.