The 2021 Yankees are facing plenty of questions lately, and one of the chief season-long mysteries revolves around their starting shortstop. Simply put: Where did Gleyber Torres’ power go?
Torres has struggled at the plate throughout 2021, but the downturn in his ability to hit for power stretches back to last year. After making a big impression by hitting 24 home runs and recording an .820 OPS during his rookie season in 2018, Gleyber showcased his power again in his sophomore season by belting 38 homers in 2019. Since establishing a reputation as a developing slugger though, Torres has hit just six home runs in 2020-21 combined.
Of course, 2020 was an abbreviated season and the juiced-up baseball in 2019 probably gave Gleyber’s home run total a boost. Still, the decrease in his home run total from 2018-19 (one every 17.5 plate appearances) to 2020-21 (one every 75 plate appearances) is striking and cannot be attributed wholly to a funky baseball and shortened season.
That Torres’ ability to hit for power has seemingly disappeared is less easily explained than just noting that this kind of slump is one that countless ballplayers experience on occasion throughout their careers. At 25, he is too young for age to be the culprit. There must be another variable or change at play that explains Torres’ loss of his power.
Yankees hitting coach Marcus Thames has remarked on Torres working through some mechanical issues with his batting stance and swing, and fans who watch the Yankees on the YES Network are likely familiar with these issues because Paul O’Neill points them out every time Gleyber has a bad at-bat. That he might be pulling the ball less is another possible reason for his loss of power, as Devan Fink of FanGraphs recently pointed out.
Earlier this season, I wrote about how much I dislike the inconsistency of the Yankees’ lineup, and how the order changes from one game to another. Thinking about how I see no benefit to shaking up the lineup on a daily basis made me curious if Gleyber’s performance varies at all, depending on where he’s slotted in the batting order. I took a closer look at Torres’ batting statistics to understand if he shows significantly more (or less) power in one spot in the lineup over another.
When it comes to hitting for power, Torres has performed significantly better when he bats fifth. Part of that can be attributed to sample size, as he has recorded more plate appearances in the fifth spot. Here are Gleyber’s slash lines this year by batting order spot:
The sample sizes of Torres’ at-bats in other spots in the order are too small to draw any firm conclusions. But the numbers are skewed enough; when the distribution of Gleyber’s stats are laid out in this way, there’s a decent argument for batting him fifth. Only a handful of Yankees are reliable contributors on offense anyway, so even if the sample sizes are too small, why wouldn’t the team roll the dice on Gleyber batting fifth if he shows more power there?
Maybe Gleyber’s spot in the order matters less than I think it does. If his balance and mechanics are off, he obviously has to iron those out. The bottom line is that the Yankees have considered Gleyber an elite talent and the organization has a lot invested in him at this point. Let’s hope he figures it out and doesn’t become a makeover project.