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Gleyber good? The Yankees’ shortstop’s heating up

After the worst start to any season of his career, Gleyber Torres’ bat has shown legitimate signs of life.

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images

After setting off his career with a pair of All-Star selections, the second half of Gleyber Torres’ big league tenure to date has been marred by a slew of disappointments. Last season, Torres saw much of his power production sapped, leading to career-lows in batting average, slugging percentage, and OPS. This year, he’s fallen even farther, setting new career-worsts in on-base percentage, slugging, OPS (obviously), and only clearing last season’s batting average by three points. Factoring in his unimproved, miserable defense (fourth-percentile OAA), Gleyber’s 2021 has been a mostly unmitigated disaster.

However, over the past few weeks, Torres’ bat has come back to life, showing flashes of the power he possessed in his freshman and sophomore campaigns. Over the past 28 days, Torres’ OPS stands at .829 — not far from the .849 mark across those first two seasons. Over just the past two weeks Torres has an OPS of 1.004 and homered thrice, accounting for half of his longballs this year. Since July 1, Gleyber’s .361 wOBA (which would be the best of his career over a full season) is actually inferior to his .372 xwOBA, suggesting that his recent hot stretch stems from this quantifiable improvement in the quality of his contact.

Unlike in the case of Gary Sánchez’s resurgence as an elite offensive catcher, Gleyber’s turned it around — albeit to a lesser extent, over a shorter stretch so far — without making any glaring mechanical adjustments. While Gary reduced his leg kick to a simple stride, setting his stance lower into his base, Torres has retained the high leg kick he’s had since at least the start of his big league career. However, a subtle shift in his weight transfer has made it easier for him to put his best swing on the baseball consistently.

Early in the season, Torres displayed a tendency to allow his weight to drift forwards off of his backside as he approached the baseball. If his timing was anything less than perfect, he often found himself in a compromised position to drive the baseball, losing his hands and swinging around the baseball as such:

In this early April at-bat against the Rays’ Chris Mazza, Torres couldn’t do much with this slider on the outer-half except bop it softly into left. As his weight drifts forward in advance of the ball’s approach, he juts out his rear end to compensate, losing all of his power in the process, and flips his hands at the ball. Instead of maintaining a power position to drive this pitch to the opposite field with his weight stacked on his back leg, Gleyber has no choice but to cast his hands around the baseball like a fishing pole and pull the outside offspeed pitch to center.

Now, he’s sitting back longer and allowing the ball to travel into his zone instead of reaching to go get it. His improved approach lets him drive the ball back from where it’s pitched, taking outside pitches to right, and letting his quick bat naturally pull pitches on the inner-half to left without yanking them.

For an example of the former, check Gleyber’s homer from the Yankees’ series against the Phils:

Although this pitch was hung out over the middle, and Gleyber’s 359-foot chip shot would have been a homer in just one of the 30 major league ballparks, the blast’s 101.0 mph exit velocity portends evidence of a well-struckw baseball. If Torres had leaked energy by way of a protruding tuchus, he wouldn’t have caught as much of the barrel, likely getting under the pitch and slicing it in the air to right.

For an example of the latter, look no further than Torres’ bomb from three days prior:

If Torres had allowed his weight to drift forwards towards the pitcher before starting to turn into his swing, he wouldn’t have had enough room to clear his barrel before the ball and would have gotten jammed. Instead, he keeps his balance behind the center of his body until he reaches his contact point, giving himself a chance to get this ball in front of his hands without reaching for it, naturally pulling the ball due to its location in the zone.

Since July 1, Torres’ average exit velocity has climbed three miles per hour above the paltry season average that ranks him amongst baseball’s bottom 11 percent. His 89.3 mph exit velocity of the past month is better than both his career average and the current major league average.

While every hitter’s production waxes and wanes over time with the statistical variance and biomechanical streakiness baked into the nature of the sport, Torres’ recent production marks such a substantive departure from the rest of his season to date, the margin of change alone is worthy of note.