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Examining the implications of the Yankees’ extended slumps

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Gleyber Torres and Gary Sánchez’s extended slumps are undoubtedly organizational failures. The only uncertainty lies in who to blame.

New York Mets v New York Yankees Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Between the start of the 2020 season and this May, Gary Sánchez and Gleyber Torres looked as though they’d come out on the wrong side of a run-in with the Monstars. During that stretch, Gary had homered a total of 16 times compared to his 105 in the four seasons prior, while Gleyber had launched a measly five compared to his tally of 62 in his first two seasons as a Yankee. In those first four seasons, Sánchez slugged a combined .518, with Torres just behind in his first two at .511 — each among the league leaders at their own positions. From last season through May, those averages fell to just .371 and .348, respectively. Anyone tuning into an occasional Yankee game could tell that neither Gleyber nor Gary was delivering on expectations set by past performances.

While some fretted about the effects of a newly circulated de-juiced ball, the duo’s respective drop-offs were far too severe to be wholly explained by an altered baseball. This is especially true given the fact that that their slumps pre-dated the alleged alterations to the standardized baseball, as well as the scores of sluggers around the league who continued to mash.

Instead, as I outlined in the middle of May, Sánchez’s inability to square up anything straight was undermining his overall production. Despite being one of the best fastball hitters in baseball at his previous peaks, Sánchez’s 2021 consisted of just the opposite. With a late, large leg kick, Gary was consistently too late in getting his foot down to giving himself a chance at putting a competitive swing on the ball, especially fastballs, and in particular, those that were up in the zone.

At the end of June, Marcus Thames admitted that Gleyber’s struggles were similar to those of Sánchez in that they stemmed from his lower half. Like Sánchez, Torres begins his swing with a massive leg kick that, when late, prevents him from getting his foot down in time to catch up to any decent fastball. Also like Gary, Torres’ tendency of tardiness was undermining his undeniable talent.

Sánchez’s nearly unique power potential — the ability to occasionally drill a baseball well above 110 mph — gave fans frequent glimmers of hope into what he might look like again if he’d just find a way to figure it out. Without any similar flashes of promise, optimism for a return to form from Torres is solely dependent upon memories of him in 2018, ‘19, and the fleeting 2020 postseason.

Sánchez’s recent resurgence (.902 OPS since May 19th) directly coincides with a reduction of his leg kick and a subsequently resurrected ability to slug fastballs (.517 xSLG against four-seamers since May 19th). Therefore, it is at the very least reasonable to assume that the source of Sánchez’s struggles was in fact his caused by his delayed leg kick. Further, taken in combination with the mountain of data and footage suggesting as much, Thames’ admission that Gleyber’s swing mechanics are unsound in the same way that Sánchez’s were, effectively confirms his struggles also stem from a late leg kick.

In both of these scenarios, it feels like we’ve known from the outside what’s wrong for ages, but it remains unclear why it has taken so long for the Yankees to do anything about it. It’s not uncommon for good hitters to go through slumps. In fact, it’s the norm. However, slumps shouldn’t last more than a couple of weeks, let alone the 140-plus games between the Yankees’ start of last season to the present day. If slumps never stop, we typically come to understand the hot streaks of a player’s past as the aberration.

The unusual length of each player’s slump begs a question of responsibility in regards to their sudden regressions. These two were stuck in a serious rut caused by a mechanical flaw, and still, only one has been able to get rolling again. As I see it, there are only two reasonable kinds of explanations for two players on the same team being unable to implement the same diagnosable mechanical flaw: those having to do with knowledge or those of execution.

It is within the realm of possibility that both hitters simply didn’t know what was wrong. The best hitters make the fastest mechanical corrections when something goes awry, from at-bat to at-bat, and even swing-to-swing, but every major leaguer ought to have access to a hitting coach capable of analyzing and addressing major mechanical flaws causing significant slumps. Still, Thames’ comments implied that he had at least some idea of what was going on with his catcher and shortstop at the plate and that he had been working with them to address the issue. Therefore, it seems likely that at least someone in the dugout knew what Sánchez and Torres each needed to change.

However, if the Yankees’ system short-circuited by failing to deliver that information to either Gary or Gleyber, then the organization is at fault. There are infinite ways in which a failure in communication could have occurred, so I’ll only name a few, but those that follow are among them: It is possible that even though Thames may have known what was wrong, he lacked the ability to convey it in a way that Gary or Gleyber would internalize. These kinds of errors could include ineffective drill work or a misunderstanding of the swing mechanics at hand. In this case, Thames is to blame, as his primary duty is to successfully provide the aforementioned service.

Alternatively, Thames’ hands could have been tied by management’s improper prioritization of information. Thames’ advice, or whoever’s that suggested a leg kick reduction, could have been buried beneath a mountain of data meant to improve either hitter’s approach, landing the responsibility at the feet of the club as a whole. Finally, Sánchez and Torres may have inadvertently prioritized the wrong information themselves, making a series of useless adjustments instead of addressing the one big one. If this were true, Sánchez and Torres wouldn’t be blameless, but ultimately, if the club knew what was wrong — which they should have — they ought to have been able to push the players to at least try out the proper adjustment. At the end of the day, no one wants to fail — even hypothetically stubborn sluggers — especially when millions of dollars are at stake.

Alternatively, if Sánchez and Torres knew what’s wrong, but still couldn’t execute it, then they’re probably just not as good as we once hoped. Maybe it just took months of batting practice for Sánchez to feel comfortable enough with a minimized leg kick to bring it into a game, and Torres remains entrenched in a similar struggle. This scenario is an unfortunate indictment of their talent level, and frankly, is likely at least partially responsible for the extended drought. Even still, Sánchez improved immediately once he brought the adjustment into the games, and Torres has yet to show off his work if he even is working at some sort of change.

All told, something has gone wrong for both hitters to have underperformed for so long, especially when they were once so very good. While it’s great to see Sánchez hot again, Gleyber’s inability to find his swing grows more concerning with each passing day. In any scenario, someone must be to blame, whether it’s the management, coaches, or the players themselves. Scores of poor at-bats in a row without an adjustment, but a hope for a different result, feels like an attempt to land a spot in Webster’s as the top entry under “Insanity;” a method I can’t help but admonish, even if I can only make guesses as to its exact source.