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The numbers behind Gleyber Torres’ struggles

Gleyber Torres’ last two seasons have been a disappointment, but it’s too early to give up on him.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at New York Yankees Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Gleyber Torres has been the most disappointing player for the Yankees this year, full stop. Once widely regarded as a can’t-miss prospect and up-and-coming superstar, Gleyber has looked like a shell of his former self at the plate dating back to the start of last season. To quote four musicians of the non-blonde variety, what’s goin’ on?

As a brief respite from the negativity that will follow, here’s a quick snapshot of just how good Torres was to start his career. Debuting at the age of 21, Torres made his presence known to the tune of a 121 wRC+, .349 wOBA, and a solid 2.0 fWAR. In more traditional terms, he slashed .271/.340/.480 with 27 homeruns and 77 RBI, earned his first All-Star appearance, and finished third in Rookie of the Year voting. His Barrel rate sat at 9.2 percent, ranking him alongside Anthony Rendon, Francisco Lindor, and Freddie Freeman, and he posted a very aggressive 32.6% First Pitch Swing rate (more on this stat later).

In his sophomore season, it was more of the same. Across 144 games, Torres hit to a 124 wRC+, .358 wOBA, and 3.6 fWAR. This translated to a .278/.337/.535 slash line with 38 homeruns and his second straight All-Star nod. While his average and OBP stayed relatively flat, he slugged the hell out of the ball and improved his approach at the plate by dropping his strikeout rate from 25.2 percent to 21.4 percent. Torres also became even more aggressive, raising his First Pitch Swing rate to 36.4% while maintaining a very solid 9.4 percent barrel rate.

Then, in 2020, the proverbial wheels fell off for Torres. With the departure of Didi Gregorius in the offseason, Torres was handed the coveted reins at shortstop but failed to live up to both his and the fans’ lofty expectations. Here are his numbers from 2020:

Torres was, according to every possible metric aside from on-base percentage, unproductive in 2020. While it was nice to see him raise his walk rate from 2019, a 167-point drop in slugging tells you all you need to know about Gleyber’s 2020 campaign. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he posted a barrel rate of just 3.7 percent and his aggressive approach at the plate all but disappeared to the tune of a 24.4 percent First Pitch Swing rate. But surely this was just a bad, albeit prolonged, slump, right? An outlier because of injuries and COVID uncertainties?

Enter the 2021 season.

Once again, according to every metric, Torres has been below average at the plate. While his fWAR has been buoyed by gains in defensive metrics, his OBP, slugging, wOBA, and wRC+ are all career lows. In fact, his slugging is currently good for sixth worst in MLB. His walk rate has fallen while his strikeout rate has risen, and his Barrel rate is sitting at an anemic 6.7 percent. Mirroring 2020’s step back in production and aggression, his first pitch swing rate is currently sitting at 29 percent, a rate that is well below the bar he set in his first two seasons. Torres is striking out more, walking less, and is unable to drive the ball when he makes contact. In other words, Torres is lost at the plate.

Across 2020 and 2021, Torres has played in 141 games. If we were to average things out, here’s what a full season of those production levels would look like:

In the immortal words of Joe Girardi, it’s not what you want.

So what’s going on? The short answer is I honestly don’t know, and I’m not entirely sure anyone does. Let’s start on the long answer. I threw a lot of numbers at you there, but I still have a few more to go:

These two charts tell the tale of Gleyber Torres’ drastic fall-off. If you take his first two seasons by themselves, you get a perhaps-slightly-overrated but still very good offensive player. If you factor in his last two seasons, all of those numbers fall to the level of, well, league average - not a bad player by any means, but not what we’ve come to expect from Torres.

While I can sit here and list all the things that simply don’t add up about Torres’ career all day, there are just as many potential reasons for his lack of productivity over the last calendar year. Injuries, a juiced ball, and a change of position might all factor into things, but if you look purely at the numbers, you’ll see a totally different hitter at the plate.

What I see from these numbers is a hitter who has pocketed the aggression that made him a budding star in favor of a more patient approach that leads to less strong contact. Whether that is a result of seeing more pitches or having to swing at more breaking balls as he gets deeper in to counts will take some more digging, but this is what you get from that drastic change in approach:

Baseball Savant

In a season where Yankees fans have been clamoring to find any sliver of hope they can get their hands on, I would just like to point you back to Gleyber’s stats with the last calendar year removed. By the age of 22, he had already made himself into a well-above-average hitter. Though I can’t foresee another 2019 campaign in his future, it’s hard to ignore the benchmarks he set for himself. Though his defensive struggles and lack of productivity at the plate don’t instill much confidence in fans, Torres is still just 24-years-old and, at the end of the day, his performance across 2020 and 2021 average out to one mediocre season in a very young career.

Perhaps Torres just needs to rediscover the aggression he showed early on and get back to swinging early and often. Perhaps there are mechanical tweaks the organization can make, similar to Gary Sánchez’s recent leg kick changes. Maybe there is something else going on with him that we aren’t privy to. All I know is that I’m not willing to give up on a guy who showed so much promise at such a young age just yet. And I think you should hold out hope, too.

With Torres shelved a few weeks due to a thumb sprain, though, it looks like we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.