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Yankees 2022 Season Preview: Gleyber Torres

The former Baby Bomber faces a crossroads season.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees-Workouts Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In July of 2016, Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman shipped closer Aroldis Chapman off to the Chicago Cubs, who were making a push to end their infamous championship drought. Headlining the package that came to the Bronx in return? A young second infielder by the name of Gleyber Torres. The then-19-year old was MLB.com’s 24th-ranked prospect when he traveled east from Chicago to New York.

From there, Torres embarked on a meteoric rise. Prior to turning 23 years old, Gleyber had already mashed 62 home runs in the big leagues and compiled 6.6 bWAR. Then 2020 happened. Torres moved to shortstop and saw his OPS plummet almost 150 points from 2019. And in 2021, it was even worse. So now, back at second base and staring down his age-25 season, what in the world will we see from Gleyber Torres in 2022?

2021 Stats (Full Season): 516 PA, .259/.331/.366, 9 HR, 51 RBI, 14 SB, .307 wOBA, 94 wRC+, 1.7 WAR

2022 FanGraphs Depth Charts Projection: 630 PA, .264/.339/.437, 23 HR, 12 SB, .335 wOBA, 113 wRC+, 3.1 WAR

I guess the good news is that FanGraphs projects a bounce back campaign from Torres, albeit not one likely to reach 2019’s lofty heights when we all started to wonder just how high his offensive ceiling really was. 23 homeruns is a long way from 38, but it also represents a substantial power jump from the nine round trippers Torres managed to run into in 2021.

A look at some underlying numbers though, makes it clear that Torres wasn’t just a victim of bad luck the past two seasons. He’ll need to start hitting the ball harder to have any hope of coming close to his former offensive production.

That is a lot of blue ink for young Gleyber. Torres’ 2021 season was well below average when it came to making hard contact, with his xSLG and Barrel% mired in mediocrity. And his Avg Exit Velocity and HardHit% were downright atrocious. When Torres does hit the ball hard though, he’s in the upper echelon at it, as evidenced by his 82nd percentile Max Exit Velocity.

One issue last season? Hitting the heater. With the exception of one season, which we can all probably guess, Torres has had trouble handling four-seam fastballs in his young career. In 2018, he managed a .298 wOBA on the pitch, which he saw roughly 30 percent of the time. 2019 was his outlier season. Then, Torres raked fastballs to the tune of a .456 wOBA, seeing the pitch one-third of the time. In 2020, a .286 wOBA while again seeing the pitch 30 percent of the time. Last season? .282 wOBA, seeing the pitch 32 percent of the time.

All told, Torres the past two years has compiled a -20 Run Value on four-seam fastballs, after netting a Run Value of 14 on the pitch during his 2019 power surge campaign. If you’re looking for a silver lining though, it looks as though Gleyber might have been been a bit better against the heater than the results indicated in 2021. His expected BA, SLG, and wOBA were all considerably higher than what ended up on the back of his baseball card (.240, .458, and .339 versus .196, .322, and .282).

One other reason for optimism at the plate in 2022? Torres’ move back to second base, the position he manned his first two seasons in the big leagues. In 2021, he was markedly better at the plate when he played the keystone versus when he patrolled shortstop. In an admittedly small sample size of 78 PA, Torres slashed .300/.372/.443 with a 124 wRC+ at second base last season. Honestly ... if Gleyber’s 2022 ends with a batting line similar to that, I’ll call that a win.

In the field, Statcast is not a fan of Torres’ defense, regardless of where he is on the diamond. For his career, Statcast has Torres at -28 Outs Above Average, and -10 in 2021. Again though, perhaps there is reason to hope. The Yankees solidified the defense on the left side of the infield with Josh Donaldson manning third base and 2020 Gold Glove winner Isiah Kiner-Falefa at shortstop.

Why does this matter, you ask? Because Statcast has Gleyber at his worst when he has to move laterally toward third base (-15 career OAA, -5 in 2021). With Donaldson and IKF on the left side of the infield, it stands to reason that the latter can position in a way to lessen the necessity for Gleyber to range far to his right.

We likely know the Yankees’ plan for Torres defensively. Start the vast majority of his games at second base, perhaps spelling IKF at shortstop when the latter needs a day off. But where does Torres fit offensively in the Yankees lineup? Torres will almost certainly hit at the bottom of the order in 2022, at least until shades of the 2019 version of Gleyber Torres shows up.

Until he recovers offensively, there is no good reason to have him hit ahead of the majority of the Yankees’ regulars. He, IKF, and whomever starts behind the plate will likely hold down the fort at the bottom of the lineup. And that’s a good thing, for our once (and future?) star middle infielder. Torres can try to rediscover his form lurking late in the order, while opposing pitchers stay up at night worried about the mashers in front of him. And if he does? The Yankees lineup becomes that much deeper, with at least one bat at the bottom of the order capable of inflicting damage.

Torres could help himself, as well as the Yankees, with some kind of return to form. With a couple of seasons remaining before he hits unrestricted free agency, Torres could help his arbitration leverage if he can take his performance from the past two seasons and pump those numbers up.

I for one would welcome any kind of renaissance from Torres in 2022, who has been an absolute pleasure to watch early in his Yankees tenure. We’ve seen entirely too many Baby Bombers fizzle out. It’d be nice to see Gleyber recapture his past glory, if for no other reason than maybe he can mercilessly torment Orioles broadcast announcers like he did to Gary Thorne: