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How much has Gleyber Torres really regressed?

Gleyber Torres’s dominance of the 2019 Orioles skewed his offensive numbers and led to unrealistic expectations in the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

MLB: Cleveland Guardians at New York Yankees Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Gleyber Torres has not been the same player since his excellent 2019 season. In 2019, Torres slashed .278/.337/.535 for an OPS of .871, 38 home runs, and a wRC+ of 125. Additionally, 2019 was an improvement for Torres from his very good 2018 rookie season, where he had an OPS of .820 and a wRC+ of 121. Prior to the 2020 and 2021 seasons, Torres looked like a budding superstar, but was he?

We need to look closer at Torres’s 2019 season to answer this question. Looking below at Torres’s 2019 and 2021 percentile rankings as reported by Baseball Savant below, we can compare his advanced metrics. In 2019, we can see that Torres was roughly league-average in exit velocity, slightly above league-average in maximum exit velocity, below league-average in hard-hit percentage, and well above league-average in barrel percentage. However, comparing those numbers to his 2021 season, nothing is dramatically different except for a drop in the average exit velocity and barrel percentage. However, in 2021, his maximum exit velocity increased, and his strikeout rate, walk rate, chase rate, and whiff rates all improved from his 2019 season.

Gleyber Torres 2019 Percentile Rankings
Gleyber Torres 2021 Percentile Rankings

A drop in average exit velocity and barrel percentage could explain Torres’s drop-off in power production since the 2019 season. Still, his other metrics indicate he has matured into a more patient hitter, putting him in better positions to hit. However, this has not seemed to happen. Thinking back to the 2019 season, one additional variable we should look at is Torres’s numbers against the Orioles.

In 18 games against the Orioles in the 2019 season, Torres slashed .394/.467/.1.045 hitting 13 of his 38 home runs, for an OPS of 1.512 and a wRC+ of 279. To put it simply, Torres destroyed the 2019 Orioles singlehandedly, much to the dismay of then-Orioles announcer Gary Thorne. However, if his stats from those 18 games against the minor league 2019 Orioles are removed, Torres’s career stats become more interesting. I have included his career stats including a duplicate 2019 with all games against the Orioles removed in the table below. By removing those 18 games against the Orioles, Torres’s OPS drops from 0.871 to 0.783, and his wRC+ drops from 125 to 103.3 (lower than his 2020 wRC+ in the 2020 COVID shortened season). Removing these games against the Orioles brings Torres’s career into focus. Torres’s very good rookie campaign looks to be his true ceiling, rather than his 2019 campaign that was greatly skewed by his 18-game dominance of the Orioles. Considering this, Torres was very much the same player in 2020 as he was in 2019 and was much closer to his true average in 2021 than one might have previously thought.

Torres Career Stats, Source: Fangraphs

The takeaway here is that Torres, only 25 years old this season, still has the potential to be a good player, but not likely a great player. His dominance of the 2019 Orioles inflated his stats and created unrealistic expectations about his future. In addition, something has caused his home run power to regress since the 2019 season. In 2018 and 2019 (when games against the Orioles are removed) Torres was consistently around 20 doubles and 25 home runs. In the past two seasons, Torres has retained his gap-to-gap doubles power, hitting 22 last season and 26 in 2019, but has lost his home run power. While Torres has retained his doubles power, his loss in home run power can explain the dramatic dip in his slugging percentage, which appears to be the only true source of regression for Torres since 2019.

As mentioned earlier, advanced metrics show that Torres has become a more selective and patient hitter. Being more selective and swinging at better pitches should have put him in better situations to hit and capitalize on mistakes, but this hasn’t happened. Instead, it appears some mechanical issue has caused Torres’s home run power to regress even though his plate discipline has improved. Nevertheless, before his loss of home run power, it was unrealistic to expect 35+ home runs from Torres; he is not that player and likely never was. Instead, his true ceiling, if he can restore his home run power, appears to be a .750-.820 OPS player with 25-30 home run power, and if he can be that player again, it’s all the Yankees need him to be.

Others have speculated that Torres’ decline has happened because he has lost his opposite-field hitting approach; spray charts each season seem to disprove this and show he has consistently pulled the ball since his rookie season. Others have speculated that playing a terrible shortstop reduced his confidence causing decreased production at the plate. However, since his rookie season, Torres has consistently been a terrible defensive player. He is below average as both a second baseman and a shortstop, but in 2019 he was a better shortstop than he was a second baseman. Overall, this argument seems to be a stretch. Instead, it seems far more likely that a combination of unrealistic expectations following the 2019 season and mechanical issues causing a loss in home run power have caused his decline. While I think a return to his rookie form is possible, I’m not sure that Torres can ever be the budding superstar he was perceived to be in 2019 — I’m not sure he ever truly was.