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Married to the Keystone: Gleyber Torres and the Yankees infield

How can the Yankees best optimize the roster rotation?

Los Angeles Angels v New York Yankees - Game One Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

Aaron Judge is playing like the AL MVP, the Yankees boast the best pitching staff in the game, and those have been the main drivers of the club’s success so far this season. What shouldn’t go overlooked, though, is the impact that Gleyber Torres has had at the plate. In a lineup where the Yankees are frequently getting close to zero production out of three or four spots per night, Torres’ 121 wRC+ and 10 home runs have added length to an offense that is all too often a little short.

This has come at a critical time too, with Torres’ 161 mark over the last two weeks being a bulwark while the team navigates injuries to the bullpen, as well as the absences of Giancarlo Stanton and Josh Donaldson. With the return of Donaldson last night and Stanton soon to follow, the lineup rotation we saw for the first six to eight weeks of the season should return as well, and begs the question of what we do with Gleyber Torres.

I think he’s at the point where he’s not a guy you rotate in and out of the lineup; if he’s back to the true-talent 120 or so wRC+ that we saw in the first two years, then he needs to be playing every day. Before he was sick, then injured, then suspended, so did Josh Donaldson, and obviously you want to maximize Giancarlo Stanton’s plate appearances. This trio, and DJ LeMahieu, are all right-handed, so simple platooning doesn’t really give you that ability.

Therefore, I think the right move is to start giving Torres some time at shortstop again.

The ideal Yankees lineup includes all four of those guys, and Anthony Rizzo as well. Donaldson will, and should, get half days off as a DH — he’s already been hurt once this season — but rotating Torres into the shortstop one or two days a week gives you another kind of flexibility, while perhaps removing one of those black holes at the bottom of the lineup that represent one of the few weaknesses in the AL’s best team.

What hurt Gleyber Torres from 2020 forward was his combination of bad defense AND insufficient offense. His combined -9 OAA from 2020-2021 put him in the same company as guys like Xander Boegarts, Marcus Semien and Trevor Story, without having the offensive upside that any of those three players represented. If he keeps hitting like he is, well, the tradeoff of lesser defense quickly becomes worth it — this year alone, Tim Anderson and Bo Bichette have graded out negative by OAA, but their bats keep them at short and you don’t lose much.

So, one or two starts a week works out quite well if Torres keeps up this level of hitting. If he doesn’t, well, what’s our reasonable expectation for how bad Torres can be at the plate? Is it the 97 wRC+ he put up between 2020-21? That’s identical to the Depth Charts projection for Isiah Kiner-Falefa over the rest of the season. So, if we think that the last two years were as bad as it could get for Gleyber offensively, the nadir of his very real talent, well, his floor is IKF’s median, so again, you don’t lose anything at the plate.

Now, there’s a very real argument that moving to second has had some psychological effect on Torres — he’s more relaxed, there’s less of a mental block, he’s not “taking his defense to the plate”, etc. I don’t like to speculate on that kind of stuff, and unless Torres himself says so, I’m going to remain skeptical, but even if we concede there’s a point there, I don’t think that Torres should start 100 games at short the rest of the year.

The offensive value of having Torres and DJ and Stanton and Rizzo and Donaldson in the same lineup as many times as possible should be the goal of the team — if they’ve had one inconsistency this season it’s been up-and-down offensive performance, partially driven by the bottom half of the lineup being pretty darn useless. Getting all five guys into the lineup reduces that uselessness somewhat, and that kind of firepower is worth eating a lesser defensive output at short once or twice a week.