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Gleyber Torres and his improved plate discipline

Gleyber Torres is walking at an unprecedented rate in this young season.

Los Angeles Angels v New York Yankees Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

With 21 games in the books, Gleyber Torres is experiencing his best year with the bat since 2019, even if he’s gone cold over the last week or so. Now, while his power production hasn’t been near what he did early on in his career, one particular skill has elevated his floor in this young season.

As of the start of this series against the Blue Jays, Torres boasts a whopping 20 percent walk rate. Now, we all know that such an inflated figure isn’t exactly sustainable. However, small changes in Torres’ approach indicate the possibility of an above-average walk rate across a full season, a development that would work wonders for the Yankees’ second baseman.

Gleyber has a 133 wRC+ in 2023, and in 2022 that number was 115. How can that be if he is slugging so much less than he did a year ago (.403 in comparison with .497)? Well, it’s because he is reaching base at a huge pace, whereas last season, his walk rate was below league average at 6.8 percent.

Overall, we don’t want Gleyber to flirt with a slugging percentage of .400, for obvious reasons, but this early season sample size helps demonstrate the value of walking a decent chunk. It gives any hitter a significantly higher floor to operate on.

These numbers are bound to balance out, but no one walks a fifth of the time without some form of intent behind it, even if it is over 80 or so plate appearances. Torres’ 9.6 swinging strike rate would be by far the lowest of his career, with the second-lowest mark coming in at 11.8 during the shortened 2020 season, in which he had his career high in walk rate at 13.8 Torres’ contact rate of 78.3 would be the highest of his career, and his swing percentage of 44.1 would be the second lowest, trailing only the 42.0 mark in 2020, notably the only other season of Torres’ career in which he exhibited an obviously patient plate approach.

As he’s swinging less, Torres is managing to make more contact, getting to 82.8 percent of the pitches he swings at inside the zone. He’s also sharply increased his out of zone contact rate, to above 70 percent.

This combination gives Torres a higher floor. Even as his power stroke comes and goes, his ability to reach base and keep the lineup moving will help propel the Yankee offense even if he isn’t crushing homers.

Of course, the dream is that Torres finds a way to combine this more disciplined approach with real power. So far, we must acknowledge that Gleyber isn’t hitting the ball as hard as he did last season, and to some extent, both phenomena can be connected; typically, the more patient Torres is, the less power he hits for. Still, that doesn’t mean Torres can’t hit the ball harder, and also keep some of the strides he’s made in the plate discipline department.

We’ve already seen this movie before. Back in 2020, with a career-low slugging percentage of .368, the one thing that kept Torres afloat as a major league hitter, with an 103 OPS+, was the elite walk rate (13.8 percent). Here we’re looking for the best of both worlds, and there’s really no reason why Torres shouldn’t be able to accomplish that. At age-26, he’s in the prime of his career. If there was ever a time for Torres to maintain his ability to drive the ball, while boosting his walk rate and showing patience in the box, it’s now, while he’s at his athletic peak and also has nearly 2500 plate appearances of experience tracking major league pitches.

Particularly without Giancarlo Stanton, this offense needs the production out of its second baseman more than ever. He is their best bet to provide some depth around Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo. If Gleyber sustains this on-base ability, he should provide another big-time bat in the middle of the order, taking at least a little pressure off the sluggers in the lineup.