Gleyber Torres has been the most productive Yankee in the month of August. After trade rumors and only a decent first half, he has proven his worth as one of the very best hitting second baseman in all of baseball. Other than Jose Altuve (who is not a qualified hitter due to missed time), no second baseman in the American League has a higher wRC+. His overall value is dragged down by poor baserunning and average defense, but he is still on pace to succeed 3.0 fWAR on the season producing well above most other Yankees.
His second half success has been driven by multiple factors, but the most interesting development has been his extremely effective toe tap with two strikes. This isn’t completely new for Torres, but in the last year or so he hadn’t used it consistently. Now, it’s an extremely important part of his offense again. The story is two-fold. He had already shown a great improvement in dropping his strikeout numbers from previous years, and this significantly helps that. Additionally, it puts him in a better position to not only make contact but make hard contact. In this at-bat from Tuesday night, he gave us a great example of how he can still impact the ball with a toe tap. Tarik Skubal is a good pitcher and has an 85th percentile barrel rate allowed, but it didn’t matter to Gleyber. Now, let’s jump into it.
Pitch 1 (0-0 count, slider)
Standard 0-0 take here. The one thing I’m paying attention to is his intent to swing. No runners on and two outs? Yeah that’s the time to ambush an early heater, but his patience was correct in reading this slider out of the zone.
Pitch 2 (1-0 count, sinker)
This is a very interesting spot to set up for a left on right sinker. I’m not sure if this is a visual cue or not, but it would be a heck of a pitch to run a sinker over the front door at 96 mph. Skubal spiked the pitch, though, and we never got to see if it was truly his intention to go up there. In the 2-0 count, I’d expect a big hack from Torres.
Pitch 3 (2-0 count, slider)
Skubal has such a funky release point. A back door slider at the top of the zone is such a tough pitch to hit for any right handed hitter. Skubal can execute it more often that most pitchers because of his hand orientation and release point. It’s pretty much an auto called strike if you can spot it up.
Pitch 4 (2-1 count, changeup)
Out of the same arm angle, this is borderline unhittable following the high slider. Torres is the type of hitter who is more whiff prone when ahead in the count because he is going to get his best swing off, so it’s not too concerning to see him whiff on a well tunneled pitch with a great location. However, it will be important that he identifies this pitch if Skubal followed up with it.
Pitch 5 (2-2 count, changeup)
Yeah, I would’ve thrown it again too! The location wasn’t quite as good as the previous pitch, and it let Gleyber fight it off. But jeez, Skubal is a very nasty pitcher. He’s got pitches that move in every direction and is super funky. He had a bunch of options to try and put away Gleyber in the repeat 2-2 count.
Pitch 6 (2-2 count, sinker)
This was interesting. Gleyber went back to a leg kick after toe tapping in the previous two strike count. I wonder if he was confident he would get a specific pitch after seeing two straight changeups. It’s an interesting process — the kind of thing you only do when you’re feeling extremely confident.
Pitch 7 (2-2 count, four-seamer)
This was the first four-seamer of the at-bat, and it was too high above the zone. It made sense to see if Gleyber would chase above the zone here, but this was well above eye level. Skubal had one of two options: see if he could execute the pitch on a second try, or go slow again even though Gleyber seemed to be late on the heaters throughout the at-bat.
Pitch 8 (3-2 count, four-seamer)
Oh that’s not where you want it! There are points in a swing/pitch where a hitter needs to be on time. The first is at pitch release, and the second is when the foot gets down. Once the foot is down, your odds of making any substantial adjustments decrease. If you’re on time at both of those points, you leave some room for error. Gleyber was ready to go at both points and took advantage of a cookie fastball down the middle. He sent this one 454 feet and well over the wall in one of the biggest parks in the league. He looks better than he ever has.