A lot of words have been said and written about Gary Sanchez’s string of bad luck to start the 2018 season. While it was extraordinary, everyone knew it wouldn’t last. Gary Sanchez is not a .050 hitter, in the same way that Ronald Torreyes is not a .340 hitter. If you just did a double take, join the club. As of this writing Ronald Torreyes is hitting .340/.352/.434 with a 113 wRC+, firmly above league average.
Being a bench player is difficult in its own way. Sometimes you’ll not play for 4-5 straight days and then be asked to have a competitive at bat against one of the best pitchers on planet Earth. The silver lining is that when you do play, it’s because management thinks it’s a good match up for you.
The platoon advantage is as old as baseball itself, and is commonly cited as a reason for lineup/pinch hitting decisions. So it stands to reason that as a right-handed hitting bench player, a majority of Torreyes’ at bats would come against left-handed pitchers as that would be management putting him in the best position to succeed. That’s actually not the case. 80% of his at-bats so far have come against right-handed pitching. For reference Aaron Judge has faced right-handed pitching in 73% of his plate appearances this season.
So despite the fact that Torreyes is not being consistently put in the best situations he is still managing to succeed, but how? Could it be as simple as good luck? The short answer is yes, but thanks to Statcast and their batted ball data we can take a deep look and see exactly how lucky.
xwOBA is a Statcast metric that is similar to regular wOBA, except it uses expected outcomes on batted balls (based on exit velocity and launch angle). While certainly not perfect, when used in conjunction with regular wOBA it can tell an interesting story. Torreyes’ wOBA is .068 points higher than his xwOBA, the third largest difference in baseball (min 50 PA). Sometimes this difference can be explained by speed, as fast runners are more likely to beat out ground balls. Torreyes is actually not as good a runner as you might think. His average sprint speed is 27.4 ft/second, where the major league average is around 27.0.
Torreyes has also had the benefit of mostly stress free trips to the plate. Only 6 of his 63 PA (10.5%) have come in high leverage situations (LI above 2.0). Let’s take a closer look at some of these high leverage plate appearances.
The first comes against Trevor Bauer, noted good pitcher. The Yankees and Indians are tied 1-1 in the bottom of the fifth. The bases are loaded with one out. Torreyes fights off a tough 1-2 curveball and this happens:
He hits a tailor-made double play ball directly at one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball. Bauer couldn’t have drawn it up better. Not only does Francisco Lindor botch the transfer making a double play impossible, he then makes an ill-advised throw to third which Jose Ramirez was not expecting, allowing another run to score.
Next up is an at-bat against the Astros, another AL playoff team. More specifically against Lance McCullers, who gave the Yankees fits in the ALCS. We’ll set the scene again, it’s bases loaded no outs, bottom of the second, game tied at zero. Torreyes hits a ball directly into the ground.
He gets lucky when Alex Bregman cuts in front of a better defender in Carlos Correa. Bregman, a capable defender in his own right, bobbles the ball and is incapable of getting one out, let alone two.
The point of this is not to belittle Ronald Torreyes, or discredit his contributions to the team thus far. It was simply to highlight and appreciate just how lucky he has been this season. Because even when Torreyes stops being lucky, he will still be a critical part of this Yankees team.