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The Yankees need Gleyber Torres to adjust back

The first test of Torres’ young career has arrived.

MLB: New York Yankees at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Any fan of the New York Yankees should know that Gleyber Torres is having one heck of a rookie season. In 49 games and 188 plate appearances so far, Torres has 13 homers, 6 doubles, and a slash line of .287/.342/.550. He’s a large part of why the Yankees have managed to thrive despite the ongoing slumps of Gary Sanchez and (to a lesser extent) Giancarlo Stanton.

Torres has been amazing, and his minor league track record and reputation among the scouting industry suggest that he is likely to keep being amazing for an extended period of time. However, this does not mean that he is immune to the ups and downs of a 162-game season, not to mention a (hopefully) lengthy career. In fact, there’s already some evidence that MLB pitchers are learning how to attack Torres without getting burned.

Consider these two heatmaps. The first one is from April/May, and the second is from June.

Gleyber Torres heatmap, April/May
Gleyber Torres heatmap, June

The first heatmap shows that pitchers were attacking Torres in the zone during his first month-and-a-week in the bigs. Clearly it wasn’t working, as Torres put up a .323/.382/.419 line in April, followed by a .325/.380/.663 line in May.

However, as the second heatmap clearly demonstrates, from June on pitchers have started to pitch Torres low and away. Torres has not responded well, having been held to a .211/.262/.456 line in 61 June plate appearances.

This doesn’t seem to be a coincidence, as Torres’ peripheral numbers have also taken a turn for the worse in June. Consider the graphs below, which detail the changes in Torres’ 15-day rolling average strikeout rate and swinging strike rate so far this season.

Since the start of June - i.e., since pitchers started to pitch him low and away - Torres’ strikeout and swinging strike rates have risen steadily. In his most recent 15-game stretch, Torres’ strikeout rate sits just under 35%, while his swinging strike rate is over 16%. For comparison’s sake, the underperforming Giancarlo Stanton has posted a strikeout rate of 31.6% and a swinging strike rate of 15.9% so far this year. In other words, Torres’ strikeout numbers have recently been worse than Stantons’. Suffice it to say that this development is not ideal.

However, not all is doom and gloom with Torres’ profile. To his credit, Torres has generally done a good job of laying off pitches outside of the zone even as pitchers have focused their efforts on pitching him down and away. The heatmap below, which displays the percentage of pitches within each given section of the zone that Torres has swung at, shows clearly that Torres is reluctant to pull the trigger on pitches low and outside compared to pitches middle-middle and middle-in.

Gleyber Torres heatmap (Swing%), June

The issue with Torres isn’t pitch selection; it’s plate coverage. In other words, Torres is swinging at the right pitches, but his swing isn’t covering enough of the plate. Here’s another heatmap, only this time it displays Torres’ contact rate instead of swing rate.

Gleyber Torres heatmap (Contact%), June

Notice the shades of blue at and around the low outside corner of the strike zone. This is where Torres is running his worst contact rates, which is why it’s where pitchers have pitched him most. Pitchers don’t have to get Torres to swing at junk off of the zone to get him out; all they need to do is place the ball within the lower outside quadrant of the zone and there’s a decent chance Torres whiffs.

Now, it’s important not to make too much out of this. It’s hard even for major league pitchers - well, except maybe the Corey Klubers and Greg Madduxes of the world - to locate their pitches perfectly. In the event that a slider meant for the lower outside corner of the zone ends up bleeding over the plate, Torres has both the pitch recognition and the power to make the pitcher pay. As long as Torres can punish such mistakes, he can still hold his own.

However, having a hole in your plate coverage is still a problem, and it’s a problem that major league pitchers can consistently exploit. In the case of Gleyber Torres, pitchers have found that hole, and they’ve begun to attack it relentlessly. It’s now on Torres to adjust back. It won’t be easy, but then again, Torres has already proven himself to be a supremely talented hitter. In the coming weeks, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on how Torres is pitched, and how, if at all, he will change his approach.