During the 2019 playoffs, the growing narrative of Gleyber Torres‘ excellence combined with extreme youth seemed to tire the national audience. However, the broadcasts had reason to keep singing the infielder’s praises. Torres had just hit 38 home runs, finishing the 13th year ever with at least 38 homers in an age-22 season or younger. Six of the other 12 were from Hall of Famers. Recent MVP Bryce Harper had done it, and that season’s NL MVP Cody Bellinger had, too. Multi-MVP winners Juan Gonzalez and Alex Rodriguez helped round out the list, along with barbecue enthusiast Boog Powell and Ronald Acuna Jr., the latter also doing it in 2019. Fernando Tatis Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. have since joined the ranks.
Everyone in Yankee land was excited to see what would come next for their young slugger. Then, it all fell apart. Torres had a .724 OPS in the shortened 2020 season, which was a bit concerning although the sample size was small. Then, Torres’ power collapsed. In 127 games last year, he hit just nine home runs with a .697 OPS. Torres was broken. That does not even include his defense at shortstop, as he was one of the worst defenders in baseball. He was moved back to second base this year, as New York gave him what could be one final shot at reclaiming his old self.
We have hit Memorial Day, a fairly significant baseball benchmark. Glancing at Torres’ stats, they are good. In 45 games, he has hit nine home runs with a .467 slugging percentage and .749 OPS. The home run number is notable as it is the same amount from all of 2021. The debate is whether or not that OPS is significant. In Torres’ big 2019 season, the Yankees had 13 players with a higher OPS (minimum 50 games). Of course, the juiced 2019 baseballs contrast heavily to the dead balls of the present day. In 2019, Yankee teammate Austin Romine had a .748 OPS and a 97 OPS+. Torres’ current OPS+ is 115, much closer to the 128 of 2019 than the 93 of 2021.
His strikeout percentage of 18.3 is a bit of an improvement, but is consistent with his career norms. Torres has only walked eight times, watching his walk rate decrease to 4.9 percent. Since his batting average has not increased at all, Torres has just a .282 OBP. His defense has undoubtedly improved, thanks in part to the position change. He may not be a Gold Glover, but Torres is at least serviceable.
There is an argument to be made that this is the best Torres we have ever seen. It is a big jump considering his low OBP and home run total fail to reach 2019 status. However, he already has racked up 1.4 WAR (via Baseball Reference). If you prorate it to his career-high in games played, then Torres would have a 4.5 bWAR. That is well above his 2019 total, probably thanks to extended time at shortstop during that season.
This year’s quality of contact is something that we have never seen from Torres before. He is in the 95th percentile in average exit velocity (92.7 mph), and 89th in hard-hit percentage (48.8). In 2019, he has 46th and 35th, respectively. The Yankees are known for employing hard-hit machines in Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, DJ LeMahieu, Josh Donaldson, and Joey Gallo. This year, Torres has been hitting like he wants to be on that list.
Positive Regression to Come
After looking at Torres’ expected stats, it looks like some changes are bound to happen. Has Torres been a fraud all this time? Has he secretly been terrible in 2022? No, it is exactly the opposite as he has been incredibly unlucky. The obvious thing to point out is Torres’ BABIP (batting average on balls in play). Entering 2022, Torres had a career BABIP of .307, which is near the league average. While making considerably better contact this year, his BABIP has dropped down to .243. Even if he had not been hitting the ball hard at all, a BABIP that low would still turn around. Of course, increased home run production has a say in this, as homers are not included in BABIP.
Looking at other indicators of batted-ball luck, Torres is still receiving the short end of the stick. His 2022 wOBA is just .324. That is lower than his disappointing 2020 season, and a far cry from his first two seasons. Torres’ xwOBA tells a completely different story. From 2018 to 2021, he always sat in the range between .330 and .340. This could have been used to support a resurgence in 2022. What has he done instead? Torres’ xwOBA is a resounding .372. Not only does that prove that he has been unlucky thus far, but it also shows how good Torres has been. In 2021, only 24 qualified hitters had a better xwOBA.
Of course, the quality of contact made by Torres has to be kept for all of this to hold up. And despite offense being down all around baseball, xwOBA numbers are not. Torres is 43rd in the stat when he would have been 25th a year ago. By the end of the year, the total number of hitters with an xwOBA over .372 will likely be closer to 25 than 43. There is also a good chance that Torres will not be one of them. But with how luck works, he should at least see his wOBA increase, which means better results.
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