Boone (Finally) Moved Gleyber Off Short. Let’s Talk About It…
It’s been clear for a long time that shortstop is not the position that will serve the best interest of Gleyber Torres and the New York Yankees.
It’s been clear the Yankees have ignored this. Now, in the midst of blowing a season where they had a near guaranteed shot at the playoffs they’ve made this move.
We need to talk about this.
Part I. Ignorance Isn’t Bliss, It’s Dismiss(ing the Truth)
Now, I’m not going to claim to be the first to think that Gleyber Torres should be moved away from the shortstop position. And, I was willing to be patient with him during the 2020 season as they looked to have him fully embrace the new position. Now, though, that leeway has run it’s course and it is more than fair to be critical of who Gleyber Torres became at shortstop.
Over the 2018 and 2019 seasons, Gleyber Torres accumulated 1463.0 innings at second base. During this same time Torres was also tried out at shortstop, accumulating 672.1 innings. To be fair, Torres was also used as the half-emergency shortstop (and DJ LeMahieu the starting 2nd baseman) after Didi Gregorius required Tommy John surgery at the end of 2018, which may bring his metrics down a little, but comparatively this is how Gleyber played:
At Second Base: 1463.0 Innings, 674 Chances, 276 PO, 377 Assists, 21 Errors, .969 FP%
At Shortstop: 672.1 Innings, 351 Chances, 113 PO, 222 Assists, 16 Errors, .954 FP%
Now, this does show two things. The first is that the shortstop on the diamond is getting more action during a game than a second baseman. In less than half the innings played at shortstop as compared to second base (46%), Gleyber had 52% the chances. This is to be expected in a pull-heavy time in baseball and given the large majority of batters are right-handed.
The second is that Gleyber was clearly a better defensive second baseman than a shortstop, making 76% of the errors he made at second base in only 46% of games played at shortstop. While this is telling, Yankees brass did have an “out”. In 2019, Torres had a shortstop FP% of .961. Still lower than second base, but he showed promise. The problem was his performance in 2020 and a continuation of under-performing metrics at the harder defensive position (so far) in 2021.
At Shortstop (2020): 320.2 Innings, 135 Chances, 40 PO, 86 Assists, 9 Errors, .933 FP%
At Shortstop (2021): 915.2 Innings, 375 Chances, 121 PO, 236 Assists, 18 Errors, .952 FP%
The last resorts that seem to help Gleyber’s case is that he again saw an improvement in 2021 (although still far below his numbers at 2nd base) and that defensive metrics over a season can have large variance. Gleyber now has surpassed 2,000 innings at shortstop in his short career, over each position the numbers look like this:
Career at Second Base: 1473.0 Innings, 676 Chances, 277 PO, 378 Assists, 21 Errors, .969 FP%
Career at Shortstop: 2048.0 Innings, 861 Chances, 274 PO, 544 Assists, 43 Errors, .950 FP%
It’s clear that starting Gleyber Torres at shortstop is an exercise in ignorance.
Part II. Defense Affects Offense
When a player on an opposing team makes an error it can help spark your team towards a rally. This is entirely circumstantial and in no way is there a metric that I can reasonably calculate to prove this. However, the idea of an error is that it turns what should have been an out into a baserunner. In a game where only the most elite players get on base 4 out of 10 times, this is a substantial shift. This is why poor defensive teams (i.e. the Yankees) often lose close games.
For Gleyber Torres, it’s clear that his defensive struggles have not only hindered the Yankees by promoting the offense of their opponents, but it has also seemed to hinder his own offensive prowess. It’s impossible to know exactly how much his seeming lack of comfortability has lead to the following happening, but with a game that has been sped-up on offense it may have Gleyber playing too fast at the plate as well. (Think about it: In the last two seasons Gleyber has looked to get more “jumpy” at the plate and he’s been in front of pitches much more.)
2018-2019 Offense: .275/.338/.511 (.849 OPS/125 OPS+), 43 XBH (42:1 2B:3B), 62 HR’s, 167 RBI’s, 90:251 BB:K over 267 Games, 1088 PA’s, 977 AB’s
2020-2021 Offense: .248/.330/.353 (.683 OPS/91 OPS+), 26 XBH (26:0 2B:3B), 10 HR’s, 61 RBI’s, 64:118 BB:K over 151 Games, 602 PA’s, 529 AB’s
It’s hard to explain away a shift of nearly 35 adjusted points when it comes to the difference in OPS+. It’s also clear to see why I am saying that Gleyber has been “jumpy” at the plate when looking at some advanced metrics.
In 2021, Gleyber Torres has the highest contact percentage (76%) of his career, though this comes with a near career norm Z-Contact% (or contact with pitches in the strike-zone) of 82.6% (career average of 82.9%), but a much higher O-Contact% (or contact with pitches outside of the strike-zone) at 63.5% (career average at 59.9%). This also comes with a Barrel% of 7.4%, which is below his career average of 8.6%, meaning the pitches he is hitting he isn’t getting contact like we should be expecting.
Across pitches this year, Gleyber is also doing worse against faster pitches when it comes to runs above average (RAA). With fastballs, Gleyber has an wFA of -9.8 and a -4.6 wFC against cutters, however with pitches that move he is hitting better, shown with a +4.0 wCU (against curveballs), and a +2.5 wSL (against sliders). Jumping on those pitches earlier allows less rotation and movement.
I think Gleyber’s move at shortstop- a much faster position than second base- has made him speed-up his game in a way that has been negative towards his value on the baseball field and at the plate.