Is Gleyber Torres the Yankees Shortstop of the Future?
by Cary Greene
August 10, 2021
Most of us knew this article was coming. I’ve actually been resisting the urge to write it this soon into the season.
The question is should the Yankees remain patient and continue to develop Gleyber Torres at shortstop?
The supporters of the Gleyber Torres experiment have long written Torres’ defensive shortcomings are easily offset by his offensive upside. They use the term, “net positive” to justify why a guy who quite frankly looks more like a second baseman should remain at shortstop. Torres is only 24-years-old and he’s under team control until the end of the 2024 season (two more full years).
Should the Yankees commit to Gleyber as their future shortstop, or should they make alternate plans?
Let’s frame this entire conversation with this thought: Corey Seager (28), Carlos Correa (27), Trevor Story (will be 29), Marcus Semien (31), and Javier Baez (29) are all free agents this coming offseason. Should the Yankees remain patient with Gleyber or should the Yankees back the Brinks truck up and shell out big bucks for a new shortstop? THAT is the question…
Gleyber Torres isn’t Didi Gregorius. He’s not Derek Jeter either. Does Gleyber deserve an adjustment period in order to learn to become an almost average defensive major league shortstop, or should the Yankees move him to second base and push former multiple Gold-Glover DJ LeMahieu “somewhere else?”
Considering that Derek Jeter was probably not as valuable as many think or remember during his first two Yankee seasons, back in 1995 and 1996, shouldn’t we at least look at the past with the goal of perhaps learning to predict the future? (I know there are a number of you who want to hurl rotten tomatoes, expired eggs and other expired vegetables and fruits at me right now for saying that Jeter wasn’t valuable Let’s make a deal. Tell me which fruits, vegetables or other things you still want to throw at me, AFTER the article. This way, if you spend a moment reading but still disagree, it will be fun sport to reply. Fair enough?)
We can look at various measures to evaluate Derek Jeter’s defensive acumen during ‘95 and ‘96 and, for that matter, his career. It’s widely accepted that Jeter really wasn’t that good of a defensive shortstop. That said, he certainly made a number of clutch, highlight reel worthy defensive plays. In fact, he made one of the top postseason defensive plays of all time. In fact, because of that play, the “Flip Play,” Jeter’s name is defensively synonymous with the likes of <gulp> Willie Mays. But on the routine plays, he just was not as good as advertised.
With all due respect to Ron Swoboda’s diving catch in the 1966 World Series, on Brooks Robinson’s sinking liner…
With complete homage to Joe Rudi climbing the Riverfront Stadium wall in the ‘72 World Series to rob Denis Menke of a potential game-tying double.
With utter reverence to Brooks Robinson’s 1970 World Series diving stop on Lee May’s sizzling liner in which Robinson gunned a one-hop bullet to first baseman Boog Powell in a game the Orioles won 4-3.
Derek Jeter’s Game Three ALDS play, immortalized forever as “the Flip,” which was two-out 7th inning play with the Yankees facing elimination, in which Jeter fielded Shane Spencer’s errant throw on Terrence Long’s liner and backhanded it to catcher Jorge Posada, has to rank high on the all time list of phenomenally important postseason defensive plays. Granted, we’re never going to see a play anywhere near Willie Mays’ “the Catch” in the 1954 World Series when Mays made an on the run, over the shoulder catch on the warning track, then fired a strike to the cutoff man, preventing the runner on second from tagging. The Giants then won the game in the bottom of the 10th over the Indians and went on to win the World Series.
Indeed, Derek Jeter is a Hall-of-Famer always remembered for clutch defense and of course, tremendous hitting, but Derek Jeter actually had a bit of a rough start to his defensive career. If we use the immortal “Fielding Percentage” stat to measure Jeter’s learning curve at shortstop, Jeter went from a .962 in ‘95, to a .969 in ‘96, to .975 in ‘97 and then to .986 in ‘98. Jeter finished with a career .976 Fielding Percentage. That’s just not great. He cost the Yankees 27 runs in 2005 and 24 runs in 2007. Let’s keep this in mind as we explore.
Didi Gregorius was actually amazing offensively in his first full season with the Yankees, registering a .979 in 2015. However, did you know that Gleyber Torres is actually a better defensive shortstop this year than Didi was in his second full season with the Yankees? It’s true, if you like advanced stats. I’ll remain neutral.
Meanwhile, Gleyber Torres recorded a .961 in 2019 which was his first full year of playing mostly shortstop. Then, in the Covid shortened 2020 season, he registered a .933 and now this season, here in 2021, Gleyber is presently at his previous levels, sitting at .960 presently.
More than likely, we can all agree that Gleyber is absolutely still making a number of mistakes that are characteristic of a young player still trying to stick at a given position. Shortstop is a pretty key position, perhaps the most important of them all. Gleyber’s advanced metrics indicate he costs the Yankees quite a few runs. He’s currently at -9 DRS. That said, UZR actually likes him, as Gleyber is a +.4 UZR, which means he’s presently rated as a slightly above average shortstop who tends to make mental mistakes under the pressure of baserunners advancing.
Really, the problem isn’t truly Gleyber Torres’ defense. He’s adequate, at worst there. The problem is his hitting!
Gleyber Torres is in the midst of his worst professional season. His OPS is at an all-time low of .668 and that’s down from his 2019 mark of .871, which means this season he’s now a below average offensive player as league average is .718. Most of the frustration this season has come from the extended funk Torres has been in. The RBI’s are down, the doubles have plummeted and the home runs are pretty much gone. Gleyber Torres is pulling the ball a ton less this year and his hard-contact is way down from his 2019 levels.
Gleyber’s stat line this year is below. I am comparing it to Derek Jeter’s, Didi Gregorius’s and all of the elite 2022 free agent shortstop’s second full seasons, just to help orient our discussion. I’m excluding 2020 as it was only a two month season. Also, we’re not looking at home run totals as RBI and OPS covers a players productivity just fine. I also measured each shortstop’s overall batting ability and his ability to field the position.
Here are a few takeaways:
Where have you gone 2019 Gleyber Torres!? Once an offensive juggernaut, Gleyber’s game at the plate has slipped badly in 2021.
Gleyber Torres’ defense is actually showing improvement. He’s not only on par with Derek Jeter, in Jeter’s second full year at shortstop, but he’s on par with players like Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Didi Gregorius when they were at his same developmental stage. Is Gleyber an elite shortstop? No way. Trevor Story is probably the strongest defensive free agent to be and therefore, he’d represent a significantly more athletic, rangy upgrade over Gleyber’s skill set.
The reason we’re contemplating giving up on Gleyber really isn’t his defense. We could live with where he is currently on the defensive side of things, if only he’d become 2019 Gleyber Torres with the bat again.
What then is the overall takeaway?
Well, it might behoove the Yankees to hang on a big longer before moving Torres. Here’s why:
For the month of August, Gleyber Torres is hitting .393 with a .387 OBP and a .923 OPS. Gleyber is no longer exclusively swinging for the fences during every at bat. He’s focused on making hard contact and good things are happening. Granted he hasn’t hit a home run since July 21st but with this new approach, a lot of good things are happening.
Inconsistency can plague young players and we’re seeing that this year with Gleyber Torres, but he’s improving defensively and he’s starting to find himself defensively – to the point where he absolutely needs to continue in his role as the Yankees starting shortstop. In fact, at this critical juncture in the season, his bat needs to be in the lineup as much as possible.
Would you like to commit a huge chunk of money to Trevor Story during the offseason – a player who is only marginally better offensively this season than the badly slumping Torres? Would you like to have Hal Steinbrenner write a huge check for Corey Seager this offseason, a player who is now a substantially worse fielder than Gleyber is at the position? The Dodgers are considering signing Seager and moving him to second base as it’s long been known on the west coast that Seager’s best days at shortstop are long behind him.
Another aspect of giving up on Gleyber Torres involves resource allocation. Yankee fans are finally starting to realize what a difference a good defensive, left-handed first baseman can make. Anthony Rizzo is a true throwback. His situational approach is amazing. Wouldn’t you rather Cashman re-sign Rizzo than let him go, move two time former Gold Glove second baseman DJ LeMahieu to first base and spend big on a shortstop?
This is a huge issue in the Yankee universe and it’s an issue I’m not ready to commit one way or the other to.
This offseason, we’ll know if Gleyber Torres was showing signs of breaking out of his slump or not. I think it’s a fairly safe bet to say he will break out and I think he will be one of the better offensive shortstops in the game. In fact, there isn’t a shortstop on the chart that was anywhere close to what Gleyber did offensively in his first full year on the job.
Seeing as how Gleyber Torres has already put up huge numbers, I’d advise a wait and see approach, after all, Gleyber is still just 24-years-old and under team control through the end of the 2024 season. With the price of shortstops and free agents in general these days, it might make a ton of sense to hang onto him and remain patient. Gleyber is capable of being a magnificent offensive player. The Yankees top priority with him should be helping him to make the necessary adjustments at the plate to where he can be productive. I doubt we’ll ever see juiced ball 2019 Gleyber ever again, but he has bat skills and can be an elite hitter for a shortstop when he’s right.
It may seem like the gig is up for Gleyber Torres, but I think it’s just beginning.
What do you think?
Should the Yankees remain patient or look to move on from Gleyber Torres this offseason?