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Projecting Gleyber Torres Defensively at SS

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Gleyber Torres Fielding a Ball In The Air.  Photo Courtesy of Wendell Cruz, USA TODAY Sports
Gleyber Torres Fielding a Ball In The Air.  Photo Courtesy of Wendell Cruz, USA TODAY Sports

Gleyber Torres Fielding a Ball In The Air. Photo Courtesy of Wendell Cruz, USA TODAY Sports

Barring a blockbuster trade that nets the Yankees an elite SS (yes, I’m looking at you, Francisco Lindor), the Yankees appear content to go into the 2020 regular season with Gleyber Torres starting at SS everyday. That will be a jarring change for many Yankee fans who have watched Didi Gregorius man the position beautifully since taking over for Derek Jeter in 2015. While the Yankees have a team that is very easily top-3 in Major League Baseball, on paper at least, much discussion has swirled around the potential drop-off defensively from Sir Didi to Gleyber Torres.

Many of you already know that I was an almost irrational fan of Didi’s, often talking about his value even beyond what the metrics said about his play in pinstripes. In fact, I went into the off-season hoping that the Yankees would re-sign Didi to play short for at least another season or two. However, things obviously did not break my way, and we will likely see what Torres can do over a much larger sample size at shortstop next season. While many, myself included, have assumed that Torres will almost certainly be a downgrade defensively from Didi, I think that it is important for us to look at the metrics to confirm or refute our suspicions.

Below, I have compiled some relevant defensive statistics for both Didi Gregorius and Gleyber Torres. Before we get into it though, it is important to note a couple of things. Number one, it is essential to understand that defensive statistics take significant samples to really stabilize. With that in mind, I generally prefer to see defensive metrics compiled over multiple seasons to really make convincing conclusions. Obviously, we have that much data to talk about Didi Gregorius, but we really don’t for Gleyber Torres at SS, which brings me to my second point. I will show you defensive metrics for both 2018 and 2019 for Didi, but only 2019 for Gleyber, despite the fact that Gleyber did play 152 innings at SS in 2018. I did that because Gleyber’s sample size in 2018 is so minuscule that the data is noisy beyond the point of usefulness, but also to ensure that I provided a large enough recent sample size for Didi so that we can make some conclusions about who Didi Gregorius is as a defensive SS right now.

Without further ado, check out how Didi and Gleyber stack up:

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Didi Gregorius vs. Gleyber Torres Defensively.  Click To Enlarge.
Didi Gregorius vs. Gleyber Torres Defensively.  Click To Enlarge.

Didi Gregorius vs. Gleyber Torres Defensively. Click To Enlarge.

These numbers are very interesting. In Didi Gregorius, we have a SS that DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 Games) disagree about somewhat. DRS grades Didi Greforius’ work as slightly below average in both 2018 and 2019, while UZR/150 gives Didi grades that range from average to slightly above. When we look at the number of difficult plays Didi made, we see the picture of someone who has very good, but possibly declining range in the field based on the steep drop-off from 2018 to 2019 in plays made in the 10-60% range

In Gleyber Torres, we see a similar picture in terms of total value. DRS sees Gleyber as an average to slightly above-average defensive SS in an admittedly small sample size, while UZR/150 grades Gleyber Torres as slightly below-average defensively at SS. What is interesting to note is that Glebyer saw far fewer chances at the ends of the defensive spectrum than did Didi in a similar number of innings in 2019 (29 chances for Didi vs. 14 chances for Gleyber in the 10-60% range). It could be luck of the draw, but it could also have to do with a difference in the way in which Gleyber and Didi were positioned in the infield. According to Statcast, Didi played 2 feet shallower and slightly closer to the 2B bag than Gleyber did in 2019, on average. Obviously, that is a subtle difference, but we cannot rule out the idea that positioning made a difference in the number of chances the two received at SS.

Defensively, we can see that Didi and Gleyber are similarly valuable defensively according to the most popular defensive metrics, despite the already acknowledged sample size volatility we must accept in Gleyber’s numbers. However, I have hope that Gleyber’s defensive numbers can, in fact, improve over time. One area in which Gleyber currently struggles is in balls that are considered likely outs (60-90%). On those plays, Gleyber only turned batted balls into outs 43.8% of the time in 16 chances. Part of this could easily stem from the lack of reps that Gleyber has had at SS in the last two plus years as he tried to learn 2B. Add in the fact that Gleyber looked more comfortable playing on the SS side of the 2B bag, and I think that it is likely that Gleyber will be at least average defensively at SS in the aggregate with further reps.

While many of us, myself included, worry about the drop-off defensively, particularly with regards to range from Didi Gregorius to Gleyber Torres at SS, I don’t think those fears are warranted based on the metrics. I think that it is likely that Torres is at least average at SS in 2019, and the drop-off from Didi Gregorius at the end of his prime will be minimal. Put that defensive profile together with the fact that Gleyber is a budding star at the plate (125 wRC+, .358 wOBA in 2019, which are already elite numbers at the plate for a SS), and the Yankees are looking at a total package at SS that is at least an All-Star, and maybe even more over time. I have seen enough evidence in the statistics to admit that my concerns about Gleyber Torres defensively at SS were not altogether well-founded. I look forward to watching Torres hopefully evolve into an All-Star SS in 2020.

#DidiGregorius #GleyberTorres

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