The Rise of Gleyber Torres (Told Through Statcast’s Swing-Take Profile)
When the Yankees traded closer Aroldis Chapman to the eventual World Series champion Chicago Cubs in 2016, they knew that they were getting a very good (if not great) prospect in return in shortstop Gleyber Torres. Ranked in the top five across the board (there are a few different groups that rank prospects), the Yankees expected Torres to be ready to be a big-time player a few seasons down the line.
Then, after having won the Arizona Fall League’s MVP honors as a 19-year-old, Torres was primed to be a part of the next Yankee dynasty. Yet, as such a young prospect, his ETA to the Majors was still unclear.
Gleyber Torres, from Caracas, Venezuela, signed with the Cubs back in 2013 for $1.7 million. At the time, Torres was just 16-years old, normal for a highly-rated prospect on the international market. That’s the same age at which the Yankees signed catcher Gary Sanchez. So, what do you do with a 16-year old prospect? You send him to rookie ball.
In his first 50 games between two Cubs rookie ball affiliates, Torres slashed .297/.386/.440 with two homers. That lead to his promotion to the South Bend Cubs of the Class A Midwest League as an 18-year-old, where he started the 2015 season. Gleyber was then moved up to the Class A-Advanced Cubs affiliate at Myrtle Beach. Between the two teams, Gleyber hit .287/.346/.376 with three home runs and 64 runs batted in over the course of 126 games. Beginning the next season with Myrtle Beach, Gleyber was traded to the Yankees and played for their Class A-Advanced team in Tampa. After a successful 2016 campaign that saw Torres slash .270/.354/.421 with 11 home runs and 66 RBIs, the Yankees sent him to the Arizona Fall League where, as previously mentioned, he emerged as one of the most highly regarded prospects in the MLB.
Then came spring training 2017. In 29 at-bats, the young shortstop hit .448 with two home runs as he competed for a roster spot. Despite his success at spring training, Gleyber was still likely too young to crack the majors, and the Yankees surely didn’t want to rush him there. Instead, Torres started the season with the Double-A Trenton Thunder, but was soon promoted to Triple-A Scranton. Torres hit .287/.383/.480 with 7 home runs and 34 RBIs before his season ended tragically early in June after sliding headfirst into home. Despite ending his season early, the Yankees added Torres to the 40-man roster in order to protect him. That move signaled that the Yankees thought that Gleyber was nearly ready for the Bigs.
Starting 2018 healthy in Scranton, Torres was pulled early in a game on April 22nd. Gleyber, who at this point was the highest-rated shortstop prospect in the minors, thought he was being pulled for lack of hustle earlier in the game. However, Torres was taken out because he had been called up to The Show. What Torres has done since then has been truly incredible.
That 2018 season was an excellent one for Torres as he finished third behind his teammate Miguel Andújar and the Angels’ two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani in the Rookie of the Year voting. That year, Gleyber produced one of the best rookie campaigns in Yankees and MLB history. In 484 plate appearances that season, Torres produced a .271 batting average with 24 home runs and 77 RBI. That’s pretty good production for a middle of the order hitter who hasn’t played a full season. For the readers that have more of an analytical bent, Gleyber posted a wRC+ of 122 in his rookie campaign, with a wOBA of .349. His WAR was 2.0. While Andújar was making history with the AL rookie doubles record (passing Joe DiMaggio), Torres was quietly building up a pedigree as a disciplined young hitter with a mature approach.
In 2019, Torres saw his strikeout rate decrease from 25.2% to 21.4%, while his whiff rate dropped from 14% to 13.2%. That may seem like a small difference, but in the MLB, plate discipline is everything–Torres saw many better counts because of his discipline and got many more good pitches to hit as a result. Torres’ Statcast swing-take profile tells a similar story: Torres netted a +22 run value for his swings and takes. What that basically means is that Gleyber added a run value of 22 by swinging at good pitches and taking bad pitches this season, measured in runs. If you’re not familiar with swing-take run value (developed by Tom Tango) you can check that out here. This +22 run value on Torres’ swing-take profile is a great improvement from his 2018 mark of +17 (which is still great, especially for a rookie). For comparison, Miguel Andújar’s 2018 swing-take value was +22 while Rookie of the Year winner Shohei Ohtani’s was +27. Mike Trout, who is in a league of his own, earned a value of +54.
However arbitrary these numbers may seem, the swing-take profile is also a useful tool for analyzing a player’s ability to swing at pitches that are hittable compared to his ability to take pitches that are not. The “shadow” zone, which is perhaps the most important zone in Tom Tango’s swing-take profile (the highest percentage of pitches are thrown there, at an MLB average of 43%, compared to the “heart, chase, or waste” zones), is where Gleyber lost his most runs in 2018, scoring a mark of -10 (-11 swing, +1 take). In 2019, Gleyber improved that score to -3 overall (-4 swing, +1 take). This is generally the toughest zone for hitters, and only the best in the league can break even there.
Statcast thus tells a tale in which Gleyber Torres vastly improved his ability to lay off bad pitches while swinging at good ones. As a result of his disciplined approach, Torres improved his wOBA to .358 and his wRC+ to 125. Using more conventional statistics, Torres also improved his line to .278/.337/.535 with 38 homers. If he continues to improve the way he did from 2018 to 2019, he could be a perennial MVP candidate for many years down the road.