Will The Yankees Move On From Gleyber Torres After The Season?
By Chris O’Connor
September 14, 2022
(Note - this article was written a few days ago and was delayed in getting posted until today.)
Through the 2022 All-Star break, Gleyber Torres looked like a revitalized man. In 81 games before the break, the 25 year-old second baseman was slashing .268/.325/.484 with 14 home runs, a 130 WRC+, and 2.0 fWAR. After two down seasons, Torres was back to looking like the 2018-2019 All-Star that, at the time, fans hoped would give the Yankees their starting shortstop for years to come.
Still theoretically entering his prime, and under team control through the 2024 season, Gleyber Torres has had every opportunity to cement himself as a building block for the Yankees. Instead, in the first 43 games since the break, he scuffled to a .189/.232/.297 slash line with 5 home runs, a 50 WRC+, and -0.6 fWAR. Ordinarily, I would not react to any player slumping over such a small sample. This, however, is the continuation of a player who has simply not been an effective big-leaguer over the last three years. In 293 games since 2020, Torres had slashed .248/.317/.387 with 31 home runs, a 99 WRC+, and 3.0 fWAR. Squint hard enough, and one could certainly find reasons for optimism...
A former top prospect who was an All-Star at age 21, there seems to be a significant amount of untapped potential here. Such is the Gleyber Torres dilemma.
With the Yankees recent track record of stalled player development at the big-league level (think Jackson Frazier, Miguel Andujar, Gary Sanchez, even Joey Gallo), potential no longer holds the same meaning as it once did to Yankee fans. We want to see results. Moving forward, analyzing both what Gleyber Torres has done in 2022 and how that dovetails with the Yankees recent moves can give hints to what his future with the team entails.
What He Has Done In 2022
As previously mentioned, Gleyber’s season can really be broken down into two halves. Overall, Torres has slashed .238/.291/.413 with 19 homers, a 100 WRC+, and 1.4 fWAR in 124 games. A sub-.300 OBP is clearly not ideal, particularly for a player without a plus power tool. He has made real strides, however, in his advanced metrics. For one, his average exit velocity, which has never been above the 50th percentile and plummeted to the 12th percentile in 2021, is up to the 77th percentile league-wide in 2022. Ditto for his hard-hit rate, which peaked at the 45th percentile in 2018 but is now in the 74th percentile. Hitting the ball harder is never a bad thing, but there are other worrying signs in his game.
I just do not think that Gleyber Torres is the type of hitter to join the launch-angle revolution. As I have said before, I think that the ideal version of Torres is more of a .300-ish, slap hitting second baseman with 15-20 home run power. Instead, it appears that he has made changes to get the ball in the air: his average launch angle is the highest that it has been since 2018 and his fly-ball rate is the highest of his career. I normally advocate for players to get the ball in the air more, but every hitter is different, and there is no cookie-cutter approach to success. Selling out for the long ball might have worked when the ball was juiced in 2018-2019, but a more optimal approach for Torres might be a more patient, line-drive approach that can get the average and OBP up while cutting down on the power potential. A more aggressive approach at the plate has led to his walk rate cratering to 5.9%, which is in the 19th percentile league-wide and explains the poor OBP.
I do think that there is good news and bad news here. The good news is that Torres has found a way to hit the ball significantly harder, much more frequently and also shown the ability to elevate the ball if he makes an effort. The bad news is that he has done all of this while still failing to achieve more than a league-average batting line. If he has not gotten back to the 120-125 WRC+ hitter that he was when he came up since the ball was de-juiced in 2020, it is fair to question if he ever will on a consistent basis. And, even if his defensive metrics are actually pretty solid (among 26 second baseman with at least 500 innings, Torres ranks fifth in UZR/150, tied for sixth in Defensive Runs Saved, and tied for 16th in Outs Above Average) a decent-fielding second baseman with a league-average bat is certainly not a franchise cornerstone.
What That Means For His Future
I think that the Yankees have telegraphed their intentions for Gleyber Torres over the past several months. For one, re-signing Anthony Rizzo and trading for IKF and Josh Donaldson in the offseason pushed D.J. LeMahieu to second base and left Gleyber Torres without a starting spot on Opening Day. Though Gleyber would always get regular at-bats over the course of the season due to lineup flexibility and rest days, a team does not sit an untouchable trade piece or franchise building block on Opening Day.
Then, numerous reports came out that the Yankees were close to trading Torres to the Marlins as a key piece for pitcher Pablo Lopez. With IKF still under contract through next season, top prospects Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe in play for big-league roles, and D.J. LeMahieu and his $90 million contract, there does not appear to be much room for Gleyber Torres in the Yankees future plans. He is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2024 season but will only become more expensive through arbitration until then.
And with the Yankees history of waiting too long to trade a player until his value reached their nadir (again, think Frazier, Andujar, Sanchez, Luke Voit after 2020, etc.), Cashman and co. may not want to make the same mistake with Gleyber Torres (if they have not already). Barring a major turnaround in September-October, Gleyber Torres’ days with the Yankees could be numbered.