The Yankees should consider extending Gleyber Torres on a long-term deal

MLB: Houston Astros at New York Yankees

When you think of the issues that plague the Yankees in this odd 2023 season, the offense is the center of most conversations. Sure, injuries to some of their key rotation pieces haven’t helped, and they’ve seen their bullpen take a beating injury-wise as well, but both units of the team have done enough to keep the Yankees in games. Their lineup has been borderline unwatchable at times, but second base hasn’t been an area of mass concern for them.

Gleyber Torres is in the midst of a second season where he’s been a solid hitter with above-average contact and power, improving steadily as he matures in the league. At just 26 years old, he’s matured into a much more consistent bat this season, with his plate discipline improving and in the middle of a strong second half, there’s a lot of data that suggests that Torres isn’t just a nice piece to have, but a bat the Yankees should consider keeping for the long-term.

One of the Yankees’ Best Bat-To-Ball Profiles

The Yankees have the 16th-highest strikeout percentage in MLB (22.3%), which means they’re a middle-of-the-pack team when it comes to striking out. In 2022, they were 15th in the metric, in 2021, they were 6th, and in 2020 they were 23rd. For the most part, the Yankees have been pretty average in their contact rates, opting to focus more on generating damage contact. Outside of a very stubborn few, most people have accepted that hitting the ball hard and quality of contact are as important as ever, but the Yankees can look to a rival for a way to reach even greater heights.

Since 2017, the Yankees have hit more HRs and have walked more, but the Astros have the Yankees beat in terms of slash line, OPS, wRC+, and strikeout rate. Houston has by far the lowest strikeout rate among baseball’s top offenses in that timespan, and that’s because they combine HR power with plus-hit tools, so while they strikeout at a league-best 19.1% clip in that seven-season stretch, they also sit just .001 points behind the Dodgers (.448) for the SLG% crown.

Gleyber Torres is the archetype of hitter that the Astros emphasize, something that a prominent section of the fanbase would scoff at. A high-contact hitter with a plus hit tool and game power, Torres, this season, has been a super well-rounded bat that’s provided plenty of value with the bat in a multitude of ways. Torres currently has the team’s lowest strikeout rate (13.5%), which is the 13th-lowest mark among 143 qualified hitters this season.

MLB: Houston Astros at New York Yankees

This is the lowest strikeout rate of his career, besting his 2020 mark of 17.5%, a season where he notably saw his SLG% drop, something that we’ll circle back to later. Not striking out is one thing, but it’s also important to avoid whiffs and generate ideal batted ball sprays, which has to do with directional hitting and bat path. In Torres’ case, he performs better than average at avoiding whiffs (71st Percentile) and also excels at generating Sweet Spots.

Sweet Spots are defined by any batted ball, no matter its exit velocity, that has a launch angle ranging from 8 to 32 degrees. Sweet Spot Rate is simply that number divided by total batted balls, with 33.1% being considered average. With a 37.4% Sweet Spot Rate, Torres saw a 1.1% increase from his 2021 season while decreasing his whiff rate to a career-low 21.3%, 5.8% better than his career average.

By generating more batted balls with an above-average quality of contact, Torres has a profile that’ll usually result in strong offense, and it’s safe to say he definitely has. The 26-year-old has his highest wRC+ since 2019 (117) and has a .270/.335/.459 slash line. He’s hitting .270 for the third time in his career, with the previous two seasons he did that coming in 2018 and 2019.

His line drive rate is the highest it’s been since his 2018 rookie season, where he posted a 121 wRC+, and thus far, he’s replicating the plus-hit tool alongside never before seen contact abilities. He’s continuing to build on his game, and people oftentimes overlook Torres’ age because of how much it got mentioned when he first came up. He’s a 26-year-old infielder; he’s just entering the prime of his career where he has MLB experience and also still have his peak physical skills.

Torres is doing a lot of great things on the contact side of things, and for a fanbase that often cites contact as a skill they’d like offensive acquisitions to have, the appreciation isn’t there. Among all qualified hitters since 2017, Gleyber Torres’ 13.5% would be the fifth-lowest mark for a season by a Yankee. Removing DJ LeMahieu’s 2020 campaign due to the shortened 60-game season, Torres would have the fourth-best, with the overall point remaining that his contact skills are some of the best we’ve seen by a Yankee.

As mentioned earlier, 2020 was the last time we saw a strong strikeout rate for Torres, but that power outage dropped the value of his high OBP and low strikeout rate. This year, however, Torres hasn’t skipped a beat in the power department.

One of the Best Home Run Hitters at 2B

Gleyber Torres has a .179 ISO and .450 SLG% on the season, with 18 HRs in 111 games. Last season, Torres had a .194 ISO and .451 SLG%, meaning Torres was generating less damage per hit, but the overall total base per at-bat production remains virtually identical. He’s hitting HRs at a slightly lower frequency per game, which is encouraging since you sometimes see batters sacrifice power for contact, something Torres discussed on the R2C2 Podcast.

Hosted by Ryan Ruocco and CC Sabathia, this particular episode saw Gleyber Torres as their guest, and one of the conversations centered around the transition to shortstop. Torres mentioned slimming down and focusing on agility to gain more range at shortstop, as he graded out pretty poorly as a defender every year since his MLB debut up to that point, and it was his loss of weight and increase in agility that caused him to hit just nine HRs that season, by far the worst mark of his career over a 162 game season.

Torres, this season has maintained really solid power numbers, as he leads all American League 2B in Home Runs (18) and is sixth in Doubles (17). The Yankees love getting the extra base hit power Torres provides alongside his contact skills, and it’s propelled him into becoming an extremely important piece of this Yankee offense.

anthony rizzo, yankees

Struggles from veterans like DJ LeMahieu, Giancarlo Stanton, and Anthony Rizzo have left the Yankee lineup severely exposed. LeMahieu has looked better as of late, and the same can be said for Stanton, but neither has truly “broken through” yet. Initially viewed as a slump, Anthony Rizzo had been unplayable since the San Diego series, which we now know was because of a concussion from his collision with Fernando Tatis Jr.

It’s unclear when he’ll return, and while Jake Bauers has been a revelation in Rizzo’s absence, it’s still a massive loss considering last season he gave the Yankees a 132 wRC+ and tied a career-high with 32 HRs. Torres has been one of the few returning players from the 2022 team to perform at or above their wRC+ from the year prior, and with the lack of depth in the Yankee lineup and mounting injuries, Torres’ success has become far more integral to the team’s success.

Unfair blame has been levied on Torres for not being a star-level player when the Yankees certainly still benefit from having a pretty good bat at his position. Gleyber Torres isn’t going to lead a really good offense in wRC+, but he’ll certainly work as a player to help bridge between the heart of the lineup and the bottom of the order, roughly around the 5th or 6th spots. His strong contact rates and above-average walk rates have allowed him to excel with RISP, boasting a 130 wRC+ this season and 122 wRC+ in his career in those situations.

Gleyber Torres isn’t an elite hitter, and that’s okay for building a strong lineup. A 117 wRC+ is pretty good, and pretty good is much better than what the Yankees have in their lineup for the most part. He’s a nice hitter to have in any lineup, and his process at the plate could indicate better days ahead.

Is Gleyber Torres Only Getting Better?

Steamer and THE BAT X have Gleyber Torres on a similar path as the one he’s been on this season, with Steamer giving him a 120 wRC+ for the rest of the season and THE BAT X at 115. It’s nothing crazy, but that type of offense from your 2B would be great, and fans underrate just how valuable a bat like that can be for your offense. In terms of xwOBA, which stands for Expected Weighted On-Base Average, this is by far the best season of his career at the plate.

Torres ranks in the 83rd Percentile in xwOBA (.359), with his career-best mark before this season at .340 in 2019. That season is largely considered his best, and yet in his 2023 season, he’s given the Yankees by far his best combination of power and plate discipline. He’s 26 years old. Weirdly enough, despite being the same age as many year-two or three players across the league, no one ever thought he could still develop as a hitter.

With a 2.0 fWAR and 2.3 rWAR, Torres is having a pretty solid season as a whole. He’ll likely end up as a 3-4 WAR infielder with a 115-120 wRC+ and room to continue growing, and yet there are constant rumors surrounding whether the Yankees should trade him. He’s currently their best contact bat and a mid-20s infielder they can lock up for the foreseeable future to provide them with a good bat and solid glove.

For all the slack Torres gets as a defender, he has +10 DRS and 0 OAA at 2B, which is far from below average. Sure, he makes errors that make you scratch your head and blunders that are hard to put up with, but that just comes with the type of person he is. As Aaron Boone put it, Gleyber Torres just lets the game come easy to him, and you can’t really complain with the results you’re seeing offensively.

Since being moved back to second base in mid-September of 2021, Torres has given the Yankees the punch they’ve been looking for offensively without much fanfare. In that timespan of 270 games, Torres has a 117 wRC+ and 18.5% K%, with the contact rates looking more like a step in the right direction over a fluke from just one really good season in terms of contact rates.

In a sense, Torres is showing maturation in the batter’s box, making key tweaks to his style of offense to find a consistent profile he can stick with permanently. He’s done a lot of tweaking and altering to his game over the years, but this is an approach he can seemingly stick with for the foreseeable future.

gleyber torres, new york yankees

Now it’s about finding a way to finish the season strong, as the Yankees have two months left to salvage this disastrous season, and Torres has a chance to make himself indisposable to the front office. Finish the season with a 120 wRC+, and the Yankees are going to have no choice but to bring back their former top prospect, as it’ll be a tough look to get rid of your second-best bat behind Aaron Judge for a rookie.

It’s not impossible to make an offensive-minded infielder your second baseman for the future, especially since he’s only 26. The Yankees can have him stick around long-term as some of their new prospects take over at various positions. They’ll need to add external veteran talent to bolster their offense as well, and that’s done through savvy trades and free agency, but Torres gives them a familiar veteran who can also be a great influence on the younger players.

As a young guy himself still, Torres is a unique mix of youth and veteran experience, as he’s been with the Yankees at the Major League level for nearly six years now. He’s one of the longest-tenured players on the team, and while he isn’t the superstar player many thought he could become after 2019, he’s certainly one of the best offensive second basemen in baseball.

The narrative surrounding Gleyber Torres is that he’s another underperforming Yankee, lumped in with other struggling veterans that are blamed for this season’s failures. In reality? Torres has objectively been one of the Yankees’ most consistent and crucial pieces offensively, and elite-level contact skills this season coupled with good game power and swing decisions give him a well-balanced approach that the Yankees need to keep in their lineup.

Who knows what the future holds for him, but one thing is for certain: so far this season, all the signs point towards needing to keep Gleyber Torres around for the long haul.

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