Yankees’ star infielder could take another huge leap in 2024

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at New York Yankees
Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees were at a crossroads after the 2021 season, the Boston Red Sox eliminated them after the Wild Card round, and nobody embodied the team’s regression from 2019 better than Gleyber Torres. Aaron Boone said it himself: other teams had passed them by, and second base would become a massive question mark for the team entering an uncertain offseason. Looking to deepen their infield, Brian Cashman pulled off a trade for Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, but that would force Torres out of the everyday lineup on Opening Day.

Since that moment, Gleyber Torres has emerged as the second-best hitter on the Yankees, and after an excellent end to his season due to an improved skillset, he could take another huge leap this upcoming season.

The Key Behind Gleyber Torres’ Brilliance Last Year

MLB: New York Yankees at Kansas City Royals

While the Yankees were disappointing last year, Gleyber Torres was not, and his contributions at the plate helped stabilize their lineup when guys like Aaron Judge missed significant time. He posted a 123 wRC+ and hit 25 home runs, the best marks he’s put up since his incredible 2019 campaign, and there’s a lot to love in what he improved. The most obvious improvement came in the contact quantity, as Torres cut his strikeout rate from 22.6% to 14.6% and was in the 70th Percentile in Whiff Rate (21.8%).

Hitters sacrifice contact quality for contact quantity or do the inverse. It’s hard to improve one without hampering the other due to the drawbacks of either approach. Swinging harder makes it harder to make contact, but slowing down your bat to make sure you put the ball in play can result in lower exit velocities, and yet Gleyber Torres managed to improve the strikeout rate while seeing no change to his ability to generate good contact, which we can measure with xwOBACON, which stands for Expected Weighted On-Base Average on Contact

It’s a lot of words to describe the measurement of contact quality, looking at launch angles and exit velocities to understand whether a hitter is generating batted balls that should go for hits or not. Gleyber Torres had a .385 xwOBACON in 2022 and in 2023, doing so while improving across the board in terms of cutting down strikeouts and having more patience at the plate. Torres has quickly become one of the most well-rounded hitters on the Yankees, and that could lend itself to a potential breakout campaign.

Gleyber Torres is above-average at finding ideal launch angles, imparting damage contact, making contact, and laying off bad pitches, and that makes him a valuable weapon for this lineup. He’s a versatile hitter who can serve as your primary leadoff option, a middle-of-the-lineup threat, or clean out the bases as the fifth hitter. The deeper the lineup, the lower you can hit him in your order, and where he hits determines the depth of a lineup.

There’s a chance he’s even better in 2024, and that stems from in-season tweaks to generate more power while remaining hard to strike out due to a toe tap he started using. We’ve seen Gleyber mess with a toe tap and other quirks before with his timing, but none have had the immediate and sudden results as this adjustment, and it might be the reason to believe in his 2024 campaign as potentially being his best.

After the All-Star Break, Gleyber Torres became one of the best hitters in the American League, putting up gaudy numbers that lead me to believe he’s due for an even greater year. Twelve of his 25 home runs came in the second half despite playing 68 games over that stretch. He was 15th in wRC+ (144) and had the 10th-highest average (.302) in the American League over that timespan, becoming a bit more pull-happy and driving the ball with more consistency.

Everything got better across the board, and while it may be just a hot streak and blip in the radar, there’s also a chance that the adjustments stick. I don’t think Gleyber Torres is putting up a 144 wRC+ in 2024, in fact, his 80th Percentile OPS+ according to ZiPS is 136, so we’d be pushing into 90th Percentile territory with this ‘breakout’ and that’s a bit uncomfortable for me. Something around a 130 in either OPS+ or wRC+ would be where I think Gleyber Torres settles in 2024, and that would be the best mark of his career.

It’s a walk year for the 27-year-old, and this is a chance for him to emphatically state that he is a core piece of a franchise, not an extra piece on top. He’s improved dramatically from struggles as he entered his mid-20s, and there’s something to play for as reports have come out that the Yankees haven’t made much of an attempt to extend him.

Does Gleyber Torres Have a Future With the Yankees?

mlb: new york yankees at kansas city royals, gleyber torres

The Yankees are in a weird spot with their payroll, as they don’t have many long-term commitments, but the ones they do have are extremely expensive. Between Aaron Judge, Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodon, and Giancarlo Stanton, they’ll have over $100 million committed to just four players for the next four seasons. Juan Soto’s impending free agency creates another big contract that you hope they add to their payroll soon. Whether Gleyber Torres fits into those financial plans or not remains to be seen, but he’ll want to prove that he’s worth signing long-term.

A nine-figure contract could be in play for Gleyber Torres since he’d be a 28-year-old free agent with a track record of success, but that’s determined by his 2023 season. If he repeats last year, he might settle for a lower-AAV deal over six or seven years or sign a higher-AAV contract that gets him back on the market with time to net even more money. A dominant season that sees him set career highs in WAR and wRC+ could cement a five or six-year contract with over $20 million a season, and that might result in his departure.

Torres has been anticipating a potential departure from the Bronx for a while, constantly involved in trade rumors as the Yankees have seemingly turned a nose to the idea of keeping him in pinstripes forever.

Steinbrenner said that “it’s certainly my intent” to field Peraza and Volpe in the middle infield.

– Meredith Marakovits

It’s pretty awkward that this quote came after 2022, a season where Gleyber Torres posted a 4.1 bWAR, knowing that he had two years left of control and would clash with any plan to start one of Peraza or Volpe at second. Since then, they’ve seemingly soured on Oswald Peraza, but the questions around whether they’ll keep their All-Star second baseman around after 2024 still linger.

Are the Yankees going to extend Gleyber Torres before Opening Day?

I don’t know, am I going to be 6’4 by the end of the year? The Yankees aren’t giving Gleyber that long-term deal right now, and it kind of makes sense, given the uncertainty of their financial commitments in the future. You aren’t guaranteed to keep Soto forever but I would be shocked if the Yankees allowed the best left-handed hitter the franchise has had in decades to leave in free agency after trading a haul to get him. 2024 represents a chance for Gleyber Torres to finally erase all of the questions left about his profile and earn himself plenty of money next winter.

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