Gleyber Torres ready to pay off Yankees in 2023 with dividends

Gleyber Torres with Aaron Judge after their series win against the Angels in Yankee Stadium on April 20, 2023.
Sara Molnick
Thursday April 27, 2023

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Gleyber Torres is a player who had a lot of questions about his future with the Yankees during the offseason and spring training. He is now making the Yankees feel great about their choice to keep him in the Bronx.

Gleyber Torres has been the Yankees’ best player so far this season, especially over the first two weeks. His swings were similar to the ones that made him an All-Star in his first two years of professional baseball (2018 and 2019), when he hit the ball to all fields for average and power.

Through the first 12 games, he led the Yankees in batting average (.357), OPS (1.179), walks (11), and stolen bases (5).

In the third week, he remains equally important. During the third game at Target Field.  Gleyber Torres hit his third home run of the year, a two-run shot assuring the Yankees a much-needed victory.

Gleyber Torres is an asset for the Yankees

Gleyber Torres, who has been a streaky performer throughout his career, returned home with the Yankees on April 13, and promptly went into a 2-for-28 slump. Neither he nor his coworkers were worried this time.

Aaron Boone, the team’s manager, said last week, “I don’t think he’s slumping right now. I think his approach is where it needs to be. And as a hitter it’s hard to get caught up in a week’s worth of results. Sometimes you get lucky, and you get some bounces one week. Some weeks you put it on the screws a handful of times and get nothing to show for it.”

“I’m trying to be more patient than normal,” Gleyber Torres said. “Don’t try to jump at pitches. Just see the pitch really well and try to put the ball in play.”

The Yankees and Gleyber Torres agreed that he had not merely had a hot start to the season. It was the end result of adjustments he started making in 2022. He had just finished a pair of poor campaigns during which his transition from second to shortstop had stalled his growth.

Why Gleyber Torres is fit for the Yankees

The obvious reason was that Gleyber Torres was uncomfortable in his new position of shortstop and was trying to make up for it by hitting better. That may have some merit as an explanation. The alteration was primarily felt physically. Torres claimed that he underwent a major weight loss in order to play shortstop.

Gleyber Torres is celebrating after his home run and with Anthony Rizzo at Yankees Stadium, April 3, 2023.

Gleyber Torres explained his drastic weight loss by saying, “I just got myself really skinny because I was focusing on increasing my range. When I lost weight, I lost a little bit of power.”

Even if Gleyber Torres’ performance has dropped off recently, his manager insists he is not calling it a slump.

In the middle infield position, speed and quickness are preferable than size and strength. Gleyber Torres had a problem, though, because he didn’t think of his pay cut as a compromise. Torres, a right-handed batter, had been trying to replicate his previous level of power at the plate while applying significantly less force, which had disrupted his swing. After a breakout year in which he hit 38 home runs in 2019, he proceeded to hit just three in an abbreviated 2020 season and nine in 127 games the following year.

“Really patient, under-control at-bats,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of Gleyber Torres. “That’s what he’s capable of. We’ve seen that. Hopefully, we’re seeing a guy that’s really starting to enter the prime of his career. He’s a young man. But I just feel like every at-bat has been super competitive whether it ends in a good result or not. There’s a lot of calm to what he’s doing out there right now.”

Gleyber Torres went back to the gym after the 2021 season knowing he will play second base again in 2022, though the start date of the 2022 season was still up in the air. Early in December, the league and its players’ union’s collective bargaining agreement was set to expire, and a strike seemed certain. Hitting coach Dillon Lawson and Torres came up with a plan to improve Torres’ swing before the MLB players went on strike on December 2.

“The big thing for Gleyber is him getting into a position where he can feel athletic, he can feel strong,” Lawson said. “Because he has such a big move, there has to be this combination of mobility and stability.”

The Gleyber Torres load

It was this “big move” that constituted Torres’ load, the action he makes just before flailing. His high leg kick, which generates the momentum he transfers through the baseball at the point of contact, had gotten out of hand as he tried to wring every possible drop of power from his diminutive frame. Because of this, he was thrown off his rhythm and unable to properly read pitches, decide on a swing, pinpoint his bat’s path, or twist his hips.

“People talk about trying to get into their back hip, they’re loading their hip,” Lawson said. “This is how you would generate more force. So when you tend to load better, more efficiently, then you also — it’s nice that it works out this way — you tend to unload, rotating into impact more efficiently.”

He added: “In 2020 and 2021, he was not loading his hips as well, so then he wasn’t unloading his hips as well, and he was having to try to go into more extension with the hips, which then can have effects on ball flight. It can have effects on bat path, that type of stuff. And so now you’re seeing similar loading mechanics to 2018 and 2019, coupled with more experience.”

In 2020 and 2021, Gleyber Torres wasn’t loading his hips as much, therefore he wasn’t unloading his hips as much, and he was forced to extend his hips more, which might affect ball trajectory. In a similar vein, it may impair bats’ ability to fly. Loading mechanisms are thus similar to those in 2018 and 2019, but with more experience.

Gleyber Torres is batting against the Phillies at Yankee Stadium, April 5, 2023.

Gleyber Torres’ influence resurfaced with Major League Baseball. He had a .257 batting average with 24 home runs and a.451 slugging mark. With an isolated power of .194, he was second in the league among second basemen, trailing only Houston’s Jose Altuve in terms of raw power (which is calculated by subtracting a player’s batting average from his slugging percentage). Among MLB players, Gleyber Torres had the greatest increase in exit velocity from the previous season to the current one, at 3.3 miles per hour.

Gleyber Torres’ season would have been even better if not for his worst 30-game slump and career-low 6.8 percent walk rate. In his 124 plate appearances between July 30 and September 5, Gleyber Torres struck out 33.9% of the time for an OPS of.441. There were rumors floating about at the start of this time frame that he might be traded before the deadline on August 2, 2022. The Yankees were reportedly close to dealing him to the Miami Marlins for right-handed starter Pablo Lopez just after the trade deadline passed. Torres claimed he was personally hurt by the ongoing trade negotiations.

The offseason redemption of Gleyber Torres

During the offseason, Gleyber Torres played in the winter league in Caracas, the Venezuelan metropolis where he grew up. The trip back home had a double purpose. He practiced identifying breaking and off-speed pitches so he could play in front of his loved ones. Most of the pitchers in the league are getting too old to overwhelm batters with velocity, so they now throw garbage at them in an effort to throw them off their game. His goal, he said, was to reduce the number of times he struck out.

Everything has been OK up to this point. Gleyber Torres’ pursuit rate versus breaking and off-speed pitches was 22.9% heading into Monday’s game, per Statcast, which is down from 26.3% last season.

In the first nine games of the season, Gleyber Torres also has the eighth-lowest strikeout rate (8.1%). When you compare that to the first few games he played last year, Torres’s patience stands out. Torres’ 25.0% strikeout rate through nine games in 2022 ranked 166th.

Gleyber Torres is able to rekindle his love of baseball in Venezuela, away from the intense scrutiny and scrutiny that comes with being a major leaguer. Since the consequences of Torres’s earlier declines are harder to measure, he seemed much more at ease throughout his recent downturn.

Boone is quick to point out that despite Gleyber Torres’ age (26) the slugger is still very much in his prime. His potential is still quite high.

Gleyber Torres and new MLB rules

Gleyber Torres is doing well because of the new rules in MLB, especially the bigger bases. The 26-year-old is stealing bags faster than he ever has. In his All-Star rookie year, he only stole six bases. In 2021, he stole 14 bases, and in 2022, he stole 10 bases out of 15 tries in 140 games. In just over a week’s worth of games, Gleyber Torres has already stolen five bases. Torres was the first Yankee since Rickey Henderson in 1989 to get six walks and steal five bases in his first six games. He did this last week.

Gleyber Torres is celebrating after a hit against the Giants at Yankee Stadium.

“He’s fearless on the basepaths and instinctual,” Boone said. “But I also think in the past, he’s not invisible, right? He’s doing a really good job of being patient. Obviously picking his spots wisely. I’ve just been really pleased with him on the bases so far this year. It’s absolutely been a factor and it’s a credit to him for working on different things.”

This includes attempting to be more patient at the plate, which Gleyber Torres worked on while playing in Venezuela’s winter league prior to his participation in the World Baseball Classic. Torres improved his control against older pitchers who used a variety of pitches. He attempted to work each at-bat up to a full count, which he said contributed to his eventual goal of “not striking out a lot.”

Gleyber Torres almost traded

Gleyber Torres, of course, was almost traded at last year’s trade deadline in exchange for pitching help, despite the fact that he still had more than two years of team control remaining before becoming a free agent after the 2024 season. This winter appeared to be the ideal time for the Yankees to maximize a potential return for Gleyber Torres, who pounded 24 home runs during a comeback season in 2022.

Forward to late March, and both Gleyber Torres and Kiner-Falefa were on the first-base line at Yankee Stadium on Opening Day, dressed in pinstripes. Both infielders are now part of the Yankees’ plans, with largely clear avenues for how they will progress. Volpe was named the starting shortstop, while Peraza, despite a strong spring, was the odd man out and opened the season in Triple-A. Torres said Boone’s chats about his role in 2023 boosted his confidence during spring training.

“Every day I’m in the lineup I’m trying to do my 200 percent,” Gleyber Torres said. “I just want to be here a long time. I feel at home here. If I have to do something better, I try to do it and try to be here with the guys.”

So far this season, Gleyber Torres has shown how important he is to New York’s lineup. Because of his good start, he has a ridiculous 213 OPS+ (100 is the average for the league) and a 219 wRC+, which puts him seventh among qualified hitters during the first two weeks. Gleyber Torres has been one of the most important players in baseball and has the ability to make a big difference for the Yankees.

gleyber-torres-new-york-yankees
Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Gleyber Torres needs to stay hot

Gleyber Torres needs to keep his plate discipline and confidence for a long time. If he can keep working on his new, good habits and stay aggressive on the bases, he’ll reestablish himself as a key member of the Yankees instead of someone who could make a lot of noise for the other team.

“Any opportunity I have, I just try to help and be myself,” Gleyber Torres said. “Get a good pitch to hit, be patient, and put the ball in play. That is the mentality right now.”

Lawson remarked that “when Gleyber is at his best,” he is able to hit for a good average, have excellent power, and have good walk and strikeout rates, all of which contribute to what we would consider to be a fantastic performance.

Gleyber Torres went 2-for-5 with a double, a two-run home run, and an RBI in Wednesday’s 12-6 win over the Twins.

Gleyber Torres took Tuesday off, but he was back in the lineup on Wednesday, when he hit safely for the fourth consecutive game. The Yankees’ five-run second inning was started by his double, and he later scored on Willie Calhoun’s single. Gleyber Torres hit a two-run home ball in the fourth inning, his third of the season and first since April 3. This made the score 11-1 in favor of the home team. The 26-year-old is New York’s daily second baseman, having played in 23 of the team’s 25 games.

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