Gleyber Torres
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

New York Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres needs to improve his defense. It’s the only thing holding him back from being a truly elite player.

Thomas Hall

The New York Yankees are fast approaching their most important campaign in years.

In order for the Yankees to have a successful 2020 season, they’ll need their bright young superstar, Gleyber Torres, to make major adjustments. Specifically, they need to improve their defense in a major way if they want to continue to contend.

Despite his impressive performance at the plate from this past season, Torres struggled mightily defensively for the second consecutive season.

During the 2019 campaign, the 23-year-old split time between second base and his natural position, shortstop. His defensive numbers from 2019 suggest a move over to the left side of the infield could benefit the young slugger.

Through his 547.1 innings at second base, Torres finished the season with the eighth-most errors committed (9), the 26th-most DRS (-7), the 27th-highest UZR rating (-4.2), and the 29th-best UZR/150 rating (-11.7) among second basemen with at least 500 innings of work. In addition, Torres generated a -4 OAA from this past season. That ties him for 25th-most among second basemen with at least 150 attempts.

Torres played just over 500 innings at second base in 2019. That means these numbers should indicate his true ability at the position. With that in mind, the results are concerning. He’s one of the worst defensive second basemen in baseball, with no signs of improvement.

Despite his terrible defense at second base, Torres produced improved results shortstop through 2019.

This past season, the two-time All-Star played 659.2 innings at short. Among shortstops who played at least 500 innings, he finished with the 19th-most errors committed (11), the 14th-most DRS (1), the 24th-best UZR and UZR/150 as well. The Yankees’ middle infielder also recorded the 21st-most OAA (-3).

Since Torres is expected to become the everyday shortstop this season, he’ll primarily be positioned on the left side of the infield. If his stint there in 2019 holds true, he should be able to improve his overall defense simply by switching positions. Having positional stability in 2020 should as prove vital to his defensive improvements.

Until Torres feels more comfortable at shortstop, manager Aaron Boone and his staff should limit the amount of shifting. When Torres was positioned straight up at shortstop in 2019, he produced a 2.1 OAA. Based on this, the Yankees would be wise to avoid shifting with Torres.

Bonne should also keep Torres away from the edge of the grass. During 2019, Torres generated a -1.5 OAA at shortstop when positioned at the edge of the grass. His OAA fell to -4.0 when he was forced to range deep in the hole as well.

Ideally, the Yankees would likely prefer to shift their impressive young superstar all around the infield during this season. Defensive versatility has quickly become one of the league’s most vital skills, and Torres’ versatility is important to the Yankees.

However, Torres’ long-term development as a productive defensive shortstop is more important. That development will require Torres to play the position full-time. The Yankees need to hold back their desire to create matchups offensively at the cost of their defense for the sake of Torres’ development.

It’s also possible that the defensive improvement at shortstop isn’t real. Torres has never been able to solely play on the left side of the infield at the major league level. With that in mind, it’s possible the numbers are a small sample size illusion.

DJ LeMahieu is expected to be the everyday second baseman this season. With Torres and LeMahieu up the middle, the Yankees’ overall team defense should dramatically improve this season. LeMahieu generated a +5 DRS, +3 OAA, 4.0 UZR and a 13.2 UZR/150 over his 579.2 innings at second base in 2019. The Yankees shouldn’t be concerned about their defense up the middle with the former gold-glover stationed at second.

During the 2019 season, the New York Yankees committed the 11th-most errors (102), had the ninth-fewest DRS (-18), the 15th-best UZR rating (2.7), and the 14th-best UZR/150 (0.5). If Torres is positioned in the proper spots at shortstop during this season, the Yankees should improve every one of these poor metrics.

The Yankees are looking to reach the World Series this season. For that to happen another impressive performance from Torres will be necessary.

If Torres improves his defensive numbers and sustains his outstanding offensive results during the 2020 season, the right-handed hitter would be one of the best players in baseball. It would also likely mean that the Yankees are playing in the World Series this fall.

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