TAMPA, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 24: Gleyber Torres #25 of the New York Yankees looks on during batting practice before the spring training game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Steinbrenner Field on February 24, 2020 in Tampa, Florida.
(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Gleyber Torres is off to quite a sluggish start in 2020 despite high expectations. What’s causing the issues for the New York Yankees star?

Josh Benjamin

If Gleyber Torres is in the lineup, somebody might want to tell the New York Yankees.

The 23-year-old shortstop has looked lost at the plate early in the 2020 season. In eight games, he has a meager slash line of .179/.258/.286. Torres also has just one home run with a pair of RBIs. Not to mention, the home run is currently his sole extra-base hit.

Needless to say, after some exciting projections, this isn’t what the Yankees expected from their star shortstop.

But all is not lost. The Yankees have a great hitting coach in Marcus Thames and Torres is a two-time All-Star. Moreover, the team traded for him because he’s such a naturally great hitter who can adjust on the fly.

And what adjustments should Torres make? If we’re being honest, the answer is not many.

Torres the hitter

In case it wasn’t clear earlier, Torres is a phenomenal hitter who’s only going to improve. He hit .275 over his first two years in the majors while also showcasing a surprising amount of power. At 23, the sky is literally the limit.

And what’s Torres’ secret sauce? Well, first of all, he has a phenomenal eye. His .273 lifetime batting average is solid, but his weighted on-base average (wOBA) sits at .351. For context, wOBA doesn’t measure if a hitter reaches base, but how exactly they do it. Each method of reaching base is assigned a value in relation to projected runs scored.

This means Torres is not just a great hitter, but he knows how to reach base despite his career OBP of .336 seeming low compared to his batting average. The king of in-count adjustments, his strikeout rate also dropped almost four points in 2019 compared to his rookie year.

Torres is additionally great at making decent contact, owning a career line-drive rate (LD%) of 22.1%. This means being able to hit the ball all over the field is essential, and though Torres was a majority pull hitter in 2019, his pull rate was only 44.4%.

Simply put, the man has finesse with the bat.

So what’s the problem?

But the Torres of 2020 is a far cry from the player fans have grown accustomed to watching and admiring these past two years. Instead of the focused intensity of Crash Davis, Torres seems more like the anxious Nuke LaLoosh at the plate.

And the numbers reflect that Torres is indeed in something of a funk. Per Fangraphs, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .174. Lots of that could have to do with bad luck, so let’s keep digging.

What is particularly telling is Torres’ LD%. It was a respectable 20.9% last year but is just 12.5% in the young 2020 season. Torres’ groundball rate (GB%) has increased 4.5 points to 41.7% and his infield hit percentage (IFH%) has more than doubled to 10%.

Diagnosis

Thankfully, looking deeper into these numbers shows that Torres’ problem is certainly fixable. First, he has pulled the ball 50% of the time this season compared to 43.7% for his career. As a result, Torres’ ability to go the opposite way has been compromised. He has gone opposite field in 24% of his career plate appearances, but that mark is a mere 16.7% now.

Furthermore, Torres isn’t just making solid contact with the ball. His soft contact rate is up to 20.8% for 2020 compared to 14.7% for his career. His medium contact rate, ideal for the line drives that are his bread and butter, has dropped almost four points to 41.7%.

This makes for an easy diagnosis. Despite striking out just four times in 31 plate appearances, the Torres of 2020 could simply be trying to do too much.

Final thoughts

The good news is, as has been mentioned before, Torres is a great hitter. He will overcome this slow start the same way he has other slumps in his career. More importantly, the COVID-19 pandemic means this will be a weird season. Players who are otherwise great might struggle this year due to rust, fatigue, or other factors.

On top of that, Torres is batting in between two of the most dangerous hitters in baseball, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. That’s a lot to digest for a young hitter no matter how talented, so the reality of actually doing it could be jarring Torres just a bit.

It’s definitely frustrating to see Torres struggle, but he’s a conscientious player. Having Monday off aside, he has almost certainly been working with Thames to adjust what needs adjusting. This is just the kind of player Torres is. He’s so devoted to his craft as a hitter that the only real slump he has to his name is being a .235 career hitter in September.

In the playoffs, meanwhile, Torres has hit .302.

Worry not, Yankees fans. The real Gleyber Torres is coming. And with the Yankees already at 8-1 despite his slump, it’s hard to imagine what they’ll look like once Torres’ bat is back for good.

NYY

NYM

NYG

NYJ

NYK

BKN

NYR

NYI

NJD

SJU