Gleyber Torres ran into the rookie wall last September. He started slumping right around the time the typical minor league season ends, which is fairly common for new big leaguers. Through August 31, Torres had an impressive .282/.351/.507 (130 wRC+) batting line. In 101 September plate appearances, Torres recorded a paltry 82 wRC+. His postseason performance was unremarkable as well. Now, Torres’s slump has continued into this season.
In his last 191 regular season trips to the plate dating back to September 1, Torres has a .236/.286/.402 triple-slash. Through Monday’s play, he was in the midst of a 2-for-24 skid to boot, which dropped his 2019 wRC+ from 135 to 82. That recent string is why it can be so perilous to analyze early season performances; I would have never written this article a week ago. But now, after looking at his year-to-date line with a recollection of a slow finish to last season, my curiosity was piqued. At the risk of getting burned by arbitrary endpoints, Gleyber hasn’t been hitting well for a while now. Should we be concerned?
Even though Torres’s results didn’t falter until September, his expected stats were a leading indicator of trouble ahead a month before. His exit velocity was down in August, hence the lower xwOBA, but it was no matter. He still slugged six homers and reached base nearly 37 percent of the time.
Then came September. His expected numbers tumbled further, but this time, poor results caught up to him. This has carried into 2019.
What’s hampering the 22 year-old budding star?
Perhaps his right hip, which he strained last July, slowed him down a bit. Remember, he spent about three weeks on the shelf that month, returning just before the calendar flipped to August. That’s convenient timing for a sudden downtick as I just highlighted, but difficult to assign blame to. Whether or not it lingered in any way is a mystery, despite the timing.
It’s also possible that Torres has been trying to do too much. After he was promoted last season, one of his most impressive traits that was quickly apparent was his at-bat quality. He never seemed overmatched or anxious at the plate. Torres was aggressive, swinging a bit more often than the typical hitter, but he wasn’t constantly chasing unhittable pitches. Even as pitchers began to show him more respect by throwing fewer pitches in the zone, Torres became a bit more patient. Then, in September, the infielder’s approach changed.
Gleyber began swinging at roughly 52 percent of offerings that month, and is up to 54 percent this year. Opposing hurlers are giving him more pitches to hit, but even so, Torres wasn’t this aggressive last season against similar in-zone rates. Further, his chase rate climbed from August to September, and though it’s a tad down this month, it’s still above his norms from when he was going good last season.
The gameplan to get Torres out has changed slightly too, albeit nothing drastic. He is seeing fewer fastballs this season, which happens to any respected hitter. Plus, pitchers can throw more junk to Torres since he’s one of the few regulars to avoid the injured list.
Although pitch type allocation has changed a tad, it doesn’t appear that pitchers are trying to exploit a particular area of the plate. I won’t post a bunch of location heatmaps here, but they all look pretty similar. It’s not like other teams have discovered something like an inability to turn on pitches down and in.
Now that we’ve examined a few potential root causes, I want to circle back to Torres’s expected numbers with a focus on contact quality. Interestingly enough, he’s still in a good position when it comes to exit velocity and hard hit percentage early this season. Those two metrics are up over last season, 1.6 MPH and 6 percent respectively. However, because of a lower launch angle (16.8 degrees vs. 18.8 last year), his expected stats and results are suffering.
Ultimately, this kind of rut happens to all players in some shape or form. Not much is going in Torres’s favor right now, but it’s nothing to be concerned about just yet. Perhaps a little more selectivity and lift can get Torres back on track.