Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Every Day Is Gleyber Day

The news that New York Yankees' radio announcer, John Sterling, was taking a few games off for the first time in 31 years prompted a revisit of Sterling's wonderful (to me) home run calls. One of my favorites is, "It's Gleyber Day!" One of the most overlooked factors of this amazing Yankees' season is that every day for the Yankees is Gleyber Day. Gleyber Torres has been so steady and such a rock for a kid that is 22-years-old, he has been an unsung superglue for his team.

Rightly so, DJ LeMahieu has been getting most of the attention along with the All-Star season of Gary Sanchez. Luke Voit has shared a spotlight as has Gio Urshela and others that filled in during the injury-plagued first half. In fact, the injuries have been the number one story along with how well the team has done despite them.

And now, while DJLM is still cruising along and is one of two Yankee All-Star starters, the focus of attention (again, rightly so) has been the return of Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks. Add in some concerns about the pitching and the expectation that Brian Cashman will again come to the rescue with some help there, and there is little ink left for anything else.

But let's catch our breath a second and consider the continuing maturity of a very young cog of the Yankees' success: Gleyber Torres. After all, Torres is second on the team in Wins Above Replacement behind only DJLM (and ahead of Sanchez). And to show you how he seems to get lost in the fray, Torres has been batting seventh and eighth in the lineup!

The overshadowing of Gleyber Torres began in the second half of last season. In the spring, he was the most anticipated call-up for the Yankees in decades. He was on everyone's mind ever since Cashman obtained him as part of the Aroldis Chapman-to-the-Cubs trade. And then it finally happened and everyone was so excited!

Torres continued to be a focus as his call-up was followed by spectacular play so that after the first half, he was sitting with a .905 OPS to go with 15 homers, a triple and ten doubles. His smile was infectious and his play in the field was, at times, jaw-dropping.

But then he got hurt and missed most of July which is exactly when Miguel Andujar got hot and stayed hot for the rest of the season. Gleyber Torres returned but was not the same player and I believe he played August and September not in full health. His struggles included what looked like some lack of concentration on some plays in the field and had less joy in his countenance. Andujar was the new darling.

If you look at Torres' first half last season and first half this season, there are similarities. His first half led to the aforementioned .905 OPS in 2018 and his first half of 2019 shows him at .913. But if you look closely, there are a lot of improvements. The first, of course, is his fielding. I believe his non-healthy second half last year led to some artificially low defensive numbers. This year, whether at short or at second, he has been consistently good. He was much better than expected at short while filling in there for Didi!

But his batting has also shown improvement. His strikeout percentage is down while his walk rate is up. His ISO is up while showing a slight improvement in Batting Average On Balls In Play (BABIP). His hard contact rate has improved as has his home run to fly ball rate. Last year, according to Fangraphs.com, he had negative scores against sliders, cutters, and split-fingered pitches. This year, Torres does not have a negative score on any pitch.

Fangraphs also shows that his contact rate has increased and his swinging strike rate has decreased. These things all point to improvement and from all accounts, Torres is focused on being the best player he can be. So I do not believe we've seen anything yet from Gleyber Torres.

Of all 19-22-year-old players in the league, Gleyber Torres ranks second in the American League in WAR behind Rafael Devers and sixth overall in the Majors. There are a lot of exciting young players in baseball right now and Gleyber Torres is one of them. And there is no reason that he cannot get much better than finishing his first full season on pace for over five wins above replacement.

And an important thing to note: as much as we all love Aaron Judge, Judge's window of stardom is a lot shorter because he is five years older than Torres. He may be overlooked now, but Gleyber Torres will become a face of this Yankee franchise for years to come.