Torres Gets Comped

On Wednesday night, Gleyber Torres hit a home run to tie Gary Sanchez for the New York Yankees team lead with thirty-four. Despite injuries to Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton this season, that’s still an extremely impressive and unexpected feat for Torres. The twenty-two year old has followed up his rookie year, which earned him a third place finish in the 2018 Rookie of the Year voting behind Shohei Ohtani and Miguel Andujar, with another very solid campaign. Before starting a series with the Boston Red Sox on Friday night, Torres had a .283 batting average, .346 on-base percentage, and .540 slugging percentage in 2019, good for a .364 wOBA. The sophomore’s 128 wRC+ ranks him thirty-fifth among the 143 qualified hitters this season, ahead of players like Edwin Encarnacion, Ronald Acuna, Jr., Nolan Arenado, and Bryce Harper. Torres has shown steady improvement in 2019 over his 2018 performance.

SeasonPAHRAVGOBPSLGISOwOBAwRC+fWARbWAR
201848424.271.340.480.209.3491212.02.9
201953534.283.346.540.256.3641283.63.7

Torres has also made some notable improvements in his plate discipline and contact profile.

SeasonO-Swing%Z-Swing%Swing%
201834.4%68.7%48.4%
201934.8%76.8%51.8%

According to numbers available at FanGraphs, Gleyber’s chasing out of the zone at about the same rate, but he’s swinging at pitches in the strike zone much more often and, as a result, is swinging more often generally. Swinging more frequently at strikes has allowed Torres to make more contact.

SeasonO-Contact%Z-Contact%Contact%SwStr%BB%K%
201855.9%81.8%70.9%14.0%8.7%25.2%
201961.8%84.4%75.4%12.7%8.8%20.6%

Torres’ walk rate hasn’t really budged, but his strikeout rate has decreased significantly by 4.6%, likely due to his much higher contact rate on pitches outside of the strike zone and an overall increase in contact rate across the board. The heat maps below show that Torres is not only swinging at more strikes but also swinging at better strikes. First, from 2018.

And 2019.

Torres has consolidated his swings in the middle part of the plate where he’s likely to make better contact, particularly the lower-middle part of the zone. He has also laid off the inside pitch more often, especially low and in, and shifted those swings to cover the outside part of the plate. His increase in swings off the outside corner have also increased. Trading in swings at pitches off the inside corner for those off the outside corner may be the key to his increase in contact against pitches outside the strike zone.

Torres may have also made some progress on the defensive side of the ball. In 152 innings at shortstop in 2018, Torres had zero defensive runs saved and a -2.6 ultimate zone rating (UZR, a statistic that estimates the number of runs a player as saved or allowed on defense) for a -21.5 ultimate zone rating per 150 games played (UZR/150). In more than four times as many innings at short this season (636.2 innings), Torres has posted zero defensive runs saved and -2.0 UZR and -4.9 UZR/150, a big improvement over 2018. After 915.2 innings at second in 2018, Torres put up negative-one defensive runs saved, a -7.7 UZR, and -16.7 UZR/150. Four-hundred and forty-three innings there in 2019 have yielded negative-four defensive runs saved, a UZR of -2.5, and UZR/150 of -11.6, showing some mixed results for Torres. Advanced defensive metrics are still not as exact as we’d like them to be. Regardless, despite some potential improvement, defensive metrics still don’t identify Torres as a plus defender.

In addition to his overall production in almost two full seasons, the Yankees have to be thrilled that their twenty-two year old middle infielder has shown the ability to make adjustments and improve at the major league level. With the 2019 regular season nearing its conclusion, it makes some sense to take stock of what Torres has accomplished so far and what it means for him and the Yankees moving forward.

Comparing Torres’ performance to those of players who have come before him can give us an idea of what to expect from Gleyber in the future. Given that the Yankees will control Torres through the 2024 season with an extension, there seem to be three questions to answer: what can we expect from Torres in 2020, what can we expect from Torres from 2020 through 2024 (which will take him from his age 23 to age 27 season), and what can we expect from Torres in his career.

Torres has been an average fielder at best but more likely a slightly below average to below average fielder in 2018 and 2019, albeit at two premium defensive positions. To date, his value has largely come from his offensive ability. Entering Friday night’s game against Boston, in his age 21 and age 22 seasons, Torres has an average 125 wRC+. Below is a list of players who had an average wRC+ between 115 and 135 in their age 21 and 22 seasons (minimum 800 plate appearances), their wRC+ in their age 23 season, their average wRC+ from their age 23 to their age 27 seasons (weighted by number of plate appearances), and their average wRC+ in their careers.

Player21-22 wRC+23 wRC+23-27 wRC+Career wRC+
Alex Rodriguez128136153141
Darryl Strawberry128162148137
Freddie Freeman118150145N/A
Eddie Murray130130145127
Tim Raines116134144125
Christian Yelich118120141N/A
David Wright135132136133
Jack Clark129127135138
John Olerud118127134130
Juan Gonzalez125164133129
Bob Horner129125132126
Adam Dunn129109129123
Scott Rolen115140129122
Justin Upton120141126N/A
Cal Ripken, Jr.132146125112
Grady Sizemore118132123115
Tom Brunansky115110108106
Cody Bellinger129166N/AN/A
Mookie Betts122136N/AN/A
Manny Machado127131N/AN/A
Francisco Lindor116116N/AN/A
Average123135134126
Median125132134127

Cody Bellinger is not fully through his age 23 season, but he’s included here as an extra data point for the age 23 numbers since his age 23 season is substantially complete. Christian Yelich is also currently in his age 27 season, but he’s been included in the age 23 to age 27 group for the same reason.

Based on the above player comparisons, the future is a pretty rosy picture for Gleyber Torres. Three hall of famers in Eddie Murray, Tim Raines, and Cal Ripken, Jr. and Alex Rodriguez and Scott Rolen, who should be Hall of Famers, as well as players like Darryl Strawberry, David Wright, and Grady Sizemore, whose careers were on Hall of Fame trajectories before being curtailed for various reasons. We can likely expect Gleyber to be somewhere between thirty to forty percent better than average at the plate next season, the same over the next five seasons, and about twenty-five to thirty percent better than average over the course of his career. For a middle infielder, that’s exceptional. If you want to dream on Torres a bit, there are certainly some names on this list that provide significant upside given what Torres has done as a twenty-one and twenty-two year old hitter.

Prior to Friday’s game against the Red Sox, according to FanGraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement (fWAR), Gleyber Torres has recorded a combined 5.6 fWAR in his age 21 and 22 seasons. Dan Szymborski’s projection system ZiPS projects Torres for 0.4 fWAR for the rest of the 2019 season, which would give him a total of 6.0 fWAR in his age 21 and age 22 seasons. To give us a picture of what Torres’ future overall production might look like based on his performance as a twenty-one and twenty-two year old, below is a list of players who, since the start of free agency in 1977, accumulated between 4.0 and 8.0 total fWAR in their age 21 and 22 seasons with no more than 10.0 defensive runs above average total. Given Torres’ average to below average defense, the limit on defensive runs above average is meant to match Torres with players who have not derived a significant portion of their value from their play in the field.

Player21-22 fWAR23 fWAR23-27 fWARCareer fWAR
Tim Raines6.86.032.666.4
Scott Rolen4.07.028.569.9
Christian Yelich5.92.427.1N/A
Eddie Murray7.44.925.472.0
Miguel Cabrera7.56.325.170.8
Adrian Beltre4.84.023.984.3
Darryl Strawberry5.84.823.341.5
Alan Trammell4.73.623.063.7
Jose Canseco4.87.622.742.1
Roberto Alomar6.94.320.363.6
Justin Upton7.46.319.4N/A
John Olerud4.03.119.157.3
Jack Clark8.02.016.050.6
Jason Heyward7.13.115.5N/A
Adam Dunn6.31.614.625.6
Terry Puhl6.25.313.726.7
Juan Gonzalez4.95.713.635.8
Carney Lansford5.60.211.633.9
Bob Horner6.01.810.019.5
Rocco Baldelli4.00.04.08.0
Mookie Betts6.68.3N/AN/A
Cody Bellinger7.77.3N/AN/A
Xander Bogaerts4.74.9N/AN/A
Rougned Odor5.0-1.3N/AN/A
Average5.94.119.548.9
Median6.04.619.950.6

You definitely feel good about Gleyber Torres’ future when looking at this group. Hall of Famers Raines, Murray, Alan Trammell, and Roberto Alomar with future Hall of Famers Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Beltre, and Rolen again. It also includes current stars Yelich, Betts, Bellinger, and Xander Bogaerts. When all of these players careers are finished, you could conceivably see half of them in Cooperstown, so it’s not surprising to see the kind of numbers you might be able to expect from Torres: between 4 and 5 fWAR next season, around 20 over the next five seasons, and around 50 in his career. And that’s about the 50th percentile outcome. A note on Miguel Cabrera: his career is not over yet, but it is at a point where he’s likely not going to accumulate much more value, so his career statistics have been included to give us more data.

Now, you might point out that a lot of these players played or play different positions than Torres does. Here’s a quick look at the list and numbers if we get rid of the first basemen and outfielders.

Player21-22 fWAR23 fWAR23-27 fWARCareer fWAR
Scott Rolen4.07.028.569.9
Miguel Cabrera7.56.325.170.8
Adrian Beltre4.84.023.984.3
Alan Trammell4.73.623.063.7
Roberto Alomar6.94.320.363.6
Terry Puhl6.25.313.726.7
Carney Lansford5.60.211.633.9
Bob Horner6.01.810.019.5
Xander Bogaerts4.74.9N/AN/A
Rougned Odor5.0-1.3N/AN/A
Average5.93.619.554.1
Median6.04.221.763.7

This is a list of infielders that you definitely want to be on. Half of the list is made up of Hall of Fame caliber players and the rest were or are, for the most part, very competent major leaguers. The average and median fWAR numbers are still outstanding.

According to FanGraphs, Torres has -8.8 defensive runs above average in his career. The last group of players was selected by looking at players who accumulated 10.0 or less defensive runs above average in their age 21 and age 22 seasons. What if we decrease that to 0.0 defensive runs above average?

Player21-22 fWAR23 fWAR23-27 fWARCareer fWAR
Tim Raines6.86.032.666.4
Christian Yelich5.92.427.1N/A
Eddie Murray7.44.925.472.0
Miguel Cabrera7.56.325.170.8
Darryl Strawberry5.84.823.341.5
Jose Canseco4.87.622.742.1
John Olerud4.03.119.157.3
Adam Dunn6.31.614.625.6
Juan Gonzalez4.95.713.635.8
Carney Lansford5.60.211.633.9
Bob Horner6.01.810.019.5
Rocco Baldelli4.00.04.08.0
Cody Bellinger7.77.3N/AN/A
Rougned Odor5.0-1.3N/AN/A
Average5.83.619.143.0
Median5.84.020.941.5

There’s a slight dip in the numbers as the group becomes less productive as fielders, but that’s probably expected. The decrease is sharpest in career WAR, likely due to the fact that many of these players, who were not great defenders to begin with, had to move down the defensive spectrum to first base or corner outfield spots as they aged. Regardless, this group still provides a very favorable forecast for Torres.

Gleyber’s age 21 and age 22 seasons also happen to be his first two seasons in the league, and you can probably tell where this is going. Using Baseball Reference’s version of WAR (bWAR), let’s see what we find when comparing Torres’ first two years in the show to the freshman and sophomore campaigns of other players.

According to Baseball Reference, entering Friday night’s game against the Red Sox, Torres has accumulated 6.3 total bWAR in his first two seasons. Even though the fWAR and bWAR are slightly different (they use different defensive metrics to measure defensive value), we’ll add the 0.4 WAR that ZiPS projects Torres adding over the rest of 2019 for a total of 6.7 bWAR. Again, we’ll want to limit Torres’ comps to ensure we don’t include players who derive a lot of value from their defense. Torres has accumulated a defensive wins above replacement component of 0.7 in his first two seasons. The group of players below are those who accumulated a bWAR between 4.7 and 8.7 with a defensive wins above replacement component between 1.7 and -0.3 in their first two years in the show (minimum 800 plate appearances) since 1977.

Player1 & 2 bWAR3 bWAR3-7 bWARCareer bWAR
Rickey Henderson7.96.736.2111.2
Ken Griffey, Jr.8.57.131.983.8
Chuck Knoblauch8.23.629.844.8
Mark Teixeira7.37.229.351.8
Christian Yelich5.73.627.2N/A
Jason Heyward8.45.522.7N/A
Giancarlo Stanton6.95.420.7N/A
Anthony Rendon6.50.420.5N/A
Travis Fryman5.44.918.634.4
Bryce Harper8.81.118.5N/A
Nick Markakis6.67.417.1N/A
Jason Kendall5.75.616.741.7
Marcell Ozuna5.30.513.9N/A
Ellis Burks8.23.513.449.8
Carney Lansford6.41.613.340.4
Colby Rasmus5.51.68.319.8
Oddibe McDowell5.51.94.510.7
Rocco Baldelli5.90.04.34.3
Cody Bellinger8.48.2N/AN/A
Alex Bregman5.66.9N/AN/A
Corey Seager7.75.7N/AN/A
Average6.94.219.345.3
Median6.64.918.641.7

This is an interesting group. It’s punctuated by two of the most elite talents to ever play the game in Rickey Henderson and Ken Griffey, Jr. at the top and peppered with some of the biggest names in the sport right now: Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper, Bellinger, Alex Bregman, and Corey Seager. The numbers are still great and very much in line with what we’ve seen: a bWAR between 4 and 5 next season is likely, around 19 bWAR over the next five seasons, and a really good shot at a career bWAR somewhere in the 40s. Let’s whittle this list down to just the infielders and see what we get.

Player1 & 2 bWAR3 bWAR3-7 bWARCareer bWAR
Chuck Knoblauch8.23.629.844.8
Mark Teixeira7.37.229.351.8
Anthony Rendon6.50.420.5N/A
Travis Fryman5.44.918.634.4
Carney Lansford6.41.613.340.4
Alex Bregman5.66.9N/AN/A
Corey Seager7.75.7N/AN/A
Average6.74.222.342.9
Median6.54.920.542.6

This group admittedly gets down to a pretty small sample, but it’s still probably somewhat useful, especially since the numbers we get are very much aligned with those that we’ve seen with the other player groups. The bottom line seems to be that, when comparing his performance to the performances of past players, Gleyber Torres’ future looks incredibly bright any way you slice it.

ZiPS appears to agree. Prior to the season, ZiPS projected Torres for 3.0 fWAR in 2019 (which he’s already surpassed), 4.2 fWAR in 2020, and 4.6 fWAR in 2021. About two weeks before the trade deadline, in their annual Trade Value series, FanGraphs ranked Torres as the twelfth most valuable player in all of baseball in terms of trade value and projected that he would accumulate 4.5 fWAR in 2020, 4.9 fWAR in 2021, 5.2 fWAR in 2022, 5.1 fWAR in 2023, and 4.8 fWAR in 2024 for a total of 24.5 fWAR from 2020 to 2024. Those numbers compare well with what our analysis found and are actually slightly better than that.

The surplus value is likely due to a component of the ZiPS projection system that incorporates Torres’ prospect grades. Baseball players are graded on their various tools on a 20 to 80 scale. Torres’ grades from before the 2018 season are stellar.

HitGame PowerRaw PowerSpeedFieldThrowFuture Value
40/5540/5555/6050/4040/5055/5560

The number before the slash is the player’s current grade at the time he’s scouted, and the number after is his projected grade once he’s fully developed. Future Value is the player’s overall grade. Players almost never receive 80 grades. As you can see, Torres doesn’t really have any standout tools, but he receives above-average grades across the board. Torres’ Future Value grade ranked him as the twelfth-best prospect prior to the 2018 season according to FanGraphs. Given those healthy grades, you can probably expect Torres’ production to skew closer to the top of the groups listed above as his career progresses.

The player groups above definitely include some cautionary tales (see: Rocco Baldelli). The careers of athletes are often more fragile than we realize and want to admit. That being the case, it’s important to enjoy what Torres is doing right now and not take it for granted. But it’s also exciting to think about having the opportunity to witness the entire career of what could be a generational talent. Who knows? In eighteen years, you could be watching another moment like this.

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