by Mickey Bell
Lots of proven stars struggled in the 60 game 2020 MLB season. Which players’ down seasons portend a long term downward trend? Which players simply had bad luck due to small sample size and/or injuries/illness? As every player listed above gets drafted later than last year, some will end up being great values that help carry your team.
We will start the series by discussing the young underachievers aged 25 years or younger and specifically Gleyber Torres. Other underachievers discussed in future articles include: Cody Bellinger, Yordan Alvarez, Austin Meadows, Keston Hiura, Victor Robles, and Yoan Moncada. Then we will move on to players in their “prime” and then players aged 30 or older to wrap up the series. While Gleyber gets his own article, most future articles in this series will include multiple players.
Gleyber Torres – SS – New York Yankees
Age: 23 (almost 24)
2020 Yahoo preseason rank: 31
2020 final rank: 630
2021 ADP: 66
As a person who rosters Torres in a dynasty league, I certainly want him to succeed. I have also mentioned no less than twice on the podcast that I consider him quite the handsome man. Torres ranked 31st on Yahoo before the 2020 season but struggled with injuries and finished 630th. Torres missed a third of the shortened season (about 20 games) so he was always in a hole in yearly rankings. But he definitely did not have the season those who drafted him in the top three rounds had hoped for.
People suspicious of Torres heading into the 2020 season often pointed to the fact that 13 of the 38 HR he hit in 2019 were against the Orioles. Despite the detractors, he got drafted so high because of the perceived scarcity at second base.
Torres had nagging hamstring and quad injuries but he struggled to start the season when seemingly healthy. In July and August combined, Torres had a 0.636 OPS in 24 games. After returning from his quad injury, he finished the season promisingly with an 0.842 OPS in 18 games. Still, 3 HR in 42 games extrapolates to about 11 HR in a full season, a far cry from his 2019 total.
Never a StatCast darling, Gleyber’s average exit velocity stayed pretty consistent from 2019 to 2020, but his barrels, expected slugging, and HR/FB percentage fell off a cliff. According to Fangraphs, Torres’s Hard% went from 39.5% in 2019 to 30.6% in 2020. But according to StatCast, his Hard Hit % increased from 36.5% to 38.0%. Perhaps the data comes from different sources or the criteria for a hard hit ball differs slightly (if anyone knows the reason, please tweet us @udownwithobp). It seems to imply he just missed barreling up on some balls but it probably also gives credence to the detractors who said he got lucky in 2019.
Pitchers’ Approach and Torres’s Adjustments
Pitchers tried to attack Torres down and away. In 2019 (first below), he punished pitchers for throwing balls down and low in the zone, but in 2020 (second), he whiffed or made weak contact far more. And while he had surprisingly high wOBA with pitches out of the zone with varying sample sizes, having success swinging at balls outside the zone is not sustainable.
Pitchers’ plan of attacking forced Torres to adjust and he did just that. After a 9.1% BB% in July, his BB% rose to 14.5% for the rest of the season. From 2019 to 2020, he raised his BB% by about 6 points, dropped his K% by about 4 points, and popped up way less.
Torres’s current ADP is 66, and his z-score based on Steamer projections ranks him 52nd overall. He may never top the 38 HR he hit in 2019, but the 35 pick discount compared to last year intrigues me considering his improved plate discipline, age, team situation, and the bounceback he displayed after returning from injury.
Moving back to 2B would also help Torres where his defense plays much better. Whether Torres stays at SS or moves back to 2B depends on if they re-sign DJ LeMahieu or go in another direction (Andrelton Simmons? Didi Gregorius reunion? Francisco Lindor trade?) Getting eligibility again at the scarcer 2B position would also give him a boost in fantasy.