He was the anointed, the successor to Alfonso Soriano, a two-time All-Star and a playoff hero, before his 23rd birthday.
Then the problems faced by many people from their early to mid 20s started rearing their ugly head. The pandemic certainly didn’t help, but even as things returned to normal in 2021, Torres was terrible at his job. The former top prospect, who looked like a pillar of the Yankees’ next great team, lost his opening shortstop gig instead. When he was in the starting lineup, he was often buried in seventh place.
When Torres was officially fired from shortstop at the end of last season, his manager said of his defensive issues in the high-pressure situation, “I think it’s been a load on him. ” A combination of poor play and the impending free agency of Carlos Correa, Corey Seeger, and others as trade talks swirled, made Torres seem like the odd guy out.
Instead, the Yankees patted on the free agent shortstop, kept Torres, and traded in Isiah Kiner-Falefa for a defensive maestro. With the stability of knowing he’ll still be a Yankee, plus no longer having to worry about playing shortstop, Torres has started 2022 with a bang.
As of Wednesday morning, Torres has 117 wRC+ and .741 OPS, his highest since 2019, the last time he punished baseball consistently. After five straight hitless games in mid-April, Torres turned things around with a pinch-hit single in Detroit. Although his eighth-innings innings was mostly in vain—he was stranded on bases and the Yankees lost 3-0—the presence of that plate did something to get him back on track.
Starting with that game, Torres has subtracted .301/.342/.521. Seven of his 22 hits in that period have gone for extra bases, including four home runs. As a result, his numbers on the youth season show an entirely different player, who was saddled through two straight soul crumbling campaigns.
“Last year was great” [hard] “Fighting for me,” Torres said after scoring five runs in the win over Toronto on May 11. I mean I can still learn the game.”
Looking at his numbers, the things Torres has learned this year are fairly simple, and a pretty common school of thought in Major League Baseball right now. He’s mashing the fastball, throwing the ball in the air more often, and as a result, he’s making much more difficult contact.
In 2021, Torres’ overall slugging percentage fell to a career-low .366, with fastball being one of the main offenders. He slugged a non-ideal .352 on the heaters, and with two strikes, the fastball resulted in strikeouts 19.6% of the times. This year, though things may still change as he bats more, Torres is slugging .536 on the fastball. They’re putting him away only 12.9% of the time he gets to the two-strike hole.
Fastball hunting is an effective tactic for most hitters, but on an even simpler level, hitting the pitches that hit is as well. First-year hitting coach Dylan Lawson showed off his new job with the catchphrase “hit strikes hard”. Torres appears to have taken it to heart. According to Baseball-Savant, in three key areas of the strike zone — middle-up, middle-down and up-and-in — Torres is hitting the ball at a significantly higher speed than he was last year.
Harsh contact is especially harmful when in the air. Every stadium may have a well-hit grounder, very few will have an aerial missile. For the past two seasons – which Torres would like to forget – he ran a ground ball rate north of 40%. This year, it is down to 35.2% so far, with the fly ball rising above 40% for the first time since 2019. As Rangers salty manager Chris Woodward can attest, sometimes getting the ball into the air at Yankee Stadium is “little.” league home run.” Whether they go 320 or 420 feet, a home run is a home run, and Torres is already more than half of his home run total from last year.
The other adjustment Torres has made in the first month of the season is swinging more often. His swing percentage has increased to 76.2%, which is almost the same as 76.3% when he swat 38 homers in 2019. This could be a sign that Torres isn’t overthinking things on the plate, a welcome sign for someone who has spoken out openly. About the mental struggle he has endured.
“First of all, I feel really good,” Torres told reporters last week. “I mean, my swing has gotten better and better. And I’m working hard every day to be what I want to be. But so good for now. I feel like the confidence is back and That’s the most important thing to me.”
This newfound confidence could also be one of the most important things for the Yankees, a team that, at 27-9, is exactly what they want to be.