Gleyber Torres and the Yankees’ Pursuit of the Team Homer Record

When the Yankees promoted Gleyber Torres in late April, they envisioned him helping them on both sides of the ball, replacing an underwhelming Ronald Torreyes/Tyler Wade platoon that was admittedly nothing more than a stopgap, a temporary solution to an infield logjam. Even so, they probably didn’t expect the kind of power outburst that Torres has provided. After going homerless in his first 12 games, the 21-year-old rookie second baseman has clubbed eight homers in his most recent 15. His total leads the team in the month of May — and that’s a team on pace to break the major-league record for home runs in a season.

Though he’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, Torres did not show a ton of in-game power coming up through the minors. His season high of 11 homers was set in 2016, when he was 19 years old and playing at the High-A stops of the Cubs and Yankees. To be fair, with seven homers in 55 games last year, he probably would have surpassed that total had he not torn his left UCL and required season-ending Tommy John surgery in June. The prospect hounds at Baseball America and MLB Pipeline both graded his power as a 55 (above average), with the latter suggesting 20-plus homers annually; our own Kiley McDaniel graded his raw power at 55/60 (present/future) and his game power at 40/55. The 55 is here, at the very least.

From Baseball Prospectus senior prospect writer Jarrett Seidler:

Torres homered twice off the Rangers’ Bartolo Colon on Monday, the first a two-run shot of 418 feet to left center, the second a solo blast of 425 feet to center field. He then went yard off Cole Hamels on Tuesday (399 feet to left field with nobody on) and Doug Fister (401 feet to left field with two on) on Wednesday. The homers did come on three very warm nights at Globe Life Park in Arlington, with first-pitch temperatures of 85, 87, and 91 degrees. Both the Yankees and Rangers appeared to be playing pinball, combining for 19 homers in a 23-inning span, 12 by the visitors, though the Rangers won two out of three games, including Wednesday’s 12-10 slugfest.

Still, what was as impressive as Torres’ power was the speed of his adjustments. Against Fister, he went from looking foolish against an 84.1 mph cutter low and away on 0-1…

… to demolishing an 88.4 mph two-seamer that was high and inside, off the plate, on the very next pitch — that, after stepping out of the box to size Fister up and watch him shake off a couple pitches:

Small-sample fun: via Brooks Baseball, Torres is annihilating sinkers, hitting .522 and slugging 1.217 with five homers on the 23 he’s put into play. He’s also hitting .308 and slugging .528 on the 39 breaking pitches he’s put into play, hinting at his strong pitch-recognition skills.

None of Torres’ eight homers have been cheapies; the homer off Hamels was his only one short of 400 feet, and the 412-foot average of his eight homers is tied for sixth with George Springer among players with at least seven dingers. That places him ahead of Yankees teammates Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge (both 409 feet, with the latter sentencing a 471-footer to die on Wednesday night) and Giancarlo Stanton (402 feet).

At 21 years and 161 days, Torres became the youngest Yankee to homer in three straight games, which doesn’t sound particularly noteworthy until you realize that he’s also the youngest major leaguer to do so since Stanton himself, from September 6-9, 2010 (20 years, 308 days). But wait, there’s more! The only players in AL history to do so at a younger age area a pair of slackers named Ted Williams (21 years on the nose) and Babe Ruth (21 years, 128 days). You may have heard of ’em.

Through his first 105 plate appearances, the kid is hitting .323/.385/.613 for a team-high 167 wRC, two points ahead of Judge. He’s got an 8-6 edge on Stanton for the team lead for homers in May, and a .710-.643 edge on Stanton for the high in slugging percentage this month, as well.

Torres’ stat line isn’t without some concerns. His 35.5% outside-the-zone swing rate is in the upper quartile among players with at least 100 PA, and his 13.7% swinging-strike rate is higher than that of Judge (12.3%), though he’s not striking out as often (21.9% to 29.2%). He could stand to walk with more frequency than his 7.6%, and he hasn’t really shown the whole-field approach for which he was known in the minors, pulling 50% of balls in play (tied for 22nd among the 264 players with at least 100 PA) and going oppo just 22.2% of the time. None of that’s a big deal when you’re slugging .613, but when the pitchers adjust to him — particularly to take greater advantage of his willingness to chase away — he’ll have to adjust back.

Despite the series loss in Texas, the Yankees are an MLB-best 21-6 since Torres’ arrival, four games better than any other team; at 31-15 overall, they have the majors’ second-best record but they’re still 1.5 behind the Red Sox in the AL East. Their offensive juggernaut is averaging an MLB-high 5.91 runs per game, and with three or more homers in each of their past five games (one game short of a record), and a total of 21 in that span (tied with the 1977 Red Sox and 1999 Reds for a record), their total 79 homers leads the majors; the Red Sox are second at 70, albeit in two more games played. Seventy-nine homers in 47 games is a 272-homer pace over the entire season. That total would eclipse the team record for homers in a season, 264 by the 1997 Mariners, and it’s alarmingly close to the 269-homer forecast that Jeff Sullivan highlighted back on February 22.

Torres’ hot streak has helped the Yankees weather the struggles of Didi Gregorius, who carried the offense early but recently endured a 1-for-46 (!) slump. General manager Brian Cashman and manager Aaron Boone are about to face a critical decision point, with first baseman Greg Bird, who underwent right ankle surgery in March, ready to join the team this weekend. Fill-in first baseman Tyler Austin (122 wRC+, eight homers) and third baseman Miguel Andujar (111 wRC+, five homers), both rookies, have been productive despite sub-.300 on-base percentages, the generally light-hitting Torreyes has been unusually productive (114 wRC+) and while late-signing utilityman Neil Walker started the year ice cold, he’s hitting .318/.434/.545 in 53 PA this month. Something’s got to give, roster-wise, but you can bet that it won’t be Torres getting the squeeze. The kid is here to stay.

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Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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mathamaniac421
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mathamaniac421

I know the Cubs won the World Series in 2016 partly due to trading Torres, but it kinda sucks watching him do so well for another team. Oh well, flags fly forever?

Ecofolux
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Member
Ecofolux

FFF!

capconstrained
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capconstrained

Theo should have traded for David Robertson instead

cmgray03
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cmgray03

I don’t think anyone is going to feel sorry for Cubs fans after winning a World Series. At least you aren’t a fan of the Reds. They have one middling prospect still in the organization after their Chapman trade, while they get to watch Torres turn into a star for the Yankees.

Hughes
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Member
Hughes

Yeah the Yankees got him cheap from the Reds following his domestic abuse, put a polish on the turd and flipped him for a profit from the Cubs.

In part makes me concerned what the Jays do with Osuna.