TDG’S Triple Play: New York Yankees!
The Triple Play is back for a fifth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Phil Barrington and he is joined by a rotating panel of some of the best Dynasty Baseball writers in the business. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Gleyber Torres, Age: 25, Position: 2B
Analysis by: Bob Cyphers
Gleyber Torres was acquired by the New York Yankees in the summer of 2016 as the headlining prospect in the deal that sent Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs. The build-up to the debut of the former top prospect was like the anticipation you experience listening to the clickety-clack of the chain during the ascent up the first hill of the iconic wooden roller coaster. Then you reach the top and it’s time for The Show and the real fun to begin. Fantasy managers (“riders”) hung on tight during the thrill of a top-three finish for Rookie of the Year in 2018 followed by an All-Star season that matched the intense, out-of-your-seat experience, of the first big drop on a roller coaster. In both seasons, Torres produced a wRC+ over 120 with a .270-plus batting average and showed great pop for a 21/22-year-old. This was especially true in 2019 when he smacked a whopping 38 home runs.
But sometimes on a roller coaster, the thrill wears off and is quickly replaced with nausea and the unnerving sensation of maybe I was wrong about eating that third corn dog. That uneasy feeling is exactly what Torres’ performance in 2020 and 2021 induced in fantasy managers. After his hot start, the home runs went away as he only hit 12 in 180 games combined over the two seasons. His average in those years dropped as well and he just looked lost at the plate. At this point, many “riders” were looking for the nearest exit and distancing themselves from the young middle infielder.
But just like the twists and turns of a coaster’s track, you just have to hold on and grip the lap bar tight and you might just find that the “ride” smoothes back out and becomes enjoyable once again. This season we have seen a resurgent Torres as he is showing renewed confidence at the plate with the power that once was feared to be lost. He has 11 home runs through only 53 games, nearly matching his total from the previous two seasons combined. Riders who gritted it out through the bumpy parts are happy they did right now, and those who jumped on the train in those low points (which I don’t recommend on a real roller coaster) are also reaping the benefits.
What a Difference a Ball Makes
As we all now know, MLB has been messing around with the ball over the past few seasons to accomplish…something. This has made it very difficult to evaluate player performance and forecast future projections as we have navigated from the “rabbit ball” to this new “soggy” ball. I believe that Torres’ home run total in 2019 was enhanced by the “rabbit ball,” but it was also negatively impacted in 2021 by the new ball MLB introduced designed to reign in the total number of dingers.
As frustrating as it is to the fantasy industry to try and figure out how these changes affect the game, I cannot fathom what it does to a young MLB player who suddenly thinks he hit a ball the same way as he is used to, but suddenly sees different results. I obviously cannot say for sure that Torres’ approach changed at the plate in 2020 and 2021, but his hitting profile looked significantly different. He suddenly became more patient at the plate, as his O-swing% dropped from about 30% to about 22%. He simply swung less overall which did improve his walk rate, but that’s about it. He hit fewer fly balls in exchange for more ground balls, which is never something you want to see, and his pull rate went down as well. His hard-hit percentages didn’t change much over these years, but since he wasn’t combining it with good launch angles and trajectories, the overall results suffered.
Despite the presence of the “soggy ball” in early 2022, Torres is having himself a very strong start to the season. Behind his offensive resurgence, I see a more aggressive batter at the plate with a profile much similar to that of 2019. Now I do not expect to see 38 total home runs again, as that may have been a career year, but if you asked me in the preseason I would have told you to expect no more than mid-teens. With 11 long balls already in the bag, a push for 30 is not out of question this season. His current flyball rate is at a career-high 49%, and his ground ball rate is a career-low. Torres also touts another career mark of hard-hit rate plus this more favorable pattern of trajectories is adding up to a barrel percentage of 10.7% (also a career-high). His O-swing% is back up over 34%, but it was in 2018 and 2019 as well, plus he only has an 18% strikeout rate despite his more aggressive approach.
I cannot say for sure what changed this season for Torres. Perhaps he is consciously attacking the ball differently, understanding the new (and seemingly ever-changing run environment), or maybe he simply remembered what he was doing in 2019 and decided to go back to that. Either way, with his profile so closely matching that of his career-best year, along with multiple new career-high marks in his batting profile, I am back in, to say the least.
Gleyber of Love
So yes, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride so far in the first five seasons of Torres’ career, but we all need to remember that 2022 is still only his age-25 season. Baseball is a game of adjustments, whether it’s how pitchers attack you as a batter or how different the ball is from year to year that the pitcher is throwing your way. We cannot fault a young player for a down year (or two-ish with the shortened 2020 season) and write him off while still so young with loads of prospect pedigree. I for one am extremely excited and encouraged when I see adjustments like the ones Torres has shown so far as he matures into a veteran player. Simply based on wRC+, he has only been below average for only one season, and it was just barely at a mark of 94. Three out of his five seasons, including what he has done so far this year, show we can expect a wRC+ number around 120. Moving forward I see his dynasty ranking amongst second basemen safely in the top-10 and challenging for top-5. It may be too late to jump back on the train at a low price, but with the current trajectory pointing in a positive direction, and plenty of “ride” left to go, I’m ready to throw my hands up and enjoy!
Nestor Cortes, Age: 27, Position: LHP
Analysis by: Colin Coulahan
Nestor, You Nasty
There was a time this season that Nestor Cortes was literally the best pitcher in all of MLB. Maybe that’s being a tad dramatic, but he has been great in 2022 as a full-time starting pitcher. Cortes pitched 93 innings in 2021 as both a reliever and starter. The overall line was really good (2.90 ERA, 20.9% K-BB%) and the splits didn’t indicate there was better or worse performance if he was starting or relieving. As a reliever, Cortes posted a 25% K-BB% and a 2.29 ERA in 19.2 innings. This was backed up by a 2.20 FIP, .278 OBP against, and a .254 wOBA against. To make it simple Nestor was lights out coming out of the bullpen.
Cortes also made 14 starts and was just as good. In 73 innings he pitched to a 3.07 ERA and struck out 25.4% of batters and only walked 5.6% (19.7% K-BB%). Batters weren’t able to get on base or do much damage against Cortes as they were only able to muster a .272 OBP and .293 wOBA against him. While these numbers are more than solid it was his 4.21 FIP, below-average home run rate, and drop in strikeout rate, that indicated luck may have been a factor.
Who Needs Luck When You’re This Nasty
Spoiler alert – Nestor wasn’t lucky. Cortes began the year in the rotation and quickly became one of the best pitchers in the rotation. In 64 innings he’s struck out 28.6% of batters and only walked 5.6% en route to a sparkling 1.96 ERA. His underlying numbers love what he’s done this season (2.85 FIP and 3.08 SIERA).
When seeing this much improvement you would expect that Cortes’ stuff has gotten better, but it hasn’t. His pitches have almost the same velocity as 2021, and none of them have seen major changes in movement. He is throwing his cutter 15% more and has all but abandoned his sinker and changeup. But Cortes was never a pitcher that relied on high velocity or breaking balls with whiffle-ball type movement. He beats batters with command and deception. He doesn’t walk many batters, switches arm slots, keeps the ball hidden, moves at a quick pace, and varies the speed of his windup. (Ed.-If you haven’t watched Cortes pitch, make sure to catch his next start. He’s wildly entertaining on the mound).
Are You In or Out?
So how sustainable is this? Honestly, if I could answer that I would be working for a baseball team. The good news is that all Cortes’ underlying numbers support what he has done. And while he does not have the pure stuff that other pitchers do he has been able to find a way to blow away batters. His rest of season projections warn us of heavy regression coming; a 3.98 ERA and a 19.8% K-BB%.
But I believe these numbers are using his 2021 starting pitcher stats too much and cannot account for his style of pitching. And while he cannot continue at the pace he’s pitching at, I believe he’s closer to a 3.00 ERA pitcher than a 4.00. This is a solid pitcher that I believe is worth buying high on if you’re a competing team. At only 27-years-old he’s just now hitting his prime years and should be a solid arm for several seasons. I am stating this as someone who’s bought on Cortes in several leagues – I’m putting my money where my mouth is.
Austin Wells, Age: 23, Position: C, Level: High-A
Analysis by: Andrew Jurewicz
Wells, Wells, Wells…Who Do We Have Here?
Just another important piece to the Yankees’ future. A left-handed hitter with power, Austin Wells, was their first round selection in 2020 (28th overall) seems often overlooked despite being a first rounder and top ten prospect in the organization. I’m here to make some noise about it!
He’s actually been on the Yankees radar for a long time, previously drafted in the 35th round in 2018 but then elected to go play college ball for Arizona. I’d say that move paid off by significantly improving his draft stock and signing bonus. Wells has a smooth repeatable swing to go along with excellent discipline and eye at the plate. He’s not just selling out to pull the ball either as he produces hard contact to all fields. Through this season at High-A Hudson Valley he’s hitting the ball to all fields with a Pull%/Center%/Oppo% of 39.7%/24.7%/35.6% which is also consistent with years prior. Though my Yankee fans might want to see a bit more pull in the future from the lefty…SHORT PORCH!!!
Wells How He Doin?
He was doing pretty darn good I’d say! Wells showed out in the 2021 Arizona Fall League, hitting .344/.456/.578 over 79 plate appearances with 2 home runs and 40 Runs + RBI; adding 13 walks while striking out 16 times. He kept the momentum going at his return to Hudson Valley and through 28 games is .323/.429/.576 with 6 home runs and 37 Runs + RBI including keeping up the pace with walks at 15.7/22.3 BB/K%. That rate is also an improvement of his BB/K% from the same level of last season which was 11.8/32.4 BB/K%. Unfortunately, injuries are part of the game and Wells is a bit banged up at the moment as he’s missed almost a month of playing time recovering from a groin injury sustained while catching.
Wells When He Gettin’ Here?
Fangraphs has Wells ETA to the big leagues in 2023 and it’s his bat that’s going to carry him there. Selfishly I’d love to see him moving through the system a bit quicker to Double-AA Somerset so I can watch him play! No question once he’s back to health it’s time to consider playing against more advanced competition with the production at the plate we’ve seen thus far. Long term there are some questions to be answered if he sticks at catcher, however, the Yankees are giving it a shot as he’s played 21 games at the position this season while serving as DH for the other 7. If the commitment to catcher remains, I would expect a slower promotion schedule but I’d also be interested to see if he gets reps at first base or left field in the near future.