The Yankees swept the Orioles this past weekend and they did it because the players they need to pick up the slack during all these injuries picked up the slack. Gary Sanchez hit four homers in the series, including three yesterday, and Clint Frazier hit three homers in the span of six plate appearances. That includes the game-winner Saturday.
Gleyber Torres will also be leaned on offensively until the Yankees get healthy, and he carried them this weekend. Torres hit two homers Thursday, including the go-ahead three-run shot, and he added another homer yesterday. He went 7-for-11 (.636) with two doubles, three homers, three walks, and no strikeouts in the series, and is sitting on a .371/.436/.714 (227 wRC+) early season batting line.
“He can use the whole field and can use it with power,” Aaron Judge told Coley Harvey following Gleyber’s two-homer game Thursday. “Especially a guy that plays second or shortstop, for him to come up and he’ll hit homers to left field and all of a sudden he’s spraying doubles down the right-field line, it’s just impressive what he can do at such a young age.”
Here is the (approximate) point of contact for two of the three homers Torres hit this weekend. Thursday’s game-winner is on the left and yesterday’s homer to open the scoring is on the right.
The Thursday homer was pulled to left field and you can see Gleyber’s hips are wide open. He went after that pitch aggressively and yanked it to left. With yesterday’s homer, Torres did not fly open quite as much. He stayed back on the pitch a bit and drove it out to dead center field.
Anyway, I bring this up because look at the pitch locations. Those pitches are at the top of the strike zone. Those are great locations for swings and misses. In fact, Torres swung through an elevated fastball in the same spot as the homer pitch Thursday earlier in that at-bat. Gleyber missed it the first time but not the second time. He tomahawked two pitches at the top of the zone for home runs this weekend.
Last season Torres, like most players, didn’t do much damage against pitches at the top of the zone. He swung and missed a bunch, and, when he did put those pitches in play, he didn’t hit them all that hard. So far this season Torres is getting around on those pitches. Here are Gleyber’s numbers against pitches in the upper third of the strike zone:
|MLB AVG for RHB
Torres hit three home runs on pitches in the upper third of the strike zone last season. He hit two in the span of seven plate appearances this weekend. Granted, the Orioles stink, and it’s not like Torres took Justin Verlander and Corey Kluber deep, but still. Homers on pitches way up in the zone are not common for Gleyber.
The sky high wOBA and expected wOBA numbers are a good reminder it is still insanely early in the season. We’re still in the “2-for-4 with a double can add 100 points to your OPS” days. Two homers this weekend is not evidence Torres has closed a hole in his swing at the top of the zone. They just caught my attention (because they don’t happen often) and it’s something worth tracking going forward.
With Torres, his natural talent and feel for the game is so obviously special, and that makes quick adjustments and big gains possible. It’s a small sample size, absolutely. This could all be nothing. I also would not be surprised if this weekend eventually proves to be an indication Torres is now a more dangerous hitter against pitches up in the strike zone, either because he’s made an adjustment or because he’s more experienced or both.
“He’s got a great approach at the plate. He goes up there with a plan. You don’t see him up there too many times just free swinging,” Judge said to Harvey. “He usually comes up there with a plan, a pitch he’s going to attack, and he usually comes away with a pretty good at-bat.”