One way to forecast breakouts is to take a player’s peripherals and highlight the incongruence from their actual outcomes. Oftentimes, it’s that a hitter is hitting the crap out of the ball, but they haven’t begun to fall in. I’m not going to do that! I’m going to try and get a little ahead of a potential Abraham Toro breakout, because this could be the year that it happens. And depending on the rest of the Mariners’ offseason goes, they may need it.
I started writing this article two months ago, and clearly, it’s been on the back burner for a while now. Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN Seattle recently made some interesting comments regarding Toro, who the Mariners, “really, really like,” and that got the gears turning again.
One thing that makes the comments about Toro interesting is that he has doesn’t really have a single carrying tool to gush about. He has a blend of average to above-average skills, and given his short legs and stocky build, his movements make him look unathletic.
But he’s not! He runs well after building up a head of steam — he ranks in the 73rd and 82nd percentiles in sprint speed and home plate to first base time, respectively — and in the right spots, his fielding isn’t bad, either. Since 2019, he’s posted a plus-five outs above average (OAA) at third base. Those are both overlooked, underrated aspects of his profile, but Toro won’t make this work without his bat doing the heavy lifting.
Unlike his defense and baserunning, his minor league track record speaks for itself. Although it portends more gap power than home run power, Toro has flashed a combination of plate discipline, contact skills, and bat speed, all while being young at every level. This is somewhat reminiscent of Ty France, who was also young for his level throughout his time in the minor leagues.
Consider the following wOBA trends of France and Toro, by age:
I’ll admit, this chart doesn’t mean all that much. It’s more about the narrative than making a compelling statistical argument. Mostly, it shows that France has overachieved for his age, but it also shows that Toro has underachieved for his age. For Toro, it’s just 58 games over his age-22 and 23 seasons, so it’s hard to take too seriously, but given that Toro debuted two years earlier, he still has the chance to trend like France.
They’re certainly not the same player, but what strikes me about the two is that, in some ways, their batted profiles are awfully similar, and yet France has been the far superior hitter, with France and Toro ranking in the 79th and 61st percentiles in xwOBA, respectively, since joining the Mariners.
Don’t just take my word for it! Here, a comparison of their batted ball profiles since 2019:
France and Toro, Batted Ball Metrics
And then a few of their plate discipline metrics, again, since 2019:
France and Toro, Plate Discipline Metrics
|Zone Swing%||Zone Contact%||Chase%||Whiff%|
|Zone Swing%||Zone Contact%||Chase%||Whiff%|
At a glance, they both look like generic hitters, with only a few areas in which they differ from a league-average profile. The main similarity that they share is that they don’t swing and miss much. But then there’s also that, in 2019 and 2020, Toro got on top of a lot of pitches and hit a lot of ground balls. Then, in 2021, he started getting under pitches, resulting in an excessive amount of fly balls. Our samples aren’t robust for 2019 and 2020, but clearly, Toro has dealt with something of a bat path issue.
To highlight this, a quick comparison of the two, based on a few key metrics:
Ty France versus Abraham Toro
This table — and specifically Toro’s standard deviation of launch angle, or launch angle tightness — corroborates the notion that Toro has struggled with his bat path. So much so that, since 2019, he ranks in the 11th percentile in launch angle tightness, at 30.8°, which has translated to a mediocre dynamic hard-hit percentage. As far as I’m concerned, Toro is equipped with just as much talent as France. He just hasn’t tapped into it yet.
What initially got me thinking of France as a rough precedent for Toro is that I commonly found the two in close proximity when looking at leaderboards for exit velocities on fly balls and line drives. When pulling balls in the air, France’s 93.6 mph average exit velocity only bests Toro’s 92.7 mph average exit velocity marginally, while they have nearly identical average exit velocities when they’re hitting balls in the air to the opposite field, with France and Toro coming in at 90.5 and 90.2 mph, respectively.
As I wrote with Trevor Story, Toro may be falling prey to the added drag on balls that are hit to the opposite field that comes from additional side spin on the ball. Since he doesn’t have much raw power to speak of, it would behoove Toro to emphasize his pull-side more to create more synthetic power. Given that he’s been miserable hitting balls in the air to the opposite field, this would mean de-emphasizing batted balls to the opposite field.
Toro has mentioned that he and the Mariners had been working on the timing of his leg kick upon joining the Mariners. That’s one route he could take towards improving next year: the more he catches balls out in front of the plate, the more he’ll be able to lift them in the air to his pull-side with authority. And while timing doesn’t seem to be the root issue, it’s something that he and the Mariners have already identified and begun to work on.
There’s a reason the Astros drafted Abraham Toro, and it’s the same reason the Mariners traded for him. The reason is that he’s good — or at least, he’s going to be. He’s got the sneaky speed, and we might be underrating his defense, but most of all, he’s got the minor league track record of someone who’s going to hit at the major league level. And he’s probably just a tweak away.