Every year, several times a year, teams will send players down to the minor leagues as a reset. Sometimes it’s to rebuild confidence, sometimes it’s to adjust their mechanics. Almost all of the time, it fails to bear any fruit. We’ve seen this with Evan White, and more recently, we’ve seen it with Taylor Trammell and Jarred Kelenic. As is apparent in the title, it seems that Luis Torrens has broken up that pattern. He made a legitimate adjustment in Triple-A that’s been paying dividends for over a month now.
Of course, about a month of elite production is hardly rare — more inferior players have been even better for longer — but it is encouraging. Since June 15th, Torrens has posted a .412 xwOBA and 184 wRC+. That’s backed by a hearty 13.8% walk percentage, albeit paired with a less than ideal (but plenty acceptable) 27.6% strikeout percentage. There’s plenty to like, and plenty to be suspicious of. I’ll get to Torrens’ more encouraging indicators, but first, I want to lean into my skeptical nature.
The cynical way to interpret Torrens’ results is that his xwOBA in the past month is legitimate, but xwOBA is descriptive, not predictive. This is a remarkably fair point. The issue in reading into Torrens’ June and July numbers is just that: we only have his June and July numbers. That means a total of just 51 batted ball events and 388 pitches seen, which isn’t exactly robust.
With that caveat in mind, we can tentatively read into a few metrics, the first of which is sd(LA), or the standard deviation of launch angle. In other words, launch angle “tightness.” As Alex Chamberlain has shown, there’s evidence to suggest that sd(LA) has a marginal relationship with BABIP, and an even slighter relationship with exit velocity. Before his time in Triple-A, Torrens posted a 29.9° sd(LA) over 66 batted ball events. Upon his return, he posted a 34.2° sd(LA). Now, smaller is better. If that were his sd(LA) on the year, he would have the fourth-worst in MLB. That doesn’t speak to a hitter who can consistently hit the ball well.
What’s interesting is that Torrens has hit the ball well. His 11.0% barrel percentage per plate appearance over the past month is that of hitters like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bryce Harper, and Yordan Alvarez. I don’t need to tell you that that’s great company to be in. The issue is that it doesn’t take much for one’s barrel percentage to be skewed. One way to elucidate this is to cross-reference barrel percentage with hard-hit percentage: if the latter is low, then perhaps their barrel percentage should probably be lower too. Here, we can see an increase in hard-hit percentage (33.8% to 45.8%) between time frames, but a marginal increase by dynamic hard-hit percentage (10.8% to 14.6%). That should help us to assuage our concerns, if ever so slightly.
Now that I’ve overwhelmed you with what may come across as cynicism, I can finally address my lede: Torrens made an adjustment at the plate. Consider his barrels before he was sent down:
And his barrels after being called back up:
More than ever, Torrens has not only been able to handle harder pitches up in the zone, but punish them too. Of Torrens’ 11 home runs on the year, nine have come since June 15th, and seven of them have been of the fastball variety. He’s always been a good fastball hitter, but not like this. Especially not at the top of the zone. That seems like a legitimate improvement.
Despite his mediocre sd(LA), his ground ball and pop-up rates have been around league-average in the past month. That’s a good thing! The more he can avoid such unfavorable launch angles, the better chance he’s going to be able to continue to be a plus hitter. He’s already flashed some raw power — his maximum exit velocity is up to 109 mph and 14.3% of his batted balls since June have been blasts — and he can pair that with an all-fields approach and good plate discipline. He can still stand to make more consistent contact, and I think that will be a problem that persists over time, but it won’t tank his value as a hitter.
Now, this is still focused on Torrens’ outcomes. We want to hone in on his process, because that’s instructive of the sustainability of his outcomes. I think a few subtle changes have allowed him to do damage to pitches that he previously wasn’t capable of doing consistently.
Here’s a fastball up in the zone, from Julio Urías:
And a fastball spotted similarly, this time from Shane McClanahan:
In fairness, Urías’ is spotted more glove-side relative to McClanahan’s, which is more at the top of the zone. They’re not identical pitches. But! Urías also missed his spot, and I’d argue that they’re close enough. In any case, what’s useful about these videos are the slight differences in Torrens’ swings.
Depending on the day — because Torrens has played around with his swing and stance — Torrens’ default has been an upright, slightly open stance. Since he’s returned, he’s closed off his stance more, bringing his feet more even, and he’s got some more bend in his knees. There’s a lot to like in his newer setup. But first, here’s another video of his old swing:
Torrens’ swing rhythm is lousy — his upper and lower half aren’t in sync. A lot of that is due to his inefficient leg kick. Torrens lifts his leg up, extends the lower half of his leg down, and then finally brings it back towards the third base foul line before he plants his foot and swings. To me, it helps him neither as a timing mechanism nor as a means of getting more oomph out of his swing.
Here’s a more recent swing that goes for a dinger:
Torrens has really quieted everything down. There’s much less movement in his hands, and his leg kick has gotten much smaller. These have both improved his timing, and syncing up his upper and lower half has seemed to help him add some elasticity, where his hands are now dropping while his leg raises.
The other thing is that Torrens’ barrel tip has gotten more vertical. That should change the entry of his barrel into the zone, which might be one reason that he’s doing damage to pitches at the top of the zone that he was fouling off or missing before. None of these elements were consistently present in his swing before, and he’s been better off by folding these changes in.
This all might seem subtle. That’s because they are subtle! But the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We’ve seen plenty of players make small tweaks that have reverberating effects — I always think of Jean Segura lowering his hands — and perhaps this is one of those changes. There’s less wasted movement on the whole, he’s more in sync, with better swing rhythm. It all indicates sustainability to me. The only question is at what level he can maintain his performance.
As always, it remains difficult to ascertain how much of this is real, and how much isn’t. The book is still out on Jake Fraley, and Dylan Moore is looking more like a solid utility player than the core franchise player that I hinted that he could become. With Torrens, it’s unlikely that he became Buster Posey after a quick readjustment in Triple-A, but also, it was always possible that retooling his swing was going to bring out the most of his capabilities. Every hitter is different. Some guys like Mitch Haniger need a lot of movement. It might just be that Torrens needed less.
And so, if I had to surmise what Torrens is to become, I would reluctantly say that I’ll think he’ll be an above-average hitter. One that will certainly make it work at catcher, and one that is less likely to be valuable at first. There remain red flags — whether that be a lack of a track record or stock batted ball profile — and I think it would behoove him to try and catch more pitches out in front of the plate. But for now, this works. It could be that Torrens reverts back into an underwhelming backup catcher. But maybe the Mariners just developed a hitter.