[Ed. note: Please welcome new writer Jacob Parr to staff! Jacob is a student at UT-Austin who has inexplicably decided the Mariners are his favorite team, and he was too far gone by the time we found him to talk him out of it. Talk to Jacob about fencing, UT baseball, F1 racing, and/or 18th-century pirates on Twitter @jakebparr.]
Abraham Toro is my favorite Mariner.
I should explain.
The first Mariners game I went to was Toro’s first game as a Seattle Mariner. You’ll no doubt remember the surprise trade last year, when he was traded from the Astros along with Joe Smith in exchange for Kendall Graveman and Rafael Montero on July 27th. In the middle of a series. Against the Astros.
Toro didn’t bat until the 9th inning that game, presumably because it took that long to sew his name on his new jersey. You might remember what happened in his first Mariners AB.
Sure, it was a wall-scraper. Sure, Tucker got a glove on it. Sure, the Mariners lost the game by two runs in the end. But none of that matters. In the seven seconds it takes this ball to go from home plate to bouncing off Tucker’s glove, Abraham Toro went from a trade acquisition no one really wanted to an honest-to-God Seattle Mariner. Look at how, as he rounds the bases, Toro doesn’t even glance at his former teammates. Instead, he celebrates with Kelenic and Crawford. Toro hadn’t simply left Houston. He arrived in Seattle.
I was already a Mariners fan before this moment, though admittedly not for all that long. Like many people outside of Washington, I had never paid any attention to Mariners until the Dorktown documentary about them came out in early 2020. Since then, I’ve thrown myself into this fandom, and no doubt annoyed many of my friends by talking about a baseball team in a far-flung corner of the country. I just felt an almost magnetic attraction to this team.
That’s why I convinced my family to take our summer vacation in a city they never even thought about, 2,300 miles away from home. I’m a Texan, so I was familiar with Toro from watching Astros games on TV at home. Two days before he was a Mariner, I watched Toro hit a home run in Minute Maid Park against the Rangers. At the game in Seattle, I was making some ahem friendly banter with the two guys sitting behind me. But when Toro hit that shot, I turned around, and they high-fived me like we had been friends for years. Toro had become a Mariner, and I became a Mariners lifer. That was the magic of the moment.
If you knew about Toro before the trade, it was probably from Justin Verlander’s no-hitter in Toronto back in 2019. Toro hit a 2-run, 2-out home run in the top of the ninth to give the Astros the lead, and recorded the assist of the final out in the bottom of the ninth. During the celebration after the game, Verlander was sure to thank his rookie teammate.
“Where the f--- is Toro!”— ESPN (@espn) September 1, 2019
Justin Verlander made sure he celebrated his no-hitter with rookie third baseman Abraham Toro who hit the go-ahead homer in the 9th and had an assist on the final out. (h/t @JeffPassan) pic.twitter.com/RnI0qDMp9Q
Toro being traded to Seattle was surprising at the time, but makes sense in retrospect. Certainly a trade between division rivals at the deadline, during a series against each other is practically unprecedented, especially since Seattle gave up one of its best closers in the deal. But now in 2022, it looks like Seattle got the better end of that deal. For one, Graveman pitches for the White Sox now, and the Astros regular 3B in Alex Bregman is back from the IL. With Bregman out last year, the Astros wanted to choose between Aledmys Diaz and Abraham Toro to replace him. Diaz was favored by the front office, and Toro was traded away. But now with Carlos Correa departing for the Minnesota Twins, Houston has to fill a massive hole in the infield. They probably would have preferred holding on to the switch-hitting Toro, at least for platoon matchups.
In exchange, Seattle got an infielder in a season with some big holes at second and third base. Despite being a third baseman for most of his career, only starting one game at second with Houston, last year Servais placed Toro at second for most of the season. His inexperience as a middle infielder showed, as he recorded a -6 OAA at second, with a 1 OAA in the hot corner. Those numbers aren’t great, but it’s important to remember that Toro has been a third baseman for most of his professional career, only starting 15 games at second in the minors. With some time, it’s likely he’ll be able to grow into the role. My bet is that Toro will be bounced around the infield this season, maybe even making the occasional start as a DH.
What about offense? Well, as Lookout Landing’s own Michael Ajeto pointed out last December, Toro has some real potential in the box. Should he start to pull his batted balls more, he could become a serious power threat. A glance at his spray chart for 2021 hits supports this. His singles are all over the place, but his extra-base hits are almost all pulled, which is a bit of an anomaly for a hitter who pulled his balls only 29.7% of the time last year. All 11 of his home runs last year came when he was batting as a lefty, and all but 2 of them were pulled to right.
Toro was the first Mariner to get a base hit in this year’s spring training, and it was an outfield single that he pulled to right. Toro will no doubt see some serious improvement this year with the added attention and playing time that comes with being a regular fixture of a major league team. Something about his swing got better after the trade. His barrel% went up 3%, his HardHit% went up 5%, and his BABIP went up 70 points from .205 to .275. There is a pretty big disparity between his FanGraphs expected batting numbers and his real batting numbers. His xwOBA was 20 points higher than his actual wOBA, and his xSLG was 40 points higher than his actual slugging percentage. This suggests, like Mikey says, he gets unlucky with where his balls end up, losing speed by pushing them to the opposite field.
Another aspect of Toro’s offense is his low strikeout rate. He gets his bat on the ball. His contact% rates are a few ticks higher than MLB average, both in and out of the zone. He’s in the 89th percentile in both whiff% and K%. Toro ABs are fun to watch because they’re always a battle. He’ll foul off pitch after pitch. In 2021 he averaged 4.09 pitches/PA, good for 30th in MLB and 3rd on the Mariners. (Incidentally, recent acquisition Eugenio Suárez averaged 4.17, good enough for 17th in MLB). And with an OBP of .328 in the back half of last season, slightly higher than the MLB average of .317, Toro wins those battles a fair number of times. Toro clearly sees the ball really well, and has no trouble making contact. He just needs practice putting it where he wants it to go.
Toro will be a key part of the Mariners lineup in 2022. On a team with the fifth highest strikeout rate in baseball last year, his high contact rate alone makes him indispensable. While perhaps not a star second baseman, he can very easily make a home for himself at third. He may have struggled some in Houston, but he’s starting to thrive in Seattle. He seems to be made of Mariner Magic, hitting home runs exactly when the plot requires him to. It was Toro who got Seattle’s storybook September started last year playing at home against his former team. In the bottom of the eighth with one out and the bases loaded, Toro faced off against the very pitcher he was traded for, Kendall Graveman. If what happened next was in a movie, I would have called it out for being unbelievable.
But that’s the thing about Toro and the 2021 Mariners as a whole. They made you believe. Hopefully Toro can help bring that same magic to the 2022 team as well.