The NL’s Second Best Outfielder

I suppose it was predictable. If anyone had asked before the season, “who will be two most valuable outfielders in the National League the week of the trade deadline?” I think most analysts would have agreed on two names: Matt Holliday and Andres Torres. Why even look at the leaderboard?

But seriously: Andres Torres?

Drafted in 1998 by the Detroit, Torres never really lit up the Detroit system, and was granted free agency in 2004 after only a couple hundred major league plate appearances. He bounced around several organizations’ systems, but his only pre-2009 major league action consisted of 21 PA for the Rangers in 2005. While he hit pretty well for the Cubs AAA affiliate in 2008, it was still the minor leagues, and he was 30 years old at the time — hardly the sign of someone who might be useful in the majors.

The Giants signed Torres to a minor league contract before the 2009 season, and Torres surprised by not only playing good outfield defense (primarily in center and right), but hitting the ball quite well, sporting a .379 wOBA (.270/.343/.533) in 170 PA. It wasn’t primarily BABIP-fueled as if often the case, as one can see from his impressive isolated power (.263) and above-average walk rate (9.4%). Still, over 170 PA just about anything can happen — observed wOBA is regressed halfway to league average at about 220 PA, which is a more sophisticated way of saying that Torres 170 PA of impressive offense told us less about his true talent, statistically, than just guessing he was a league average hitter. So it was understandable that Torres didn’t figure heavily in the Giants off-season retooling.

More than halfway through 2010, the 32 year-old Torres is at it again, getting 356 PA so far due to Mark DeRosa‘s injury situation and the continuing disaster in center that is Aaron Rowand. Torres is smoking at the plate with a .378 wOBA (.274/.365/.492). Once again, there’s little or no obvious BABIP luck here, Torres continues to hit for power (.218 ISO) and has not only increased his walk rate (to 11.1%) but has decreased his strikeout rate. His plate approach was decent in 2009, but discipline has improved in 2010 with less swings at balls outside the zone and better overall contact. As for his excellent defensive ratings, it’s far too small a sample to garner much about his true talent based on UZR alone, but the 2009 Fan Scouting Report seems in to indicate he’s for real in that regard.

What do we make of all this? Preseason projections certainly didn’t see this coming: CHONE projected a .318 wOBA, and ZiPS saw a .315. ZiPS RoS (which takes into account the current season’s performance) sees a .339 wOBA from Torres the rest of the season, which is above average, but a far cry from his current performance. This is not mean to “show up” these projections systems, whose creators hardly claim infallibility; moreover, there was precious little data from recent major- or minor-league performance that would suggest that Torres’ offensive true talent was even close to .378 wOBA.

To be honest, there still isn’t. While Torres may have more than twice as many PA in 2010 as he did in 2009, that does not mean that we have “twice the certainty” regarding his observed performance’s relation to his true talent level. Statistics don’t work that way. The updated projections from ZiPS and CHONE may not be your cup of tea, but I’ll take them over my own opinion. You may trust your own scouting eye better than I do mine (and honestly, who could blame you). While this isn’t a case of BABIP gone wild, random variation can go beyond just that, and there have been other massive deviations from true talent much larger and longer-sustained than the gap between Torres’ current performance and his projections.

Whatever the case may end up being, this post is not meant to be deflationary towards what Torres and the Giants have achieved so far this season. For as much (justified) criticism as the Giants front office receives, it must be admitted that in cases like Aubrey Huff, the Giants were right and many of “us” were wrong. But before being impressed with Aubrey Huff (who has been excellent), spare a moment for the NL’s second-most valuable outfielder so far in 2010: Andres Torres.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

32 Responses to “The NL’s Second Best Outfielder”

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  1. Matt Defalco says:

    I laughed at little when I saw that Huff was 4th on the WAR leaderboard in the NL.

    Who in the WORLD could have predicted that.

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    • marcello says:

      Not to mention just an unbelievably likable guy:

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    • Jason B says:

      That’s what I thought too – when projecting the top 5 NL outfielders, I’m sure we all had luminaries such as Torres, Huff, and Pagan in the mix. Forget Braun, Kemp, Upton, Ethier, McCutchen, Bruce, CarGo…

      I mean…REALLY?!?! What a crazy, crazy, messed-up year. I don’t recall a season where preseason projections would have missed the mark as widely as 2010. (although someone with a research-y bent can feel free to correct me…)

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  2. tdotsports1 says:

    Good stuff, just wrote about Aubrey Huff today at the ol’ blog. What a surprise season for Torres AND Huff.

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  3. intricatenick says:

    Holliday was a bit higher until fairly recently. He was close to +10 runs in the field. He must have really butchered some balls in the field lately. That, or UZR went through some “edits” recently.

    It would be nice if Fangraphs would let you plot a player’s in-season WAR by date and we could see for ourselves how these numbers change day-in and day-out. It could potentially also lead to metric improvement by way of feedback.

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    • intricatenick says:

      I realize these are available for wOBA and the hitting stats – just no way to see how the defensive runs change from day to day.

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  4. robertobeers says:

    Torres has the longest HR recorded since the All-Star break at 450ft.
    The more you know…

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  5. darryl0 says:

    Please forward this to Bruce Bochy. He still has Rowand starting in CF over Torres several times a week. Thankfully, this month he has been starting Torres in LF, instead of benching him, when Rowand starts in CF. As was the case with Bengie Molina and Buster Posey, it looks like the only way to keep Rowand consistently out of the Giants lineup will be for Sabean to trade him.

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    • Thomas Wolff says:

      You must not know Giants baseball huh? Because the two consistent players in the outfield have been Torres and Huff. Rowand has been playing pretty much the same amount as Burrell and Schierholtz. Rowand may start in CF and put Torres in RF but he’s been playing considerably less than he has any other time in his career. Playing Torres in RF is fine with me because he has much more range and can get to Triple’s Alley, as seen in the game last night. Rowand won’t be traded because no one will take him so we have to be content with what we have.

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  6. Fergie348 says:

    I like the idea of trading Rowand for a bag of baseballs but it just won’t happen because of how much money he has left on his contract. No one will take him for those dollars, and the Giants won’t eat the money because, well, they’re the Giants and are soft on the ‘high makeup’ guys which Rowand reportedly is one of.

    At least Torres is the regular CF now, with Posey the regular catcher. Those two moves alone might be worth 5 wins the rest of the way.. Renteria has looked better lately and they’ll need him and Uribe to be productive in the middle infield positions in order to go anywhere.

    Torres probably has better plate discipline numbers this year because he’s hitting leadoff whenever he plays now. He’s doing what a leadoff hitter should do – taking pitches and not trying to do too much with the ball in low leverage situations. By all accounts he’s been great in the clubhouse as well – a high energy guy all around. If this team is different from the 2009 version, you can point to three reasons: Aubrey Huff, Buster Posey and Andres Torres. They’ve been the anchor to the offense in the second half so far.

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  7. mettle says:

    Take a look at his historical fielding value ( then tell me his position as #2 in the WAR list is earned as opposed to being something flukey about UZR. Are you really willing to say that Torres is *twice* as valuable as Holliday, Upton and Bourn with 14.1 fielding runs? That we’re witnessing one of the 4 or 5 *best* fielding performances of the past 10 years, on par with peak Andrew Jones? Or maybe, just maybe, fielding is the weak link in WAR and Torres’ value may be inflated because of that.

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    • marcello says:

      He is pretty awesome in center, but yeah, he’s probably not that good.

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    • Viliphied says:

      Have you ever seen him field? He runs like a cantaloupe (MCC in-joke), and makes spectacular plays on a nightly basis. Also, remember half of his fielding numbers are from RF/LF, where a good fielding CF can get close to a 10 run boost.

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      • Viliphied says:

        to expand, his CF UZR/150 is “only” 11.6, which would put him at 4th in MLB, behind Gwynn, Byrd and Borbon, and just ahead of Bourn and Pagan. Not too unbelievable, IMO.

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  8. Nikolai Volkoff says:

    Andres Torres is one of those late bloomers. I saw him at McCoy Stadium very early in his professional minor league career as a centerfielder with the Toledo Mudhens. He was as skinny as a rail back then. There was no denying he could field the position, but his bat was weak. Good for him he persevered and has had a good season.

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  9. nolan says:

    I remember reading, maybe it was here, that Torres was a track athlete before switching to baseball. Baseball is an incredibly difficult sport to learn, particularly hitting, so it doesn’t surprise me that it took him this long to learn to hit. He’s obviously a very gifted athlete.

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  10. PH says:

    I also recall reading that he was a track athlete and picked up baseball very late (after high school?) after a scout said he should give it a shot. I also read that he was taught to be a slap hitter (a la Ichiro) to maximize the value of his speed. It has taken him a very long time to break out of that mold after leaving the Tigers. He has been driving the ball much better since he has been with the Giants. So, as a Giants fan, hopefully that means he can sustain things (or even improve?) rather than this just being a fluke. Having watched 90% of Giants games this year, he has been nothing short of spectacular in the outfield.

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  11. I’m surprised that there was no link by the author to a prior article on Torres surprise season by another Fangraph author where Torres’ transformation was discussed in the comment area (that author was noting his WAR in relation to starting in All-Star game). Perhaps he then he could have added the information in the comment area about Torres change.

    The short story is that Torres redid his batting mechanics the season before the Giants picked him up. He realized that his time as a pro was short so he decided to research on the Internet how to bat like Pujols. He found someone who says he can help you with your batting, and starting working with him on-line. Basically, he was taught Ted Williams methodology from Science of Hitting, learning that he was taught how to slap at the ball to take advantage of his speed from being a track athlete before. Now he swings with power with an uppercut swing, swinging 35 oz lumber. The teacher had a live training session later that season, if I remember the sequence right, and Torres finished reworking his batting approach that off-season before he joined the Giants. And the results of the past two seasons is from that work.

    So maybe he will regress to the mean as the author suggests, but given this anecdotal information that no forecasting system could ever hope to capture, I would bet that this is the new Torres performance level, as much as I like projection systems too.

    And as a fan who watched Larry Hearndon and Dan Gladden regress hard to the mean, I understand that most players fall back down to Earth after a great first season. But I believe in the Science of Hitting as a bible to for hitting, and if Torres found that religion, however he did it, then I believe that Torres is the real deal now, the way he is hitting, and since he has done it for about a season now, with little variation.

    The main negative I would note is his very high strikeout rate, which suggests that his batting average should be much lower, but I have been guessing that his speed allows him to beat out more hits and thus he’ll have a higher BABIP than the average player.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      You were posting this at the same time I was. Great minds …

      Anyway, Chris’s research of the high-speed film on Pujols swing is something my 9yo and I have used a bunch … especially in regards to rotation, no front step, and flattening out the bottom of the C (swing path).

      It’s great stuff.

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  12. CircleChange11 says:

    If you guys recall from the talk with Chris O’Leary, Torres was being instructed to hit the ball on the ground and try to use his speed.

    Torres contacted O’Leary and Chris gave Torres advice and they worked on his swing to become a better hitter (drive the ball).

    In this case, the hitter was only as good as the instruction he was receiving.

    Kudos to Torres for realizing he did not have a future as the next Vince Coleman and for working his butt off to improve.

    As compared to Holliday, who has been receiving elite level instruction since birth. Isn’t his dad a coach at LSU?

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  13. LS says:

    The Giants’ TV postgame show yesterday said that Torres has ADHD and it’s only been brought under control in the last year or so…

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  14. BillWallace says:

    Torres’ incredibly high UZR may represent a small bit of luck, but there’s no denying that he’s a spectacular fielder. You can tell just by watching him. He gets great jumps, takes great routes, is very fast, and routinely makes tough grabs.

    I think his hitting is going to regress. Hopefully still to a league average or better profile. He’s probably a .250 hitter with all the strikeouts and the power swing. I think he’s got a few holes that haven’t yet been fully exploited. He seems to have trouble laying off the high fastball for one thing. If he can keep walking at 11% that would be nice. And the .200+ ISO is no fluke.

    Power, speed, great fielding, and a few walks. Not too shabby.

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  15. DrBGiantsfan says:

    Agree with OGC and another comment above. Any discussion of Torres has to include his reworked swing mechanics and his recent comments about the ADHD. BTW, I read somewhere recently that something like 27% of all ballplayers are on ADHD meds. Really?

    Anyway, Torres is at an age where we can expect his productive career to be relatively short, but he has been a joy to watch this year. I can’t remember when I’ve seen anyone not named Barry Bonds consistently hit the ball harder than Torres has this year. The HR’s are great, but he’s scalded a lot more that banged off the wall or split the gaps because they never got the height necessary to clear the fence. The were just hit too hard!

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    • batpig says:

      “BTW, I read somewhere recently that something like 27% of all ballplayers are on ADHD meds. Really?”

      Read: cheap, legal way to keep taking stimulants. ADHD is reasonably easy diagnosis to get, especially from a “favorable” doctor.

      Not that I am denying that Torres (and others) is legitimately suffering from this condition — which I know from personal experience can have a profound effect on being able to work to one’s potential — but I am confident that most of that 27% have bogus diagnoses to allow them to access legal, prescribed stimulants to stay focused during games.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I made that same comment on a discussion of amphetamines at Tnago’s site.

        IMO, ADD medication will be the next “stimulant abuse”. So easy to get, so effective.

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  16. Rick says:

    Huff, Byrd, Pagan. It’s clear that even in the outfield, defense matters.

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  17. Nick Steiner says:

    Chris O’Leary FTW!

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      It’s a pretty cool story, not only because of Torres, but also because O’Leary gets a lot of “oh yeah, what have you ever done” type of comments from the other online gurus (a very territorial and zealous bunch).

      Chris O’Leary’s story, in itself, is pretty cool.

      I like him because …

      [1] He does a lot of the legwork that guys like me share with their players.

      [2] He researched what guys actually do instead of what they think they do, and that research dispelled some classicly-taught myths (like “squish the bug”, for example).

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  18. zylwer says:

    Looks like a Zobrist-like transformation from a slap-hitting utility guy to a top of the order hitter with legitimate power. I’m planning on making him a keeper in my league but I hope his game doesn’t fall off a cliff like Ben’s did this year.

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