Q: Who was the 3rd most valuable position player on the Giants last season by wins above replacement?
A: Andres Torres
Torres was a weird bird for the 2009 Giants. He was a 31-year-old minor league journeyman with a scant 285 career plate appearances in the majors before the season started. Originally drafted by the Tigers in the 4th round of the 1998 First Year Player Draft, Torres had logged over 469 games in the minors since 2004. He caught the Giants’ eye after his 2008 season with the Cubs — being Torres, this was the Iowa version of the Cubbies — in which he hit: .306/.391/.501
Before the season started, the Giants ended up signing Torres to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. Putting myself in Torres speedy shoes, I imagine he was prepared to start his year in Fresno. However, things turned out differently. Torres impressed the Giants while in camp and opened the season with the team in San Francisco. It was the first time since 2005 that Torres had been on a major league roster. I was slightly pessimistic about Torres’ odds, but across the board he had a fine season, which when tabulated by WAR, added up to +2 wins.
The biggest surprise with Torres was his hitting. Torres was never a masher in the minor leagues, but he showed up to the Giants and made hard contact all year long. In 170 PA’s, Torres hit 6 home runs, 8 triples, and 6 doubles. That’s an ISO of .262. But it wasn’t just his hitting that made Torres stand out, his fielding was exceptional. By UZR, in an admittedly too-tiny-sample to take seriously, he was +7.8 runs above the average CF in just 351 innings fielded. Pro-rated to 150 games in CF, that’s a +30 run season. That’s probably not going to happen, but with Torres’ footspeed, he should be able to play CF around +5 runs over a full season, making him a very good defender.
This Spring Training, Torres must feel like he’s repeating history. He’s back in camp and again fighting for a job. The Giants have 2 open OF positions to split among Fred Lewis, John Bowker, Eugenio Velez and Andres Torres. Because of Torres’ ability to handle CF adeptly, he should have somewhat of an inside track to make the team. Out of the Lewis, Velez, and Bowker group, none of them can really play CF — even though the Giants have stuck Velez there from time-to-time. I don’t think anyone should expect Torres to repeat his .379 wOBA from last year. His BABIP (.347) and success on flyballs should make us skeptical of his chances in 2010. The BABIP of .347 is high, but it’s not totally outrageous, the one thing that Torres shouldn’t be able to repeat was his success when hitting the ball in the air. When talking about batted balls, flyballs are turned into outs more often than groundballs, but they do more damage when they land for hits (or go over the fence). It’s hard to hit a groundball out of the park. Thanks to the handy Baseball-Reference, we can see just how fortunate Torres was in ’09 when he hit the baseball in the air. The average NL batter hit .224/.218/.595 on flyballs. Torres hit .378/.378/1.111 on flyballs. Or, by using sOPS+ — the split based version of OPS+, compares the current batter by split to the league average by split — of 259. That means that Torres hit 159% better than your league average hitter when it came to flyballs.
And, very likely unsustainable. Looking ahead, It’s hard to try and project Torres. His footspeed and range make me think his defense is for real, but trying to get a handle on his hitting is tough. His development as a player is all over the place. After struggling in the minors he put together a few nice seasons later in his career — namely his 2007 split between AA/AAA with the Tigers and his 2008 with the Iowa Cubs. Of course, age-to-level caveats apply, but it’s not impossible that Torres learned something in the minors that helped him on offense. CHONE has Torres projected as a .319 wOBA hitter for 2010 which is quite the drop off. You might think that if Torres is a .319 wOBA batter, then he’s not very valuable. Not true. Torres would be a below average hitter, but his defense is a plus in CF and his baserunning should chip in a few runs as well.
Unless Rowand is hurt by slamming into a wall, the Giants won’t need Torres to be a starter. His defense and baserunning make him a nice candidate as a 4th OF. And he’s the only player on the roster that can honestly handle CF in an above average fashion. Those reasons should make him the go-to guy to start the season with the team in the majors. Torres has taken a long path to the majors, but if he can stay healthy and defend in CF, he should be able to find some work at the major league level as long as his legs are healthy.