Baseball’s secret star

What would you say about a fine-fielding, switch-hitting center fielder who put up the following stat line:

  AB     R     H    2B    3B    HR   RBI    BB    SO    SB    CS     BA    OBP    SLG  OPS+
 566   103   160    46    13    19    78    68   145    29     8   .283   .363   .511   127

If you’d be inclined to consider such a player a major star, I’d be inclined to agree.

Such a player exists, but his performance has come as such a late-blooming surprise that the mainstream media hasn’t discovered him, and few fans outside of his home ballpark have even heard of him.

That stat line is what Andres Torres has produced in his almost-two seasons since joining the San Francisco Giants. It comprises 643 plate appearances through yesterday, or pretty close to what a regular player would garner in one full season.

Torres is no kid; he’s 32 years old. And until 2009, he’d managed to scrape together just 89 major league games in parts of four years with the Tigers and Rangers, and truly struggled with the bat, to the tune of 210/258/276, for an OPS+ of 46. He’d never hit with much pop in the minors, either; it was only his blazing speed and defensive chops that were keeping his meager career alive.

But suddenly in 2007 Torres turned his entire game around, whacking 20 triples in a combined double-A-and-triple-A season. Last year he made the Giants’ roster as a utility outfielder, and this year he’s played his way into first-string center fielder status.

Torres is just 5’10”, but his power is a function of his robustly muscled condition (and, yes, his is the sort of story that tends to create suspicion about steroids). Apparently the most intriguing backstory regarding Torres is that it wasn’t until a few years ago that he was diagnosed with an attention-deficit disorder, and it was upon getting that affliction under control through medication that he’s been able to channel his energy, and his career has taken off.

I don’t recall seeing Torres play until he came to the Giants, so I can’t offer first-hand observation on a changed plate approach. But apparently that’s also part of the story; in the past he was a slap hitter, but with his newfound strength Torres now takes a very full rip. He also exercises first-rate strike zone judgment, nicely working the count. All in all he is one extremely tough out.

It’s obviously unclear how long Torres can keep this up, as he’s blossomed at an age that many players are beginning to decline. But for the time being, at any rate, the Giants are enjoying the performance of a remarkably potent secret weapon.

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  1. Mitch said...

    Hey, I guessed it right and didn’t peek! I picked him up in both my fantasy leagues many weeks ago (after being thoroughly disappointed by Denard Span) and haven’t looked back. I didn’t even realize he was already 32.

  2. Steve Treder said...

    They are remarkably similar.  But Pagan is three and a half years younger; that’s extremely significant in terms of the “surprise” nature of their breakouts.  Moreover Pagan’s current level of performance, while obviously much better than it was earlier in his career, isn’t as stunningly night-and-day as Torres’ has been.  Pagan was contributing as a utility player in the majors before he broke out as a star; Torres was bouncing from organization to organization in the minors.

  3. Milby said...

    Steve, I couldn’t agree more.  From a fantasy perspective I have to give the edge to Pagan, primarily because of his age.  Also, more of his value comes from his speed, which seems less at risk of a drop off than Torres’ power. 

    Both of these guys have succeeded in part because of a relatively high BABIP. Given their skillsets, a higher than average BABIP does seem reasonable. How do you see this fact contributing to their success going forward?

  4. Steve Treder said...

    Obviously injury-related decline is the big risk for any player in his 30s, and being that much older makes Torres that much more of a risk.  But that said, “athletic” players with broad-based skillsets tend to age the best.  I’d guess that both guys are for real, and should be able to sustain this level of play, or something close to it, for at least a few years.

  5. Milby said...

    If they are able to sustain this level of play for the next few years, that would make them both Top 20 OF options, as Pagan has been the 6th best OF fantasy performer and Torres the 14th best to date.  Is that a fair assumption, that they are both top 20 options?

  6. InnocentBystander said...

    …and today the USA Today sports section has a huge front page story about Torres (and Buster Posey). Nice work scooping them by a day! (For some reason I feel like I need to say this to clear my name…I don’t actually read USA Today. I’m on vacation and it was left outside my hotel room door this morning. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.)

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