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How will Astros attempt to cool off Gleyber?

@MandyBell02
October 13, 2019

HOUSTON -- The last hitter any pitcher wants to face right now is Gleyber Torres. The 22-year-old rolled through the American League Division Series with a 1.378 OPS against the Twins. He followed that performance with five RBIs and a three-hit night in the Yankees' 7-0 victory over the Astros

HOUSTON -- The last hitter any pitcher wants to face right now is Gleyber Torres.

The 22-year-old rolled through the American League Division Series with a 1.378 OPS against the Twins. He followed that performance with five RBIs and a three-hit night in the Yankees' 7-0 victory over the Astros in Game 1 of the AL Championship Series at Minute Maid Park on Saturday night.

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 12 NYY 7, HOU 0 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 13 HOU 3, NYY 2 (11) Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 15 HOU 4, NYY 1 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 17 HOU 8, NYY 3 Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 18 NYY 4, HOU 1 Watch
Gm 6 Oct. 19 HOU 6, NYY 4 Watch

"Nothing really surprises me," Yanks outfielder Brett Gardner said. "His ability is off the charts. Obviously, he's such a young player, and I feel like he is going to continue to get better, which is kind of scary for opposing pitchers and exciting if you are a Yankees fan."

Following a first-inning strikeout against Zack Greinke, Torres knocked in the first run of the evening on a double to left-center field in the fourth off a 85.5-mph slider in the lower-third of the strike zone. In his third at-bat, he launched a 90.9-mph four-seamer that was slightly elevated over the middle of the plate into the left-field seats in the sixth. Torres' final hit was a two-run bloop single in the seventh off a curveball from Ryan Pressly that was low and away outside of the zone. He added his fifth RBI on a groundout to shortstop with one out in the ninth.

"Every time he hits the ball, he seems to find a hole," Pressly said. "He did not get good contact on that ball. That's what I wanted to do. That's where I wanted to execute my pitch and, like I said, you just got to tip your hat to him."

Dress for the ALCS: Yankees | Astros

The Astros tried to pitch Torres both high and low, and they lost the battle with a well-executed low-and-away curve. So how can Houston beat him?

The heat map (below) is reflective of just Torres' regular-season numbers, excluding his 8-for-17 postseason performance thus far. In 144 games, he slashed .278/.337/.535. The image clearly shows there's not a lot of holes in Torres' swing, and data shows that he loves the heater.

During the regular season, Torres hit .301 with a .618 slugging percentage on fastballs. Compared to his strikeout percentage against breaking balls (23.6 percent) and offspeed pitches (21.6 percent), his lowest was against the fastball, getting fanned 19.5 percent of the time.

"The home run, the double was key," Astros manager AJ Hinch said of Torres' night. "That was a fastball that wasn't supposed to be where it ended up, and he didn't miss it, which is why he's one of the better hitters."

But a weakness may be revealed in the heat map of Torres' batting average on balls in play, showing a cold spot up-and-in in the zone.

With Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole set to take the mound in the next two games, Houston has two of the best chances to cool Torres down. Here's how the Astros could do it:

Verlander: Go for the slider
Flipping back through the history books shows us that Torres is just 1-for-12 in his career against Verlander, with five strikeouts.

"He's a future Hall of Famer for a reason," Pressly said of Verlander. "He knows how to get us back on track, so we rely heavily on him. We're really looking forward to having him on the mound."

Behind his fastball, Verlander's next most-thrown pitch this season was his slider, and opponents hit a mere .119 against it. While Torres has been on top of the heater, he hasn't fared as well against the slider, hitting .240 with a .432 slugging percentage. Overall against breaking balls, he's whiffed 32.3 percent of the time -- the highest among all pitch types he's seen.

Cole: Bust him up and in
Like the heat map of his batting average on balls in play demonstrates, Torres had the least success against pitches higher on the inner-third of the strike zone, which appears to be one of Cole's sweet spots within the zone.

And for Cole, who led the Majors with 326 strikeouts during the regular season, the area within the strike zone that's produced the most swings and misses has been the upper-left corner.

But no matter what the analytics show, Torres has proven that he's going to be one of the biggest threats to the Astros in their quest to return to the World Series, having extended his postseason hitting streak to nine games.

"He likes playing these situations and he's confident in his ability to produce," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "And that leads to a dangerous player."

Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.