The Yankees have yet to make a major signing or trade during the current offseason. DJ LeMahieu is still hanging out there as the major focal point of the entire offseason and it’s probably the reason the Yankees haven’t engaged with other free agents or teams regarding other additions.
One minor position the Yankees need to fill is the fourth outfielder spot. Last year saw the rise of Clint Frazier that pushed Brett Gardner to the bench after over a decade of service. Gardner is a free agent and it’s definitely possible he continues his career in another uniform. There are some internal options to replace Gardner such as Mike Tauchman, Miguel Andujar, or maybe even Estevan Florial. A more attractive option in the form of Ranger’s outfielder Joey Gallo may be available.
Should the Yankees make the move and acquire the two full years of control over a slugger that twice has hit at least 40 home runs?
Background on Gallo
Gallo has been in the league for about six years, and it seems like the Rangers have signaled the rebuilding process has begun after trading Lance Lynn to the White Sox a couple of weeks ago. Gallo has two full years of control left before he reaches free agency and is still only 27 years old. Prior to reaching the big leagues, Gallo put up some pretty ridiculous stat lines in the minors. Here’s what he did in his first three professional seasons between Single A and Double A:
A Ball and AA Ball
Keeping everything in context, those numbers are phenomenal but they are at the lowest levels of the minor leagues. None of it matters if it doesn’t translate when a player makes the jump the Majors. Did it translate for Gallo? The short answer is that it kind of did.
Gallo made his debut as 21 year-olds in 2015 playing in 36 games that year but hitting just .204/.301/.417 six homeruns. The following season, Gallo spent most of the year in the minors but did make in appearance in 17 games for the Rangers. Unfortunately, he didn’t do much hitting just one home run and producing an OPS of just .360. 2017 was the year Gallo gave the Rangers some type of real production. He only hit .209 but that came with 14.1% walk rate and 41 home runs. In 2018, Gallo produced a similar line with just a little less power but the same basic stat line.
Despite coming off a second season where he hit a fraction over .200, he still managed to top 40 home runs. Batting average aside, he showed power and overall value producing at least 2.4 WAR in 2017 and 2018. In 2019, he seemed to pull it all together albeit in an injury-shortened season:
He still struck out 38% of the time but all the luck went his way pushing him to his first all-star appearance. Gallo would be placed on the injured list with a broken right hamate bone in his hand and would need season ending surgery. Gallo wouldn’t build on that amazing first half in 2019 this past season however. He finished 2020 hitting .181 but still providing decent power with 10 home runs in 57 games. So what could we reasonably expect Gallo to do should Brian Cashman find a way to swing a deal with Texas?
Something Gallo does well: Hit bombs
Gallo’s career isolated slugging percentage currently sits at .290. For reference, Gallo’s career ISO would have put him just outside (11th overall) the top ten in ISO during the last full season, 2019. His pace for hitting home runs is amazing as for his career, he averages 41 home runs over a 162 game season.
What’s the best way (only way?) to hit a home run? By not hitting the ball on the ground. Gallo’s career groundball rate is 28.6% compared to his flyball rate of 50.8%. For reference, the league’s groundball and flyball rates were 42.7% and 35.7% respectively. If you avoid groundballs and hit a ton of flyballs, that’s a recipe for success when your goal is to put the ball in the bleachers — especially when you combine flyballs with hard contact. His hard contact percentage since 2015 sits at 47.2% compared to the leagues rate of 33.3%. The man can mash, and he does that as a left-handed hitter that could hit even more home runs at Yankee Stadium facing the Red Sox (bad pitching without Chris Sale) and the Orioles (just bad pitching) a combined 36 times next season.
Something Gallo does poorly: Strikeout
With great power, (sometimes) comes great propensity to strikeout. Gallo surely falls into this category and it’s the main reason he has hit under .210 in five of the six seasons he’s appeared in the Majors. As I mentioned above, even his best stretch of production in 2019 came with a 38% strikeout rate. He managed to luck his way to a .253 average with a BABIP of .368. BABIP doesn’t even include home runs (since a home run is technically out of play) so Gallo was extremely lucky in 2019 and that ONLY brought his average barely above .250.
Without a change in approach or mechanics, this guy is not going to sniff .250 again. So he strikes out a lot — why is that? The biggest culprit is the most obvious one. He misses a lot more than the average player when he does swing. In 2020, the swinging strike rate for the league as a whole was 11.4%. Going back to 2015, the leagues swinging strike rate has been rising but has been around 10% or 11% each season. Gallo’s career swinging strike rate is 18.4% which means he’s substantially worse than the rest of the league.
Gallo’s other plate discipline stats don’t help either. His out of zone swing rate is right about league average but his in-zone swing rate is about 5 percentage points higher than the league. This is usually a great thing but he’s missing so much more than the rest of the hitters in baseball, that I believe the types of pitches he should choose to swing at are much more limited than everyone else. His problems with striking out make you adore other players with swing and miss issues currently on the Yankees, like Judge and Stanton. Gallo matches those guys in power but makes them look like DJ LeMahieu when it comes to putting the ball in play.
Something Gallo does well: Walk
If you are going to strikeout more than a third of the time, you have to find other ways to get on base. Gallo definitely has that part of figured out to a certain point. He has put up an OBP at least 100 points higher than his batting average every year except his rookie year and he got pretty close to that in 2015 anyway:
I know an OBP of .312 (2018) and .301 (2015 and 2020) aren’t great but having the 100-point spread shows that he’s got a solid base for not making outs. You can see in 2019 that when the BABIP luck goes his way, his on base skill-set allows him to post an elite OBP even when he carries an ordinary batting average.
What helps Gallo get to ball four and better hitter’s counts is the rates at which pitchers throw to him in the strike zone. Gallo’s zone percentage from 2015 to 2020 has been 38.6% compared to the league average of 41.2%. It’s only 2.6% but Gallo has seen 7,503 pitches during his career meaning he’s seen an extra 195 pitches that were called balls. Again, that doesn’t sound like a lot but sometimes one or two pitches that are called balls completely change an at-bat.
Gallo also sees more less first pitch strikes than the average player does (56.8% compared to 59.9%). This could be more strategy by the pitchers, however. If a batter strikes out every three at-bats, then why would throw him a first pitch strike? That strategy sounds good if you don’t know how much Gallo struggles with making consistent contact inside the strike zone. Pitchers don’t see that so they throw a ball to start an at-bat, Gallo gets ahead in the count, and that allows him a better opportunity to actually find a pitch to put in the seats. If that pitch never comes, he has shown he will take his walks carrying a 14% walk rate into the 2021 season.
There is a lot of potential here for a Joey Gallo to produce similar stats to Aaron Judge. I know, I know. What in the world am I talking about, but we’ve kind of already seen it happen:
Both players had injury riddled seasons in 2019 but their stat lines look very similar. Judge had better batting average than Gallo but Gallo had a slightly better OBP and a significant advantage in SLG. If the Yankees swing a trade for Gallo and he can work with coaches to make minor changes, he could be a left-handed Aaron Judge, at least offensively.
I want to stress minor changes here. Gallo’s entire value is centered around power and patience. You do not want to tweak too much in order to raise his batting average if that’s going to cause a loss in either power or OBP. It’s really hard for me to tell you that a player with a career .208 batting average is ever going to get close to anything respectable. Really, all he has to do is hit .230 and with his power, he could be 5 or 6 WAR player.
Now it’s up to Cashman…. right after he signs LeMahieu!!!