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Why has Joey Gallo hit a skid with the Yankees?

Joey Gallo has been a New York Yankee for a month, and while he’s had some signs of being on a tear, it’s usually flamed out and turned into a skid. He’s striking out a lot, but that’s not new for Gallo. He’s walking a lot, which is not new for Gallo as well. So if it isn’t the whiffs, and there isn’t a lack of walks, how do you diagnose his struggles? Gallo isn’t immune to struggles, (no player is), he had a rough 2020 at the dish too. I don’t really believe in players not being able to handle New York, and Joey Gallo isn’t an exception to me.

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Has Anything Changed In New York?

Let’s look at Gallo’s numbers pre-deadline vs post-deadline:

Pre-deadline:
138 wRC+
19.2% BB%
32.3% K%
18.4% Barrel Rate

Post-deadline:
86 wRC+
19.4% BB%
39.5% K%
15.1% Barrel Rate

Across the board, the biggest decrease is in wRC+. His offensive production is 14% below average, so let’s take a dive into his barrel rates and plate discipline. A 3% drop in Barrel Rate should lead to regression, but should it lead to a more than 50% drop in offensive production? Considering that he’s walking at a similar rate, it doesn’t add up. His K% has gone up,ย  so maybe the combination of fewer batted balls and fewer barrels have led to a decrease in performance, but the question still remains; why a 50% drop in wRC+?

Well, let’s look at what happens on those batted balls.

BABIP Is A Cruel Reality

BABIP stands for Batting Average on Balls In Play. This is a metric that oftentimes gets used without context. The most common example is with Chicago White Sox’s star shortstop Tim Anderson, who many people said was only good because of a high BABIP and would regress to an average or below-average hitter. Since his career-high BABIP of .399 in 2019, he has posted a 124 wRC+, good for the seventh-best mark in the sport among shortstops with 500 or more PAs.

When you hit a lot of line drives, you’re BABIP will always be high, regardless of exit velocity. Gallo hits line drives, but since he’s looking to hit home runs and work walks, he’s going to sacrifice batting average with the reward of a higher OPS+ and wRC+ due to performing well in SLG and OBP. From 2019 up until before the deadline of 2021, Gallo’s BABIP was .292. This is why he posted a 128 wRC+ in spite of a slump in 2020 (which we will mention). As a Yankee? Gallo has a .208, which would be a career-worst over a full season.

So a decrease in BABIP means one thing; Gallo is missing pitches he didn’t miss prior, and so he isn’t squaring baseballs as much as he did in Texas.

Sweet Spot Numbers Aren’t As Sweet

After 400+ words of explaining his barrel rate, walk rate, and BABIP, I can finally say I think we can test the theory that he isn’t squaring the baseball as much, even with the barrels.

 

His sweet spot percentage as a Yankee is below the league average by a pretty noticeable amount. We cracked it!

Baseball is a game of inches, but when you’re talking about a discrepancy in barrel rate and sweet spot rate, we’re talking about centimeters, not inches. Gallo is just missing those pitches that he usually crushed, and you can also see his launch angle deviate. He had a 20.6-degree launch angle as a Ranger this year and is at 23.5 as a Yankee. This isn’t a huge difference on the surface, but it’s the difference between a 400 foot HR, or a 250-foot flyout.

Gallo is a major league hitter, unlike you or me, he can make his own adjustments and figure this slump out. Once the Sweet Spot rate climbs, you’re going to see a Gallo who’s posting 130 wRC+ numbers on the season.