MLB is in the middle of a lockout that will likely last into the new year, so now is a good time to reflect on what happened with the Yankees in 2021 on an in-depth level.
Last week we dove into the causes for DJ LeMahieu’s regression, now we will be diving into perhaps the most polarizing player on the Yankees roster.
Joey Gallo was a polarizing player in the Yankees fanbase even before the team traded for him. The team spent months in dire need of an outfielder, which led to the discourse surrounding Gallo. Fans who are believers in modern statistics were big fans of Gallo while fans who are more old-school were generally not in favor of acquiring him.
Nonetheless, the Yankees acquired Gallo the week of the trade deadline. He played 58 games and it was not pretty. Gallo hit for .160 AVG/.303 OBP/.404 SLG/.707 OPS with a wRC+ of 95 in 228 plate appearances as a Yankee. It is clear the Yankees did not get what they envisioned when they traded for him.
Gallo did seem to settle into playing with the Yankees late in the season. From Sept. 3 to Sept. 17 he hit for .238 .AVG/.340 OBP/.738 SLG/1.078 OPS with a 178 wRC+. He was one of the hottest hitters in baseball during that span, but then he hurt his neck which led to him struggling for the remainder of the season. Gallo is one of the streakiest hitters in baseball, so the hot and cold streaks we saw in the Bronx are not rare for him at all.
JOEY GALLO WAAAAAAAY OUT
(via @MLB) pic.twitter.com/kHFELZx3v0
— B/R Walk-Off (@BRWalkoff) August 15, 2021
Gallo is the epitome of what is called three true outcomes, meaning most of his plate appearances end in a strikeout, walk or home run. Many fans do not like to watch this style of play because it does not lead to many balls put in play, which is fine and not even really debatable. That conversation is more related to aesthetics than it is to production, which brings me to why fans should expect Gallo to have a productive year.
Some make the argument that the Yankees had too many of this not even three true outcome type of hitter, but an “all or nothing hitter.” This sentiment does confuse me because reducing Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton to all or nothing hitters is underselling their abilities. Both of them had higher batting averages than DJ LeMahieu. Gary Sanchez and Rougned Odor are the only players who have arguments for being all or nothing or three true outcome hitters on the 2021 Yankees. Odor was a bench piece and is no longer on the team, while Sanchez did not start in the American League Wild Card Game.
Joey Gallo “kicked the door in” with a home run! pic.twitter.com/rfug49V0SL
— Talkin' Yanks (@TalkinYanks) September 15, 2021
The biggest talking point when it comes to Gallo is his strikeouts. Many will bring up the fact that he struck out 213 times in 2021, which is a higher number than his .199 batting average. That is a very ugly stat, but as said before it is more related to aesthetics than production. Having a high strikeout rate and low batting average does not prevent a player from being productive.
Gallo led the league in strikeout rate in 2021 with Miguel Sano, Javier Baez, Matt Chapman, Adam Duvall, Tyler O’Neill, Adolis Garcia, Eugenio Suarez, Shohei Ohtani and Ian Happ rounding out the top ten. The only player of that group to have a below league-average wRC+ was Suarez. To drive the point home further that strikeouts do not prevent a player from being productive, Ohtani won the Most Valuable Player for the American League. Fernando Tatis was a finalist for the National League MVP with a 28% strikeout rate as well.
Getting back to Gallo and his strikeouts. Just by looking at the strikeout rate and total many would probably guess that he is up at the plate flailing away, but that is not true. Gallo’s Baseball Savant page is one of the most unique, it tells the story of him having great discipline but striking out a lot because he runs a lot of deep counts and whiffs on a lot of pitches in the zone.
In 2021 Gallo’s whiff rate and strikeout rate were in the 1st percentile while his walk rate was in the 99th percentile. It might be impossible to get more extreme than that. It will be interesting if the Yankees new hitting coaches will be able to work on lowering the whiff rate in 2022. Along with the great walk rate, Gallo’s chase rate was in the 95th percentile and validates the idea that he has great discipline and works deep counts. This leads to a lot of walks, which is a big part of his value as a player.
When Gallo connects, he really connects. His average exit velocity was in the 87th percentile while his barrel rate was in the 97th percentile in 2021. So it is clear Gallo hits the ball really hard, which is a good thing.
Lastly Gallo is a good defender, which is a welcome sight on a team that combined for -41 defensive runs saved in 2021. Gallo won the Gold Glove in right field for the American League. He mainly played left field with the Yankees because of Aaron Judge. Gallo had 3 defensive runs save in left field for the Yankees, that number should be higher in a full season with the team.
Most DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) since…
2021 = Ryan McMahon, +22
2020 = Joey Gallo/Jacob Stallings, +28
2019 = Javier Báez, +44
2018 = Matt Chapman, +63
2017 = Mookie Betts, +83
2016 = Mookie Betts, +113
2015 = Kevin Kiermaier, +131
2014 = Andrelton Simmons, +148
— Foolish Baseball (@FoolishBB) December 13, 2021
What should all of this mean for fan expectations going into the 2022 season? Given that 58 games is not a large sample size and part of that was when Gallo was playing with a hurt neck, we should not ignore his track record as a player. Fans should expect 35+ home runs, a lot of walks and a lot of strikeouts with good defense in left field.
Joey Gallo. Don’t let two months erase four and a half years of productive All-Star hitting.
First year as a regular in 2017 until the trade: .340 OBP, .507 SLG, 120 wRC+, basically “Castellanos with Good Defense”
.303 OBP .404 SLG 95 wRC+ w Yankees but should go back to normal https://t.co/gKm9Jk6CLD
— James Smyth (@JamesSmyth621) December 15, 2021
Steamer projections have Gallo as a 123 wRC+ hitter with a 3.5 WAR in 2022. Given that Gallo was on track for a 7 WAR season before getting traded to the Yankees, it is not crazy to think he could accumulate 5 WAR if he has a good season. It would not be shocking if he landed somewhere in between the 3.5 WAR steamer projects and 5 WAR.
Is Gallo someone to build your team around? No, but he is good enough to be the third or fourth best player on a championship team. If the Yankees sign one of the remaining big ticket shortstops or acquire one of the top first basemen available through trade or free agency, that is right where Gallo would be on this roster. Not the main guy, but a valuable contributor to a team trying to win a World Series.
Photo: Brad Penner/USA Today Sports