As I wrote yesterday, the Yankees are the hottest team in the majors in spite of Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo not doing much at the plate. The new duo went 0-for-7 with four strikeouts and a walk in last night’s 5-4 victory to continue the trend. No one’s ringing the alarm about these guys struggling because the Yankees keep winning. Besides, why should anyone? Both of their track records indicate better times are coming. That said, it’s worth taking a look at what’s troubled these two lefty sluggers. Today, I’ll focus on Gallo.
Strikeouts will always be part of Gallo’s offensive profile. He’s gone down on strikes nearly 35 percent of the time this year, a tad below his career 37 percent mark. But since the Yankees picked him up, that number is 43 percent. And in turn, the rest of his game has suffered. He’s batting .143/.308/.345 (84 wRC+) in 104 plate appearances post-trade. Fastballs, in particular, have eaten him up of late.
Like I already said, Gallo strikes out a lot. It’s to be expected. But at the same time, he generally won’t swing through too many fastballs in the strike zone. He’s hovered between 27 and 32 percent in-zone whiff rates against fastballs since 2017, and was on track to do that again this season until the calendar flipped to July.
As you can see, missing fastballs over the plate has been a problem for Gallo even in the weeks before joining the Yankees. There’s a big jump in July and continued growth in August.
It’s pretty hard to be a good hitter when you’re missing that many fastballs in the zone. Now, it’s worth noting that pitchers have thrown him better-located fastballs in New York compared to Texas. This month, 51 percent have fastballs thrown to Gallo have been on the edge of the zone. He’s typically never seen more than 45 percent of heaters on the corners in the past. So, perhaps it’s to be expected that he’s having a harder time against fastballs with the Yankees because they have been thrown so frequently on the edges.
Still, I don’t think better-placed fastballs explains everything. There are likely some timing and mechanical issues at play here too. The edge percentage of fastballs was only 43 percent in July, in line with recent norms for him, and he still saw a significant uptick in whiffs in the zone. So while better-located fastballs certainly haven’t helped, there’s got to be something more to this. Could be mechanical or timing, but I’m not someone who can identify that.
The luck factor
Gallo’s posted a .412 wOBA on contact against fastballs with the Yankees, which is well below his .561 xwOBA with those same qualifiers. Here’s where he’s put these fastballs in play:
It’s important to note that xwOBA can be misleading. It doesn’t account for direction of the batted ball, and rather, only looks at exit velocity and launch angle. See those two outs in shallow right field? Those are line drives right into the shift, where an infielder is positioned there to make the easy out. Even though Gallo struck those balls well, they had virtually no chance of being productive given the positioning against him. So I’m not so sure those two, which had xBAs north of .800, are actually bad luck.
Shift aside, there are a couple of well-struck balls here that didn’t go Gallo’s way. There’s a 110 MPH lineout to straightaway center field and a 107 MPH lineout to shortstop in here. Again, the issue of directionality when accounting for things like xBA matters here, but it also stinks to absolutely scald a baseball to no avail. As contradictory as it may sound compared to my last paragraph, there’s some bad luck in there to some degree regardless of where the ball is hit.
He’s not consistently squaring up crushable pitches
There are a number of fastballs that Gallo should have done damage against, but hasn’t. It’s kind of hard to understand how his xwOBA is so much higher than his actual wOBA against fastballs put in play when he missed pitches like this:
Or was fooled by a fastball down the pipe, like this:
Those are middle-middle fastballs that Gallo should hit to the moon. They shouldn’t be popped up or taken.
This isn’t the first time Gallo’s gone into a prolonged slump and it certainly won’t be the last. It’s frustrating to watch, but it’s also been pretty easy to ignore considering how great the Yankees have played as a whole. Plus, Gallo has been an elite defender in the outfield, which at least partially makes up for his swoon at the plate.
I wouldn’t fret about Gallo’s offensive struggles, either. He’s not going to keep missing fastballs like this. He’ll strike out a lot, that’s for sure, but he’s going to continue to draw a ton of walks and will hit for more power. That the Yankees are playing so well without Gallo firing on all cylinders should be a scary thought for the rest of the league.