A frustrating acquisition [2021 Season Review]

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The Yankees didn’t get the Joey Gallo they had hoped for when the swap with Texas was made official before the trade deadline. The team badly needed an offensive infusion, particularly from the left side of the dish, and Gallo looked like an optimal fit. Instead, he delivered a below-average batting line.

Patience with Gallo wore thin by season’s end. This was understandable given his disappointing performance and heaps of strikeouts. And as such, his fit in New York came into question. It’s a tale as old as time in the Big Apple: player falls short of expectations, so obviously said player can’t handle the market. Frankly, it’s an unfair sentiment, especially given our lack of insight from the outside and the fact that he played just two-plus months for the Yankees. With that, let’s break down his brief period in pinstripes.

Trouble with the fastball

Gallo is the epitome of the Three True Outcome hitter. That type of approach can be really fun to watch when locked in, but for the most part, the outfielder struggled while with the Yankees. He walked plenty (16.2 percent) and hit his fair share of homers (13 in 228 PA), but his strikeout rate (38.6 percent), BABIP (.193), and batting average (.160) during his stint in the Bronx made things miserable a lot of the time. As much as he reached via base on balls, a .303 OBP just isn’t going to cut it, even with his power. As such, Gallo finished with a 95 wRC+ for the Yankees. He was much better for the Rangers prior to the trade (139 wRC+).

I wrote about Gallo’s problems at the end of August. At the time, pitchers were eating Gallo alive with fastballs. While his propensity swing-and-miss is always going to be a flaw, Gallo was whiffing at fastballs way more often than he usual does. And even when he was connecting, his typically good contact quality was nonexistent. There were a lot of middle-middle fastballs that the lefty popped up or even passed up.

Unfortunately, things didn’t get significantly better for Gallo against fastballs after I wrote that piece.

Fastball MetricAugustSeptember/October
Pitch%55.558.5
In-Zone%52.152.3
Edge%49.337.9
In-Zone Swing%61.376.4
In-Zone Whiff%40.237.2
Exit Velocity (MPH)97.987.3
wOBA.335.395
xwOBA.355.350

Basically, opponents challenged Gallo with more fastballs over the heart of the plate in the final month of the regular season. While Gallo posted objectively better results, it sure looks like he benefited from some luck based on his wOBA – xwOBA and exit velocity. Plus, his in-zone whiff rates against heaters didn’t dip all that much considering how many more fastballs he saw over the heart of the plate.

Even with continued not-so-great inputs against heaters in the final stretch of the season, the overall results were better. From his acquisition to the end of August, he posted a .144/.310/.346 (85 wRC+) with a 39.5 percent K-rate. From September on, he hit .179/.293/.476 (107 wRC+) with a 37.4 percent K-rate. Granted, much of his post-August line is condensed into one particularly hot run in mid-September. From the 13th through 17th, Gallo swatted 5 homers in 16 plate appearances and struck out just four times.

Gold Glove defense

Gallo won his second straight Gold Glove award, which was announced just a few days ago. Remember, he beat out Clint Frazier in 2020.

By all accounts, Gallo has been a plus-glove and plus-arm in the outfield corners for years now, so this award was well deserved. By the numbers, though, Gallo earned this year’s award more for his play while with Texas. Now, defensive metrics are a bit of a black box, and even more so in small samples, but there are some stark differences:

  • OAA: +6 w/ TEX, 0 w/ NYY
  • DRS: +12 w/ TEX, +2 w/ NYY
  • UZR: +3.0 w/ TEX, -2.3 w/ NYY
  • FRAA: +7.2 w/ TEX, +4.2 w/ NYY

Clearly, he wasn’t bad defensively in New York. He just performed better (and had more time to accumulate these numbers) while with the Rangers, at least per these stats.

As good as Gallo’s defensive reputation is, there are a couple of mistakes he made in the field with the Yankees. One, in particular, sticks out like a sore thumb. That’s the dropped pop up at Fenway, part of the videos of his errors below:

I don’t know what happened there, but in fairness to Gallo: there were plenty of excellent plays in the outfield for the Yanks, too:

Is he a fit in New York?

Some folks want to attribute Gallo’s ability to handle the New York market based on how he gets dressed. I’m not going to rehash what I’ve already written on this. Instead, let’s rewind:

Do I really need to say that Gallo isn’t the only major leaguer with a quirky routine? So what if he wants his uniform to fit just right? Jason Giambi used to wear a golden thong while slumping. Roger Clemens put icy hot on his nether regions. Wade Boggs ate chicken before every game.

Now, to that quote from a scout. Let me again re-emphasize that this is one scout saying this. I feel like we see this sort of reporting far too often in MLB nowadays. This very well could be opinion shopping. Is it too much to check with multiple scouts on this? Various scouts have varying opinions, but if you publish one with a juicy quote, it must be true, right? Ugh.

Before this came out, concerns about Gallo’s fit in the Bronx solely related to his performance. Did he play well for the Yankees? God, no. Gallo batted .160/.303/.404 (95 wRC+) with 13 homers and 88 strikeouts (38.6%) in 228 plate appearances. There were also some shaky moments defensively. None of this was pretty, and now, his name has come up in trade speculation since the season ended.

Whether he gets dealt or not, judging his fit in New York based on stats alone reeks of confirmation bias. It could be true that Gallo isn’t a good fit for this market, but it’s not because of how he hit in a 58 game sample. Sorry, it just isn’t.

Now, maybe Gallo isn’t a great fit on this roster after all, especially if one of the team’s goals is to become more contact-oriented. That’s a different argument that I’m not necessarily opposed to. I still think Gallo is a really good player on the whole, but miss me with the “he can’t handle New York” talk.

What’s next?

Gallo is one season away from free agency and has a $10.2 million arbitration projection for 2022. There’s a chance the Yankees trade him away this winter — Brian Cashman said he’s open to just about anything, and industry speculation already exists on Gallo’s availability — but for now, he’s penciled in as the team’s starting left fielder.

Gallo’s brief stint in the Bronx this summer was no fun, but there’s still a world of talent in there that could still make him very valuable to the 2022 Yankees. One of the early projections available, via Steamer, estimates that Gallo will hit .208/.342/.480 (123 wRC+) in 2022. That comes with 40 dingers, but also a 34.3 percent strikeout rate. I think we’d all sign up for that right now, no? Especially if the Yankees work on adding more contact-oriented hitters elsewhere in the lineup.

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7 Comments

  1. I say keep him and see how he responds to the next hitting coach.

  2. Wire Fan

    I might be in the minority but I’d like to see him back. With Hicks on the roster , the Yankees need multiple CF options for when Hicks goes down.

    Judge cut down his strikeouts and if that continues it really is mostly Gallo Stanton and Sanchez as the high K guys. You can live with that. And after this year I doubt both Gallo and Sanchez are brought back.

  3. DZB

    Watching Gallo on a regular basis makes me think some of his flaws could be helped by the right hitting coach. He sort of needs the Granderson treatment – someone who can help him stabilize all the movement at the plate and get his bat into a better hitting path. Unlike a lot of strikeout guys, he has good pitch recognition (both type and location), but he whiffs on too many swings, suggesting the bat isn’t going where he wants. That could be partly due to the mechanical/movement issues.

    But I also agree with the comment from Jack that Gallo appears to underperform the numbers, which could be that the offensive numbers do a bad job of contextualizing a player (i.e., how their numbers impact the team through the players on base and the other players in the lineup). That beings said, I was pleasantly surprised by his ability to play the OF, even if he made some mistakes (but he did not deserve the GG, irrespective of what he did in Texas, mostly because there is no way he is as good as Judge out there).

  4. Anthony Rizzeddardo

    Joey Gallo is everything that’s wrong with baseball today, Derek, and unless we trade him this offseason we’re headed for yet another mediocre season led by this .160 average and 4 strikeouts a game. I feel so bad for the young generation because they don’t remember the Bernies and the Jorgies and the Paulies. Hell, they don’t even remember Hideki and Johnny. All they know is this Gallo and they seem him and say that’s a great ballplayer. I watch him and see the next Chris Davis. Strikes out too much, can’t hit for average and he dropped fly ball after fly ball. He offered nothing but Italian theme music and memes. And people say he walks a lot. I didn’t see it. He may have walked a lot in Texas where he was the main star in the lineup but here he’s going to get pitched to and pitchers quickly realized they could easily strike him out. He needs to be traded for a pee wee league PTBNL.

  5. MikeD

    The problem is the Yankees only got the worst of Gallo. From July 30th forward, the date of his acquisition, Gallo slashed .160/.303/.404 for a 93 OPS+. That’s quite a drop from his numbers with the Rangers, where he had a 139 OPS+. His 58 game stretch with the Yankees equalled the worst stretch of his career. He was a good fielder, not a great fielder. He even hit into three double plays. He had never hit in more than three double plays in an entire season until now.

    My point is not to bury Gallo, but to throw some caution in here to those who have decided that what they saw is all Gallo is. We saw only the worst of what he has to offer. There are better days ahead. That aside, they also don’t have to keep him. If the Padres GM has a love affair with him, as reported, see what they have to offer.

    LF was a black hole for the Yankees in 2021. It was before Gallo arrived, and it remained such after he arrived.

  6. Gallo is one of the rare players where I would say don’t look at the underlying numbers that say he’s good. Rely instead on your eye, because to me he’s just not a very good ballplayer. I get what we’re pushing, that’s he’s athletic and OBP matters and all that, but he is NOT fun to watch and just not a particularly good baseball player. This year he hit his SECOND career sac fly in 2337 plate appearances! That’s not the mark of a guy who can do the things that matter to win ballgames. Let him go to some mid-market team where he can hit 40 HR a year and give that town someone to see at the ballpark. For the Yankees – a hard pass.

    • John

      ok, if we’re going to cherry pick stats, in sac fly situations (man on 3rd, less than 2 outs) – career triple slash of 250/417/490, 61 RBI from 127 PA – to me that seems like he’s either getting the job done or at least not making an unproductive out, ie he’s doing something to help the team, just not in the old fashioned way that many Yankees fans would like. sac fly is a sub optimal outcome unless we’re talking the 9th or extra innings.

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