A Look at the Struggles of Joey Gallo
By Chris O’Connor
September 3, 2021
*All statistics as of Wednesday’s games
Trade deadlines moves are generally difficult to quantify. Players are uprooted from their homes and teams in the middle of the season, and even if they are prepared for a sudden move, it can be difficult to deal with. I think that many fans and writers underrate the human side of a mid-season trade. Having one’s life upended is very challenging.
Having said that, history tells us that trade deadline moves can have a massive impact on a team’s fortunes. In 2008, Manny Ramirez was traded from the Red Sox to the Dodgers. Manny slashed an astounding .396/.489/.743 with 17 home runs and 53 RBI’s for the Dodgers. Manny Ramirez led the Dodgers, a .500 team at the time of the trade, to a division title and a run to the NLCS. Despite playing in just 53 games with the Dodgers, he finished fourth in the NL MVP voting.
Yankees fans certainly remember the impact that the Justin Verlander trade had for the Astros in 2017, but another less-hyped trade that made an impact was the Red Sox acquiring Steve Pierce from the Blue Jays at the 2018 deadline. Pierce, of course, wound up winning World Series MVP after hitting for an OPS of 1.667 with 3 homers and 8 RBI’s in the 5-game series.
While it is far too early to speculate on the Joey Gallo trade, the early returns do not look great. The Yankees have surged since the trade deadline, but Gallo has struggled to make an impact. In 31 games with the team, Gallo has slashed just .139/.301/.333 with 5 home runs and 11 RBI’s. What has gone wrong for Gallo, and is it fixable?
Gallo’s offensive struggles with the Yankees comes down to two things: a far more passive approach at the plate than he had with Texas and a pull-heavy profile that makes him easier to defend against. Gallo, perhaps the poster child for the modern hitter, is often at the top percentile of hitters who live by the three true outcomes (walk, strikeout, home run). He eschews contact in favor of selling out for power, so his patient approach is driven by both his excellent eye and his waiting for the right pitch. With the Yankees, however, Gallo has taken his patience to the extreme. The positive in this is that he is still drawing free passes; his walk rate of 18.8% with the Yankees would rank second among qualified hitters. His swing rate, however, has dropped from 40.6% (which was already a career-low) during his time in 2021 with Texas to 35.5% with the Yankees. Interestingly, his contact rate is up slightly with the Yankees, so he is not swinging and missing any more than normal. His extreme patience at the plate explains his rise in strikeout rate from 32.2% to 38.3% (which would lead the league by a wide margin). While Gallo is always going to strike out a lot, being set down at such an extreme rate leaves him with little margin for error in order to still be a productive hitter. When the home runs do not come and the balls in play fail to drop, it leaves him with a similar offensive profile to late-career Chris Davis.
Indeed, for Gallo, the home runs have not come to New York and on the rare occasions where he does hit the ball in play, the balls in play have not found a hole. As previously mentioned, he has just 5 home runs with the Yankees, and his home run/fly ball ratio has fallen from his career average of 28.1% to 18.5% in his 31 games with the team. This year, that drop would be the difference between the sixth and forty-second highest rate in the league. The odd thing is that Gallo is still hitting the ball hard. In fact, his hard-hit rate of 54.4% with the Yankees is the highest of his career.
I think Gallo has run into trouble with where he is hitting the ball. His pull rate is up over five percentage points from his time in 2021 with Texas and his opposite field rate is down nearly nine percentage points. Considering that Gallo is being shifted against 95.3% of the time (sixth-highest rate in the majors), it is no surprise that his BABIP has dropped from .275 with Texas to .192 with the Yankees. The large drop in BABIP indicates some unluckiness, but Gallo controls this to some degree; he is simply hitting the ball to the same place more than ever.
Now, the bigger question – Is Gallo redeemable? Of course! He provides excellent defense and solid baserunning, both of which help him maintain value when his bat fails him. I also think Gallo is a much smarter hitter than he gets credit for. While a guy like Javier Báez strikes out so frequently because he swings at everything with little discipline, Gallo has a fantastic eye at the plate that should age well over time. Gallo has come around to accept that strikeouts will always be a part of his game, so he either waits for the right pitch and swings for the fences, or draws his walks and passes the baton to the next guy. This approach is not without risks, however. He is more dependent on home runs than nearly anyone in the league, and we have seen what happens when his power is not there: no matter how hard he hits the ball – his predictability will always lead to low batting averages.
Still, Gallo has nowhere to go but up from this point, and his poor offensive performance has not hampered the team. The Yankees have been galvanized by the additions of him and Anthony Rizzo: since their debuts on July 30, the Yankees have gone 24-8 to surge into the first wild card spot. If Gallo can start to heat up and can help get the Yankees to the playoffs, his early struggles with the team will be forgotten.
A productive Joey Gallo would go a long way in helping the Yankees not only lock down a playoff spot, but potentially make a run in October.