I’m generally not a believer in Occam’s razor. Simple questions have complex answers sometimes and it’s OK to think things through before getting your untroublesome “hot take” out there.
That said, with regards to Josh Donaldson, who’s been struggling, and Joey Gallo who’s been really struggling, perhaps there is an obvious and simple answer to their respective slumps. (Of course, they reached base five times with two long balls combined last night after I decided to write about this today, so maybe they figured it out after all. I’ll be my normal overly officious self anyway…)
Last night on the YES broadcast, announcer Carlos Beltrán noted that Gallo has developed a bad habit of chasing pitches just above the zone. (This is never a good strategy but it’s a particularly bad idea when you have an uppercut swing like Gallo’s.) As I noted in my previous blog, I don’t dismiss anyone’s opinion outright, especially when it comes from someone who was as observant a player as Beltrán was, but I still want to see the data.
Turns out Gallo’s 2022 chase rate is not only significantly higher than it’s been at any point over the last four seasons, his increase in chase rate over 2021 to 2022 from 22.1% to 32% is the third highest in MLB among 175 qualified batters. This, of course, leads to two problems:
First, Gallo was always good for a high walk rate. It was 17.5% in 2019 when he was on his way to being an MVP candidate before he was injured, and it was 18.0% last season between Texas and New York. With his 2022 proclivity for chasing, his walk rate has plummeted to 13.9% which is partially the reason his 2022 OBP is 68 points lower than it was in ’21.
The second problem with chasing many pitches is that sometimes you actually make contact with them. This is problematic, as when this happens, it’s very unlikely the ball will be struck hard, meaning both the batting average and power will drop too. Nobody ever expected Gallo to be Rod Carew, but the 137-point drop in SLG from his career average to this season is alarming, as is his percentile rank in average exit velocity going from the 87th to the 38th percentile in MLB. Chasing pitches outside the zone is likely a factor here as well.
What about Donaldson?
Donaldson’s 102 wRC+ is nowhere near as bad as Gallo’s 82 but it is a big drop off from his career 136 mark. Like Gallo, Donaldson’s chase rate is also up significantly in ’22 compared to his career norms. In fact, the increase in his ’22 chase rate from his ’21 mark is the eighth highest in MLB among 175 qualified hitters. The Bringer of Rain’s current walk rate is the lowest it’s been in seven years, and his 2022 OBP is 51 points below his career average. Also as was the case with Gallo, both Donaldson’s average exit velocity and SLG are down significantly from 2021.
Could the source of the problems that Gallo and Donaldson are having be that simple? Could it possibly be that if they would just stop swinging at pitches outside the strike zone, everything about their offensive game would improve?
Again, I’m not an Occam’s razor guy, but in these cases, it may be that simple. Both Donaldson and Gallo have long histories of NOT chasing bad pitches which led to high walk rates, high OBPs, and high power numbers as they only swing at pitches they could drive. The fact that both of them are leaving the zone at abnormal rates for them is a huge problem.
At the very least, “Hey Joey and Josh – stop swinging at bad pitches” certainly isn’t bad advice.
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