On July 30th, 2021, Joey Gallo made his highly anticipated debut with the Yankees against the Marlins in Miami. After a seemingly interminable string of complaints from Yankees fans and Yankees media about the dearth of left-handed power in the team’s lineup*, seeing Gallo (and Anthony Rizzo) on the field was a source of excitement for Yankees Universe, and was supposed to provide a spark for the team down the stretch in 2021.
(*The theory that a lack of left-handed power was a problem for the team was not evidence-based in any way shape or form – but if you keep saying a thing, eventually it becomes true.)
Gallo came in a trade from Texas where he was the Rangers’ first-round pick in 2012. In his first two full seasons, Gallo showed a game with holes, but his prodigious power was easy to see as he eclipsed the 40 HR mark in both 2017 and 2018 – becoming one of only eight players in MLB history to have back-to-back 40 home run seasons by age 24.
By 2019, the power was still there but the rest of Gallo’s game – specifically his plate discipline and his defense – tightened up significantly, and he became one of the better players in MLB. He posted a 145 OPS+ and 3.1 WAR by July, earning himself his first All-Star game appearance, but unfortunately, a wrist injury ended his season – one in which he likely would have received some down-ballot AL MVP votes.
2020 was an odd season for everybody and Gallo was coming off wrist surgery as well, yet he still produced what would have been a 4.3 WAR season over 162 games and earned himself his first Gold Glove award. But with the Rangers in full tank mode, and with Gallo being a rising star with two years of team contract control ahead of him, it certainly appeared he’d be on the move somewhere in 2021.
It certainly didn’t affect his performance. Through July 29th, Gallo posted 3.8 WAR (a 6.1 over 162 games pace), with a .379/.490 OBP/SLG line, and a 139 wRC+. With the league’s highest walk rate, light tower power, plus baserunning, and plus defense – Gallo was one of the best ten players in the AL when the Yankees acquired him on July 29th of last year (6th in the AL in WAR last July 29th, if we’re being exact).
Then things went south. And just never stopped going south.
The turning point came when Gallo swung through a Zach Thompson offering for strike three in his first at-bat as a Yankee.
Here’s the short version of what he’s done since – you may want to avert your eyes – here are his OBP/SLG lines and wRC+ by month.
JUL/AUG ‘21: .310/.346, 85 wRC+
SEP/OCT ‘21: .293/.476, 107 wRC+
APR ‘22: .275/.295, 67 WRC+
MAY ‘22: .292/.339, 84 wRC+
JUN ‘22: .263/.354, 78 wRC+
JUL ‘22: .321/.405, 111 wRC+
The day before joining the Yankees he had a .379 OBP, .490 SLG, 139 wRC+, 32.2%, and 19.1% BB rate.
Since joining the Yankees, .291 OBP, .368 SLG, 89 wRC+, 38.4% K rate, 15.5% walk rate.
If you’re wondering if there’s something under the surface that can be pointed to that might explain the decline, the answer is “no” as there are numerous matters that any one of which could lead to a decline. The percentage of balls hit softly went up, the percentage of hard hit balls went down (especially on fastballs and sinkers) and his chase rate went up – and all were pretty significant swings in the wrong direction.
Obviously, if you chase more you’ll strike out more, but you’ll also occasionally make contact on pitches out of the zone which results in weaker contact. If you make weaker contact not only will you hit fewer extra-base hits, but you’ll also walk less as pitchers will be less tentative with you. One problem just feeds into the next and there’s no way to know which the chicken was and which the egg was. (And although he is pulling the ball more than any other season in his career in 2022, there were no changes in how defenses played him or how he performed against shifted and non-shifted infields – if that is a factor it’s a tiny one.)
Of course, I’m not a psychiatrist and I usually roll my eyes when fans and media play one to diagnose a player’s issues. That said, those of us of a certain age can name many, many players who were good prior to coming to the Bronx who suddenly weren’t very good anymore. Combined with the increase in chase rate (which unless there’s an eyesight problem, chasing pitches out of the zone isn’t a physical problem) it’s hard to argue that the mental aspect of the game has not been part of Gallo’s struggles.
Maybe that’s a good thing. The Yankees can move on and he can start fresh somewhere else. As he always seemed like a likable dude and good teammate, let’s hope that’s the situation and a move will be a win-win.
Trade deadline, three days and counting…
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