Power, strikeouts, and misconceptions: The Joey Gallo comps
When the Rangers called up Joey Gallo on Tuesday, scores of Rangers fans rejoiced. For a team struggling to generate offense post All Star break, seeing Gallo’s name in the lineup was a momentary relief. It doesn’t hurt that the young man with lighthouse power(light tower seems a bit feeble for what Gallo brings) holds the distinction of being the next big thing in offense. You hear the name “Joey Gallo,” and visions of tape measure homers at Globe Life Park spring to mind. People have preached the Gallo gospel, and people expect a lot of the young man for the next decade.
The way baseball handles prospects is a broad topic for another time. That said, the handling on this prospect is a curious case. When it comes to Gallo, the first bullet point is always his power. His name is synonymous with big flies. It gets all the coverage whenever he’s the subject.
Here’s an example from the Sporting News in May:
Gallo has the best raw power in baseball. His bat speed and strength are off the charts, and his batting practice rounds are a sight to behold. If he can make regular contact, he has the ability to bash 40-plus home runs over a full season.
Here’s Bleacher Report doing more of the same:
Gallo, a Texas first-round pick in 2012, made his MLB debut last season. He showed flashes, hitting six home runs in 36 games, including one that traveled an estimated “true distance” of 471 feet, according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker, which tied him for the 13th-longest homer of the season.
For a local feel, the Dallas Morning News made mention of it in 2013:
Before the 2012 draft, scouts were touting Gallo’s power as the single-best tool in the draft. On the 20-80 scouting scale, many rated his power around a 75 to 80, which is to say he might have the most natural raw power of any prospect in baseball.
With that power however, comes a related malady that Gobbles has yet to outrun. From that same Bleacher Report article:
At the same time, Gallo fell victim to his Kryptonite, striking out 57 times in 123 plate appearances. He was sent down in late June and didn’t get another taste of the big leagues until September.
The DMN didn’t hesitate to mention it either:
Gallo also showed a very patient approach at the plate in his pro debut, culminating in a lot of walks but also adding to a bloated strikeout total. By far the biggest question in Gallo’s game is his ability to make consistent contact, which isn’t all that uncommon for big swingers but is going to be the hurdle he’ll have to clear to get to the majors.
So for the general public that doesn’t pay attention to the minors real close, or an out of market observer, you’re going to ascertain that Gallo is nothing more than a hacker with a barrel chest. A good example of this cropped up recently from well respected ESPN writer Jerry Crasnick
Scouts are divided on #Rangers Joey Gallo. Power is undeniable. But one scout who's seen him a lot calls him "Russell Branyan 2.0.''
— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) July 27, 2016
A scouting report from Prospect361(a site I had never heard of until I began writing this piece) seems to think the same:
This is the problem with the baseball community’s focus on those two elements. It casts Gallo in a light that isn’t accurate. It paints a photo of a baseball player, but it doesn’t paint the photo of this player.
Don’t take it from me though. Let’s go to the stats.
Let’s break all this down, starting with the four players mentioned above. Here’s a look at their career slash lines, along with walk and strikeout rate.
|Statistic||Russell Branyan||Mark Reynolds||Adam Dunn||Chris Davis|
|On Base Percentage||.329||.325||.364||.330|
Outside of Dunn, who decided to buck the general trend with a strong on base and walk rate, the profile is well established. This is what people say Gallo will become.
We don’t have a wealth of major league experience from Gallo to compare this against, so we’ll have to use his minor league numbers. Using them allows us a more consistent sample size, with the understanding that there is a gap between the minors and majors.
We’re focusing on two specific stints for Gallo; his time in Double and Triple A. He repeated both levels, and his stints shine light on an interesting phenomenon. Here’s what happened at Double A.
|On Base Percentage||.334||.425|
Notice that every statistic jumps during his second stint. Gallo got on base more, slugged more, walked more, and struck out less when he returned to Frisco the next year.
Is the same true for Triple A? Let’s see
|On Base Percentage||.289||.381|
The answer is yes, just with less gaudy numbers. Once again his on base, slugging, and walks increased while his strikeouts went down.
This is important because it shows Gallo struggling at first, but adjusting and raking after some time away. Of course the ideal situation is for him to dominate when he first arrives, but players who do that are rare. Seeing him face adversity before overcoming it with time is a great sign. It shows he can make adjustments, continue to evolve, and produce the same stellar results. That’s a skill that transcends talent.
Yes, Gallo’s batting average and strikeout rate fall in line with the players listed above. That said, I don’t find it as concerning as most. I’m less worried about Gallo’s average being the same, and more excited that his on base is decidedly better than the quartet. For argument’s sake, let’s extrapolate out his career .371 on base at MiLB as what he’ll end up with at the major league level. Comparing that to the top 10 home run hitters in baseball currently, he’d have a better OBP than 7 of them.
The three he wouldn’t top?
While I’m on the Gallo hype train, I don’t think he’ll be THAT level of player. Which means Texas will have to settle for very good as opposed to top 5 in the entire league.
There’s two ways to look at his strikeout rate. The most logical is that Gallo will likely strike out 30% or thereabouts his entire career. Even if that’s the case, he’s been able to reach base well enough while striking out that much so far. So yes, isolated that statistic is not good. In context however, it more looks like a “comes with the territory” accessory.
That said, we’ve seen Gallo improve his numbers the more time he gets at a level. It’s unreasonable to say it’ll ever shrink to below 20%, but 25%? Far fetched maybe, but not impossible. If you combine that power with an even better eye, there’s no telling how good he’ll be.
Gallo personifies one of the problems with modern baseball analysis. Writers and analysts now will take a strong skill(power), mix it with a weakness(K rate), cobble that together, and come out with a comparison. That’s the general consensus on what Gallo will become, but it’s not accurate. It’s the work of lazy people who feel the need to generate content without effort; those who take not the time to look at a player within the context of his own statistics.
Gallo will never be Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams, or any of the other legendary hitters. He’s also not going to be Russell Branyan, a spare part whose one trick won’t cover up his immense flaws. He could be anywhere from Giancarlo Stanton to Todd Frazier to Mark Trumbo.
Or maybe he’ll be Joey Gallo, the player that finally abolishes the hackneyed act of comparisons. With any hope, his major league emergence will shatter all expectations and projections that so-called experts have issued. With his behemoth swing, athleticism, and proven track record of improving after adversity he’s got all the tools needed to establish a unique career.