Joey Gallo’s Strikeouts Shouldn’t Alarm You

Joey Gallo is one of baseball’s most promising prospects, but he’s also one of its most polarizing. On the plus side, he’s got major power. He sported an isolated power of .344 between High-A and Double-A last year, which was the highest mark of any minor leaguer with at least 300 plate appearances. But he’s also hindered by chronic contact problems. He strikes out more than almost any prospect we’ve seen before — or at least anyone who’s gone on to be a successful big-leaguer. According to Minor League Central, Gallo’s 64% Zone-Contact% was the lowest of any minor-league hitter with data available from last year.

Despite his high strikeout totals, Gallo’s received no shortage of praise within prospect circles. Kiley McDaniel ranked him 16th overall in his top 200 ranking, and just about every other prospect analyst agrees that Gallo’s among baseball’s top 15 or 20 prospects. KATOH’s all in on Gallo, as well. It pegs him for 11 WAR through age-28 — the seventh-highest projection among players with at least 200 plate appearances or batters faced.

Gallo’s ridiculous power numbers drive his rosy forecast, but it also helps that he does a little more than just crank homers. He posted a healthy 16% BB% last year, and walked more often than his league at both minor league stops. His projection also gets a boost from his strong BABIP, which shows he hits the ball hard, even when it doesn’t clear the fence. Both of these characteristics have enabled him maintain respectable on-base numbers — in lieu of his strikeouts — and could mean good things for his future as a major-leaguer.

Still, there’s reason to be a bit skeptical of Gallo’s KATOH projection — or any of his stats-based projections, for that matter. Even the best predictive models can produce wonky forecasts when given extreme inputs, and Gallo — with his unique combination of power and strikeouts — certainly qualifies as extreme. Projections are generated from historical data points, and there simply haven’t been many data points like Gallo. Given Gallo’s unusual offensive profile, it’s not easy to say how he’ll transition to the big leagues.

By no means is Gallo the first high-power, high-strikeout prospect to come along. He might be the most unprecedented, though. The graphic below plots all minor-leaguers under the age of 24 who recorded at least 400 plate appearances in a season since 2006. There are 4,867 in all, but Gallo’s two seasons in full-season ball stand out from the other 4,865. The uniqueness of Gallo’s seasons might be exaggerated by the fact strikeouts are becoming more common, but the point still stands: Gallo’s a rare breed.


Striking out too often is obviously a bad thing, but plenty of hack-tastic power hitters have managed to have fine careers despite their swings and misses. Giancarlo Stanton, Adam Dunn, Ryan Howard and Chris Davis come to mind. At the same time, though, all of the power in the world won’t do a hitter any good of he can’t make consistent contact. The prospect graveyard is filled of toolsy power hitters who never figured out how to make enough contact to get by. There’s Billy Ashley, Josh Booty, Chad Hermansen, Dallas McPherson, Brandon Wood, Brett Wallace …. You get the idea. It remains to be seen if Gallo will make enough contact to avoid joining that group.

In evaluating hitting prospects, home runs are good and strikeouts are bad. That much is obvious. But it’s hard to know what to make of a player like Gallo, who does both of these things way more often than the average player. Maybe the normal rules don’t apply to all-or-nothing players. Maybe the Brandon Woods and Joey Gallos of the world are more likely to struggle with the transition from the minors to the majors.

To test this hypothesis, I looked at all hitters since 1990 who logged at least 400 plate appearances in Double-A at age-23 or younger and who also played in the majors. I regressed each player’s home run rate, strikeout rate and the interaction between the two variables ( HR% x K%) onto his WAR through age-28. If there were a reason to be weary of these all-or-nothing types, the interaction variable would likely be statistically significant with a negative coefficient. But that isn’t the case. Home runs and strikeouts are both significant in the direction you’d expect, but the interaction between the two isn’t statistically significant.

In other words, this means home runs are good and strikeouts are bad — but having a lot of both doesn’t make a player any more or less likely to be a successful player. This is a good sign for Gallo, who was excellent in the minors last year, but was excellent in a very unusual way.

Gallo comes with a bit more risk than most highly-touted players who are knocking on the door of the big leagues. Still, it’s hard to bet against a guy who’s had as much success as Gallo has before his 21st birthday. With wRC+ figures of 183, 124, 163, 221 and 141, respectively, Gallo’s crushed it at every minor-league stop despite being much younger than his competition. Most hitters who do this turn into quality big-leaguers, if not stars. And while there’s certainly risk involved with an extreme set of skills, we probably should expect Gallo to do the same, strikeouts and all.

Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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Only Glove, No Love
9 years ago

Who is that data point in the lower right quadrant?

Anyone of note in those points around Gallo?

9 years ago

I second this.

9 years ago

Yeah, that lonely lil dot stood out to me too.

I third this.

9 years ago

Mike Moustakas, 2010

9 years ago
Reply to  Mack

That should scare us all if it’s Mike Moustakas haha.

9 years ago
Reply to  dscottncc

That’s interesting to me, because while his power has been ok, his problem seemingly is that he makes too much contact.

9 years ago
Reply to  Chris Mitchell

Ah Cody Johnson, the poor man’s Joey Gallo.

9 years ago
Reply to  Chris Mitchell

Ahh..Greg Halman. Used to play with AND against him. May he rest in peace.

9 years ago
Reply to  Thijs

I know I’m a little late to the party an likely no one will read this but your comment made me look up Greg Halman. THAT was interesting, thanks!