Joey Gallo Arrives in Texas

With Adrian Beltre set to miss the next few weeks with a thumb injury, the Texas Rangers did something a little unexpected. To fill Beltre’s void, they called up top prospect Joey Gallo from Double-A, who ranked 16th on our top-200 list heading into the season. Gallo made his big-league debut last night, and went 3-for-4 with a home run, a double and a walk. The one out he made came via the strikeout.

Gallo’s first big-league homer was a majestic one…


He’ll do that from time to time. However, three innings later, we saw the other side of Gallo, when he struck out on a slider in the dirt from Dan Jennings. It’s fitting that Gallo did both of these things in his debut, as he does both of them remarkably often. 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.



Gallo has some of the best raw power many have ever seen, which has enabled him to hit a remarkable 114 homers in his 331 games as a pro — more than one dinger every three games. However, he pairs that power with an alarming amount of swing-and-miss. He struck out in a league-leading 34% of his Double-A plate appearances this year, which was actually a sizable improvement from the 40% clip he posted in his three months at the level in 2014.

High strikeouts and all, Gallo was easily among the best hitters in Double-A prior to his call up. He was hitting an obscene .314/.425/.636. Gallo sat out the first few weeks of the season with an ankle injury, but his nine homers in the month of May were tied for the most among Double-A hitters. Even more impressive is that he did all of this at the tender age of 21, making him one of the youngest hitters in his league.

Power and strikeouts are Gallo’s hallmarks, but there are other parts of his game that also warrant some attention. For one, he draws a good amount of walks. Some of those walks are likely the result of pitchers fearing Gallo’s power rather than his laying off good pitches. But even for a slugger like Gallo, it requires at least some batting eye to post a walk rate north of 16% at Double-A. Additionally, he runs very high BABIPs, which shows that he generally hits the ball hard, even when it doesn’t clear the fence. Both of these characteristics enable him maintain a respectable OBP in lieu of his strikeouts, and bode well for his future as a major leaguer. Furthermore, he’s surprisingly athletic for a hitter with his power acumen. Gallo may not be a good third baseman, but he’s reportedly not terrible there, either, which is a pretty remarkable accomplishment for a player his size. Even if he does wind up needing to move to first base or right field, he likely won’t be a complete albatross defensively.

Gallo’s offensive statistics are all over the map: his power’s crazy good, his strikeouts are crazy bad, and his walks and BABIP are more good than bad. Taken altogether, the stats yield a strong KATOH projection for the slugging third baseman. He received a KATOH forecast of 11.0 WAR through age-28 heading into the year, which made him the seventh-best prospect in the pre-season. I’m working on integrating regressed stats (rather than raw ones) into my KATOH model, so I’ll hold off on plugging Gallo’s 2015 performance into the KATOH machine. Small sample, high BABIPs — like Gallo’s .453 mark from this year — are exactly the types of performances that will be addressed with this change.

Gallo’s KATOH projections may be excellent, but there’s good reason to be skeptical of them. KATOH relies on regression models, which were built using historical data points. Even the best regression models can produce wonky forecasts when given extreme inputs, and Gallo — with his unique combination of power and strikeouts — certainly qualifies as extreme. Simply put, there haven’t been too many players like Gallo, making it tough to predict how he’ll transition to the big leagues.

As an alternative to the KATOH projections, it probably makes sense to pull up some comps. These will allow us to zero in on the players whose stat lines most resembled Gallo’s, rather than relying on macro trends. Using league-adjusted, regressed stats, along with age, I calculated the Mahalanobis Distance between Gallo’s Double-A performance — between this year and last — and every Double-A season since 1990 in which a hitter recorded at least 400 plate appearances. Below, you’ll find a list of historical players whose performances were nearest and dearest to Gallo’s, ranked from most to least similar.

Name PAs thru 28 WAR thru 28
Rob Maurer 29 0.0
Derrek Lee 4,002 13.6
Melvin Nieves 1,392 0.0
Tim Salmon 3,151 18.7
Rob Stratton 0 0.0
Domingo Santana* 18 0.0
Joe Borchard 800 0.0
Eric Hinske 2,647 8.5
Kevin Brown 214 0.8
Mike Costanzo 21 0.0
Jose Oliva 264 0.0
Travis Snider* 1,826 3.1
Carlos Peguero* 317 0.5
Jason Stokes 0 0.0
Tony Clark 2,715 9.8
Nate Rolison 16 0.0
Chris Haas 0 0.0
Willie Greene 2,183 4.4
Jack Cust 676 2.4
Alex Liddi* 188 0.1

*Batters who have yet to play their age-28 seasons.

And here’s a list containing only players who made the majority of their starts at third base.

Name PAs thru 28 WAR thru 28
Eric Hinske 2,647 8.5
Mike Costanzo 21 0.0
Jose Oliva 264 0.0
Chris Haas 0 0.0
Willie Greene 2,183 4.4
Alex Liddi* 188 0.1
Shane Andrews 1,909 2.8
Paul Russo 0 0.0
Brandon Waring 0 0.0
Chase Headley 2,813 15.3

*Batters who have yet to play their age-28 seasons.

I think this exercise does a pretty good job showing the risk and the upside associated with a prospect like Gallo. On the one hand, there are guys like Derrek Lee, Tim Salmon and Eric Hinske, who hit for enough power to overcome their strikeout woes. However, these success stories are surrounded by the likes of Rob Maurer and Melvin Nieves, whose strikeouts prevented their careers from ever getting off the ground.

Furthermore, some of my recent research regarding hitters’ transitions to the majors gives us more reason to temper our expectations. Although he’s managed a tremendous 192 wRC+ in Double-A this year, he’s done so while connecting on just 74% of his swings on pitches in the strike zone — the seventh-lowest rate among 119 qualified Double-A hitters. The data show that hitters who swing and miss a lot in Triple-A have rougher-than-average transitions to the big leagues.


Gallo’s transitioning from Double-A, and I don’t have data on that jump; however, I’d venture to guess that this effect is just as strong — if not stronger — for hitters making the larger jump. For what it’s worth, Gallo seems to have made some improvements in this area. Although minor-league zone data is sketchy, it’s worth noting that Gallo’s 74% Z-Contact rate is a large improvement from last year’s 64% mark, which was the lowest in Double-A. Still, even if these improvements are real, there’s no denying that Gallo’s a swing-and-miss machine.

Between his age, contact struggles, and his skipping over Triple-A, there’s plenty of reason to think Gallo may not be up to the challenge of big-league pitching. In the here and now, we can be relatively certain of two things: Joey Gallo will hit a lot of dingers and Joey Gallo will rack up a ton of strikeouts. How productive he’ll be will depend heavily on how these two forces balance each other out, which is frankly anybody’s guess. For what it’s worth, Steamer foresees a .231/.303/.483 batting line (112 wRC+) for the 21-year-old from here on out, which would make for a pretty useful third baseman. Regardless of how this year goes, Gallo’s long-term upside is clear: he’s going to strike out more than the average bear, but as long as he does a lot of damage on the balls with which he does make contact — as he has in the minors — he should still hit well enough to be a productive player.

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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8 years ago

Thank you for including labels on some of the points on the bottom graph.