Joey Gallo Heads West for a Fresh Start with the Dodgers

© Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

It should have worked out for Joey Gallo in the Bronx. A fly ball-launching lefty with the ability to hit the tar out of the ball when he made contact, he seemed primed to thrive at Yankee Stadium, particularly after the mechanical work he did to lower his average launch angle paid off with his second All-Star appearance in 2021. Instead, Gallo struggled mightily to the point that his departure ahead of the 2022 trade deadline became a foregone conclusion. On Tuesday, the Yankees sent the 28-year-old slugger to the Dodgers in exchange for 23-year-old righty prospect Clayton Beeter.

Gallo is hitting just .159/.282/.339 with 12 home runs and an 82 wRC+ in 273 plate appearances. Of the 139 American League hitters with at least 200 PA, his batting average is second-to-last, ahead of only the Rays’ Brett Phillips (.147). Likewise, only Phillips’ 40.9% strikeout rate surpasses Gallo’s 38.8% rate, the highest of his career. Meanwhile, Gallo’s power (.180 ISO) and patience (14.7% walk rate, fifth among the same pool) merely confine his on-base and slugging percentages to the bottom quartile of the group. Since being acquired last July 29 alongside lefty reliever Joely Rodríguez in exchange for pitcher Glenn Otto and infielders Ezequiel Duran, Trevor Hauver, and Josh Smith, he has hit .159/.291/.368 (88 wRC+) with 25 homers in 501 PA as a Yankee, with only solid defense keeping his WAR in the black (0.9).

“I feel bad,” Gallo told The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler recently, having clearly read the handwriting on the wall once the team acquired left fielder Andrew Benintendi from the Royals last week. “It’s something I’m gonna have to really live with for the rest of my life. It’s going to be tough. I didn’t play well, I didn’t live up to expectations. And that’s a tough pill to swallow.”

Via YES Network’s Jack Curry, “Gallo was so certain he’d be traded that he was packing his bags in the clubhouse yesterday.”

When I checked in on Gallo last July 14, in the wake of his participation in the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game (his second appearance, after 2019), I examined his progress in addressing concerns that he had outlined early in 2021:

Via the Dallas Morning News‘ Sam Blum in February, Gallo explained, “I felt like all year I was kind of rushing myself, and… I wasn’t getting in position — I wasn’t loading correctly and giving myself time to hit the ball.” In March, he told reporters, “When I was swinging at the ball, I was almost crouched… I wasn’t able to create that backspin and that leverage that I’m 6-5, and I can create.”

Using a new, less top-heavy bat from Marucci’s Baseball Performance Lab, Gallo has focused on remaining more upright in his stance, helping him to lower his launch angle so as to hit more line drives.

The changes helped Gallo decrease his launch angle and curb his pull-happy ways, but they proved fleeting. Updating a table from that piece to illustrate his splits:

Joey Gallo Batted Ball Profile
Season Team GB/FB GB% Pull% EV LA Barrel% HardHit%
2017 TEX 0.51 27.9% 49.6% 93.3 23.0 20.9% 53.0%
2018 TEX 0.59 29.6% 45.1% 94.2 21.9 21.8% 48.5%
2019 TEX 0.58 27.2% 52.7% 94.8 22.4 25.6% 52.7%
2020 TEX 0.48 26.6% 49.1% 91.2 26.8 14.0% 43.9%
2021 TEX 0.76 35.6% 42.2% 91.6 20.6 18.4% 32.2%
2021 NYY 0.46 27.1% 49.5% 91.3 26.6 18.8% 49.5%
2022 NYY 0.50 27.0% 57.5% 88.4 23.9 17.4% 48.0%

As far as Gallo’s batted ball stats go, it’s his pre-trade numbers in 2021 that look like a fluke, while his numbers in pinstripes bear a painful resemblance to his ugly ’20 campaign, when he hit .181/.301/.378 with 10 homers and an 87 wRC+ in 226 PA. Given the new, deadened baseball, this isn’t a great time to be doubling down on hitting the ball in the air; Gallo’s current performance is short even of his .170 xBA and .379 xSLG.

Pitch-wise, Gallo has been particularly flummoxed by sliders this year, hitting for an .048 AVG and .119 SLG in 54 PA while whiffing on 50.5% of those he swung at. Via Statcast, his -7 runs on the pitch places him in the eighth percentile among hitters with at least 50 PA ending in sliders, while only Franmil Reyes and Chris Taylor have had higher whiff rates.

It’s not immediately obvious why the Dodgers traded for Gallo, particularly as Gavin Lux (127 wRC+ in 339 PA overall) and Trayce Thompson (153 wRC+ in 97 PA) have acquitted themselves well as left fielders while helping to cover for Taylor’s absence due to a fracture in his left foot (Jake Lamb, who posted a 127 wRC+ in 77 PA with the team, was traded to the Mariners today). Taylor, who’s been on the injured list since July 6, is slated to begin his rehab assignment with Triple-A Oklahoma City on Tuesday night. What’s more, the Dodgers already have an enigmatic outfielder with impressive power but a high strikeout rate in former MVP Cody Bellinger, who’s hitting just .205/.265/.378 (81 wRC+) while striking out 28% of the time. Bellinger remains an above-average center fielder, while Gallo, who held his own in center during a brief trial in 2018-19, isn’t likely to wind up there. That said, the Dodgers did use Mookie Betts in center 30 times last year in Bellinger’s absence, and Gallo can play right field as well as left.

The most likely possibility is that Gallo takes playing time away from Max Muncy, who has hit just .162/.312/.314 (86 wRC+) after tearing the UCL in his left elbow on the final day of the regular season last year, and who regressed in July after trending upwards (slightly, at least) in June. Muncy has played primarily third base (46 games) — Gallo’s former position, and one he’s even less likely to return to than center — and second base (27) as well as DH (13 games) so far. The Dodgers have so many moving parts that it could still all fit together, though the fact that it’s two lefties who are the players most likely to sit for Gallo still marks this as a curious move from their side.

Per the New York Post’s Jon Heyman, the Dodgers are picking up the remainder of Gallo’s $10.275 million salary (about $3.67 million). With his addition, the team is just over $1 million below the $270 million threshold for the third tier of the Competitive Balance Tax penalties, though other moves could certainly change that in short order. Likewise for the Yankees, who are at $263.3 million after the Gallo deal.

As for Beeter, he’s a 6-foot-2, 220-pound righty out of Texas Tech whom the Dodgers took with the 66th pick of the 2020 draft and signed for a $1.2 million bonus. That pick was a Competitive Balance obtained from the Twins in the Brusdar Graterol/Kenta Maeda trade, which had been spun off from the original three-way Betts deal that fell apart when the Red Sox balked at Graterol’s medicals.

Anyway, here’s what Eric Longenhagen wrote about Beeter, who placed 14th on the team’s prospect list in May as a 45 FV prospect (he slots in at No. 13 on the Yankees list):

Beeter had Tommy John in 2017, an arthroscopic surgery in ’18, and then was one of many wild, volatile, hard-throwing hurlers in the Texas Tech bullpen in ’19. He came out of the gate as a Red Raiders starter in 2020 and was not only electric, sitting in the mid-90s with two plus or better breaking balls, but for the first time in his life was also throwing strikes. It was at this point that his draft stock exploded. His fastball has big carry thanks to its backspinning axis, and it works similarly to the way Rays righty Nick Anderson’s does, as do his breaking balls. This is ready-made elite bullpen stuff, but because of the shortened season, Beeter only had a four-start track record of strike-throwing when the Dodgers drafted him 66th overall. They deployed him exclusively as a starter in 2021, and while his walk rates were not glaringly bad, visual assessment of Beeter’s feel and command continue to bucket him in the bullpen. His delivery is stiff and he tilts out to create a vertical arm slot that helps impart the carry on his fastball and the depth on his two breaking balls. He’s sitting 93-96 mph as a starter and might be able to crank it higher than that in relief, though he was also 93-96 in the short instructs outings I saw in the fall. It can sometimes be tough to discern his curveball (78-81 mph) from his slider (83-86 mph) in terms of their shape, with the former more likely to be used in the zone. It’s possible some of Beeter’s consistency issues will force him into a lesser role, but he has the stuff of a set-up man or better.

And here’s some video from Beeter working in the Instructional League in 2021:

Beeter has spent all of this season with the Dodgers’ Double-A Tulsa affiliate, pitching to a 5.75 ERA and 5.06 FIP in 51.2 innings spread over 16 starts and two relief appearances. In his last 14.1 innings, he’s been hit for 17 runs. He’s striking out an eye-opening 36.1% of hitters but also walking 14.3%. “All the walks push him toward relief,” wrote Longenhagen in a note.

At first glance, this deal makes much more sense for the Yankees than it does for the Dodgers. The Yankees couldn’t seem to get Gallo going but were able to offload him and his salary in favor of a live arm who could help them in a year or two. That said, from the Dodgers’ standpoint it’s worth remembering that few people expected the likes of Muncy, Taylor, or Justin Turner to thrive with the team before they picked them up, and at least within the small samples, the same might be said for Thompson. Gallo heads to Los Angeles as a more accomplished player than any of them. Perhaps they see something that can help Gallo recover his form, so maybe this will work out after all.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky

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1 year ago

And the consolation prize for losing the Juan Soto sweepstakes goes to . . . the Los Angeles Dodgers!