Nationals Sign the Other Left-Handed Power Hitter From Nevada

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

Last Friday, I was surprised to remember that the Washington Nationals were still a going concern, so I wrote an article expressing my befuddlement at the organization’s inaction over the 18 months since the Juan Soto trade. The title of the story: “Let’s Poke the Washington Nationals with a Stick to See if They’re Still Alive.

The Nats have found a stick and shown signs of life within just four days. And what a stick it is: Joey Gallo, one of the biggest, strongest, most powerful hitters out there. That’s a big stick. A stick fit to make Theodore Roosevelt use his inside voice. Gallo, late of the Minnesota Twins, will make $5 million on a one-year deal.

Signing Gallo won’t turn the Nationals around overnight, or even appreciably accelerate Washington’s rebuild. He’s just a man, after all. A big one, but merely a man. Nevertheless, this is exactly the kind of move the Nationals should be making.

I’ve been a great fan of Gallo’s since his early days with the Rangers. He’s an unusual player, perhaps even a unique one, and always has been. Not because his style of play is itself unusual. If anything, it’s emblematic of the direction of the game in the late 2010s. The difference between Gallo and Max Muncy, or Aaron Judge, or Cody Bellinger, is one of degree rather than kind.

Namely, Gallo has three tools that grade out somewhere between “plus” and “if I write out what I’m actually seeing my scouting director will think I’ve been drinking again.” Those tools: Plate discipline, throwing arm, and raw power. At his peak, Gallo was as good as a position player could possibly be without playing catcher or shortstop, striking out less than a third of the time, or hitting higher than .210.

Despite having the physical proportions of a minotaur, Gallo could run, throw, and catch well enough to play very good defense in an outfield corner, or to play passable defense at either third base or in center field. He struck out more than a timid freshman trying to find a date to the homecoming dance, but Gallo walked a ton and hit 40 homers a year. Between that and the defense, he was an above-average regular.

If only he could raise his batting average from abominable to mediocre… which he did, for about half a season in 2019, in addition to cranking his walk rate into the Soto Zone.

Joey Gallo’s Tantalizing 2019
G PA HR BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
70 297 22 17.5% 38.4% .253 .389 .598 .401 144 3.2

But nothing gold can stay, and Gallo busted his hamate bone, ending what would probably have been a top-five MVP finish and dashing forever our dreams of the Completed Gallo.

Gallo was one of the last departures from Texas in the Rangers’ last rebuild, spending a frustrating year in New York. The Yankees tried to build the heaviest lineup in baseball history, but despite having access to Yankee Stadium’s short porch, Gallo never made it work.

Gallo may have only hit .159 with the Yankees, but true to form he still had 25 home runs and a .291 OBP in 140 games, and was a better-than-replacement-level player overall. A brief cameo with the Dodgers—where he seemed to be a tailor-made Bellinger replacement—went about the same. His year in Minnesota, which I was optimistic about, also did not end well.

At this point, Gallo is 30 years old. He’s slowed down to the point where he’s no longer an ideal candidate for center (though he did play 11 games there for the Twins last year). In 332 plate appearances, Gallo struck out 142 times, which is a K% of 42.8. That’s the third-most plate appearances ever by a player who struck out more than 40% of the time, and the highest strikeout rate ever by a player with more than 250 plate appearances in a season. I was going to say that makes Mike Zunino look like Joe Sewell, but the Stathead search I just ran turned up a guy named Egyptian Healy, a 19-year-old pitcher for the 1886 St. Louis Maroons, who hit .097 with 67 strikeouts in 147 plate appearances.

I think we can all agree that “Egyptian Healy” is much funnier than any joke I was going to come up with.

So why would the Nationals want to go into business with this player?

Three reasons.

First, the telos of the big guy, any big guy, is to strike out eight times for every home run, but to hit enough home runs that the fans have something to come to the ballpark for. The last time the Nats were bad for this long, they had Michael Morse, who was as big as Gallo and even more unwieldy. (I thought he went by Mike, but the player linker disagrees.) Adam Dunn too! It’s like they were signing ballplayers from Costco back then. It was wild.

Fans love a guy who hits a bunch of home runs, and Gallo still does that. Against the top 300 pitchers in baseball, Gallo would be hopeless, but the league goes through 800 or 900 pitchers a year now, the bottom half of which either can’t spin or can’t locate a breaking ball. Gallo was built to crush those guys. Even in 2023, a season he only played half of, in which he struck out as frequently as an average hitter would if he only faced Devin Williams, Gallo hit 21 home runs. That would’ve been second on the Nationals last year.

Plus he’s candid and quotable, which will make him popular with the beat writers and take some heat off the Nationals’ young players. Is that worth $5 million in and of itself? Of course not. But it’s a reason to sign Gallo over some equivalently valuable but less fun veteran outfielder.

Which brings up point no. 2: The Nationals needed at least one other outfielder. Last offseason, it was Corey Dickerson, and things didn’t work out so well, leaving the Nats with about one and a half good outfielders. (Victor Robles had good rate stats, but only played 36 games and came down with a bad case of OBP Greater Than SLG Syndrome.)

Feels Like a Lateral Move, at Worst
Name G PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
Lane Thomas 157 682 5.3% 25.8% .268 .315 .468 .334 109 2.7
Stone Garrett 89 271 9.6% 30.3% .269 .343 .457 .344 115 1.2
Joey Gallo 111 332 14.5% 42.8% .177 .301 .440 .320 104 0.7
Jacob Young 33 121 8.3% 18.2% .252 .322 .336 .294 82 0.7
Victor Robles 36 126 8.7% 14.3% .299 .385 .364 .338 112 0.4
Alex Call 128 439 12.1% 17.8% .200 .307 .307 .280 73 0.4
Jake Alu 51 175 5.7% 24.0% .226 .282 .289 .256 56 -0.4
Corey Dickerson 50 152 4.6% 18.4% .250 .283 .354 .277 70 -0.7
RED: New to team in 2024
BLUE: No longer with team after 2023

I’m going to keep repeating this until it sinks in: Even at this low ebb in his career, Gallo has enough power, patience, and defensive value that he’s about an average hitter, and only a slightly below-average overall player, even when he’s hitting .177.

And he can play every day. You’d think that an Ent-sized left-handed power hitter would have equally Ent-sized platoon splits, but Gallo’s numbers are fairly even. He could have either started for a bad team, like the Nationals, especially if Washington finally trades Thomas, or he could have been a part-time player on a contender. And perhaps he still will be. If one of Washington’s young guys does come up and set the world on fire, the Nationals could very easily move Gallo to a team in need of some left-handed pop. If Gallo finds his inner Ranger again, that trade could bring back a useful prospect or two.

That was the logic behind Washington signing Jeimer Candelario last offseason. They picked up a good hitter coming off a down year for one year and $5 million. They gave him four at-bats a game, and after half a good season, they flipped him to a contender for two prospects. And in the offseason Candelario, having rebuilt his value, signed a multi-year contract with another team. Everyone comes away a winner in that scenario.

The Nationals have a lot of big problems to fix, but one easy thing they can do now, having both money to spend and playing time to fill, is sign veteran players with upside to short-term contracts. Gallo is a perfect example: Someone who can help the club on and off the field now, and who could be traded in July to help the club in years to come. Well done.





Michael is a writer at FanGraphs. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Ringer and D1Baseball, and his work has appeared at Grantland, Baseball Prospectus, The Atlantic, ESPN.com, and various ill-remembered Phillies blogs. Follow him on Twitter, if you must, @MichaelBaumann.

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mersilis
2 months ago

I have been reading FanGraphs for the better part of a decade, and this may well be my favorite article to date. TR’s inside voice. Ballplayers from Costco. Egyptian Healy. Well done. Quite well done.

the flumember
2 months ago
Reply to  mersilis

Came to the comments just to make sure the inside voice line was getting some love.

Chili Davis Eyes
2 months ago
Reply to  mersilis

telos

EonADS
2 months ago

struck out more than a timid freshman trying to find a date to the homecoming dance” is also pretty good