Joey Gallo is a complex player, one with obvious strengths and weaknesses, but also with other aspects to his game that are more subtle. That sort of diversity typically generates divisiveness among baseball talent evaluators, both professional and otherwise. As a result, assigning him a grade based on his 2021 performance is a complicated discussion.
Let’s start with the good: Joey Gallo had a strong 2021 season overall. He posted 4.6 bWAR (third-best among AL corner outfielders) a 122 OPS+, hit 38 home runs, led the AL in walks, made the AL All-Star squad, and is a finalist for a Gold Glove.
Yes, I see the elephant in the corner that you’re directing me to. He was great as a Texas Ranger in 2021, and was not very good after being acquired by the Yankees in July. So much so that if you want to accuse me of sugarcoating his performance as a Yankee by calling it “not very good” I won’t argue with you.
2021 Stats (with NY): 58 games, 228 PA, .160/.303/.404 BA/OBP/SLG, 95 wRC+, 0.3 fWAR
2022 Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent end of 2022 season.
Gallo made his debut with the Yankees on July 30th of this season. He played 58 games, predominantly in left field, logged 228 PA, and in that time posted a 93 OPS+ and 0.4 bWAR (prorated over a full season the WAR comes out to a substandard 1.1.) If you’re curious if it was a case of Baseball-Reference being harsh on him, it was not. His 95 wRC+ and 0.3 fWAR from FanGraphs was just as bad.
Admittedly, I’m a fan of Gallo’s game, so I like to look for silver linings. Baseball Prospectus’ DRC+ bases its offensive grade more on what the batter actually did and a little less on the outcomes (as opposed to OPS+ and wRC+.) Could it have been just a case of Joey having some bad luck as a Yankee? Turns out his DRC+ was 83 – somehow even worse than his OPS+ and wRC+. Therefore, his overall grade of D+ from the PSA staff is certainly a fair one.
Since you directed me to the elephant in the corner, allow me to do the same. 58 games, although large enough of a sample size as to not be dismissed completely, is still a small sample on the whole. That’s almost exactly what the 2020 season was, and the list of players who were mice in 2020 that turned into monsters in 2021 (and the reverse) is a long one.
Joey Gallo will only be 28 years old on Opening Day. He’s a two-time All-Star, former Gold Glove winner who’s posted a 122 OPS+ and 5.3 WAR per 650 PA since 2019. He’s a plus fielder (94th percentile in OAA), a plus baserunner, and as bad as he was in the batters’ box for the Yankees, he still hit 13 home runs in two months and his walk rate of 16.2 percent was second best in the AL over that time period.
Furthermore, many of the criticisms of Gallo are issues of aesthetics. If you feel players who hit many home runs, walk very often and strike out very often aren’t fun to watch play baseball, that’s a viable and interesting discussion for us to have some time. However, let’s be clear: That’s a completely different discussion than the one we’re having, which is whether or not Joey Gallo helps the Yankees win baseball games. The answer to that is although his 2021 grade of D+ was well earned, it’s far more likely than not he’s going to be a key contributor to the Yankees’ in 2022.
Additionally, I’ll wrap up by saying this: If you’re questioning if he’s the type of player who can or can’t handle playing in New York, I can assure you of this: The manner in which he gets dressed won’t help you answer that question.