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Yankees 2022 Season Preview: Joey Gallo

The big outfielder has a lot to prove in his walk year.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

For being the big trade deadline splash back in July, Joey Gallo really was more like a belly flop than anything else. After a terrific start to the season in Texas, the big outfielder was dealt to the Yankees, a team with a middling offense struggling for a playoff spot. Gallo’s own offensive output was middling to bad, and aesthetically bad at that, and while his defense is always terrific, the Yankees are going to need more out of him this season.

2021 Stats (Yankees only): 228 PA, .160/.303/.404, 13 HR, 22 RBI, 38.6 K%, 16.2 BB%, 95 wRC+, 0.3 WAR

2021 Stats (Full Season): 616 PA, .199/.351/.458, 38 HR, 77 RBI, 34.6 K%, 18 BB%, 123 wRC+, 3.5 WAR

2022 FanGraphs Depth Charts Projection: 637 PA, .207/.347/.494, 43 HR, 105 RBI, 35.9 K%, 16.7 BB%, 128 wRC+, 4.2 WAR

Gallo very much is the ink blot test for baseball fans — what you see when you look at him tells us a lot more about your attitude and approach to the game than it tells us about his ability and talent. Some people will look at that projection and see 43 home runs, a guy who’s going to walk close to 100 times, be a pretty cut-and-clean four win player, and say “that’s the kinda guy I want on my team”.

Others are gonna look at a batting average where 48 or so percent of all possible outcomes will be below .200, a guy that will strike out more than a third of the time he comes to the plate, and be convinced that that is just not valuable. In truth, Joey Gallo is somewhere in the middle.

Gallo is not as bad as he was in his 58 games with the Yankees — and he was bad. I don’t care about batting average, but if you’re hitting .160, unless you’re constantly drawing bases on balls, you’re just not going to be doing enough damage at the plate to be valuable. Indeed, it’s a credit to Gallo’s plate discipline and power that with the Yankees, he hit about as well as Gleyber Torres in total production, despite spotting the infielder a hundred points of batting average.

But, Gallo is a guy that is going to strike out a lot. Even during his 140 wRC+ first half with the Rangers, he was walking back the dugout with his head down 32.2 percent of the time. He is a disciplined hitter — swinging at pitches outside of the zone at the second-lowest rate on the team last year — but whiffs because of his ultra-high-angle swing, which creates a natural hole in the bat path that pitches can sneak through.

That ultra-high-angle swing is also why he’s going to come close to 40 home runs this season, and why despite what people like Michael Kay say, he’s not going to benefit from shift bans as much as you’d think. Maybe the odd fly ball drops in here and there — less likely at Yankee Stadium, where there’s not a lot of room in right field to begin with — but Gallo doesn’t hit the ball on the ground, with just 28 percent of his batted balls going for grounders. He’s either going to whiff, or he’s going to put the ball in the air.

I think he’ll continue to be a polarizing player for this club even if he meets or exceeds those above projections. He got off to a really bad start with the Yankees, and it’s hard to overcome that kind of primacy bias:

The first look that most fans got at Joey Gallo, he didn’t hit well, not one bit. He generally trended better as his time in New York went on, and the projections speak for themselves, but people remember your first impression.

For me, I think Gallo is an extremely nice complimentary piece to a roster. If he’s the best player on your team, or even your second best, I’m just not sure your offense can be resilient and multifaceted enough to overcome the stretches where Gallo will go 1-5 with three Ks. There are going to be games where that happens this year.

But Joey Gallo isn’t the best, or even second-best hitter on this team. He’s not as good as Aaron Judge, or Giancarlo Stanton, and if DJ LeMahieu is more like his 2019/2020 self than his Colorado Rockies self, he’s probably behind him as well. And ironically enough, that’s exactly where having a player with Gallo’s skills is very dangerous — when he’s literally behind those superior hitters.

The best place, in my mind, for Gallo is fifth or sixth in this order. Let him come up, over and over, with Judge and Stanton on, or after Anthony Rizzo has done his two-strike battle stuff. We know Gallo won’t chase out of the zone, if pitchers are scared to come at him he’ll take the walk and pass the baton, but with multiple men on base and that kind of plate discipline, guys will have to come in against him, and, well...

There’s one more point to make, not about Gallo in the general sense, but in the very specific sense. With Texas last year, Gallo crushed fastballs, to the tune of a .443 wOBA, the 26th-best mark in baseball. That’s better than Nelson Cruz and Yordan Alvarez, right around as good as Judge in the same period.

With the Yankees, he lost almost 100 points of wOBA against fastballs, down to .349, tied for 186th in the game. I don’t think that Gallo suddenly forgot how to time heat, but if this is a vulnerability, it’s one that we’ll get a good eye on early in the season. The AL East is full of some of the most progressive pitching philosophies in the game — obviously the Rays get all the attention, meanwhile, the Blue Jays’ Pete Walker is probably the best pitching coach in baseball, and even the Orioles have built a quietly promising cadre of young, talented, analytically-driven arms in the high minors.

Maybe moving to a more competitive division freaked Gallo out — I doubt this. Maybe moving to a more competitive division, with smarter front offices, exposed a hole that we didn’t know Gallo had. That is something to be worried about.

On the whole, though, we’re back to our ink blot. Scroll back up to those projections. I see a borderline All Star, seemingly purpose-built to clean up the bases after a couple MVP-caliber hitters ahead of him wear out pitchers. What do you see?