In the NBA, an important type of role player is called a 3-and-D guy. Not typically superstars, these are the players who play lockdown defense on one end of the floor and stretch the floor with their three-point shot at the other. While they don’t usually take over games on their own, they are invaluable — nay, essential — to a team’s success, capable of guarding both guards and big men and opening up lanes for the stars to drive into the paint. Find a top team, such as the Phoenix Suns, and you will find at least one quality 3-and-D player, such as Mikal Bridges.
When the Yankees traded for Joey Gallo last summer, it appeared to me that the Yankees were getting the baseball equivalent of a 3-and-D guy. The combination of his home run power and ability to draw walks with his extraordinarily high strikeout rate is, in many ways, the equivalent of a shooter who can hit the three but can’t drive to the basket, while his Gold Glove defense is, obviously, the equivalent of a lockdown defender. Taken together, these two skills should pair to give him a fairly high floor with the ability to completely take over a game when he gets on a hot streak — the perfect hitter to pair with Aaron Judge, DJ LeMahieu, and Giancarlo Stanton.
Needless to say, this ideal has not come to fruition, and our regular readers will know that Gallo’s struggles at the plate have been well-documented here at Pinstripe Alley even dating back to the end of last season (see Esteban’s recent piece on his point of contact, Josh’s Season Preview post, and Jon’s 2021 Report Card). And while his offensive woes are obviously the bigger part of the equation right now, I do want to turn our attention over to the other part of this 3-and-D analogy: his defense.
Let me get this out of the way right off the bat — Joey Gallo can be an elite defensive left fielder, no doubt about it. His career metrics in the outfield range from above-average to outstanding, with 38 Defensive Runs, nine Outs Above Average, and a UZR/150 of 5.6 in 3433 innings across all three outfield positions. And since coming to the Bronx, he has his fair share of defensive highlights, such as this nice diving catch on a play last September against his old team:
Or this one, from October against the Rays:
He’s demonstrated a good jump as well, seen here robbing future teammate Josh Donaldson of an extra-base hit last August:
At this point, you get the picture. The guy can flash the leather with the best of them. The thing is, we haven’t exactly seen it consistently — at least, not at the elite level we were expecting. Across the last two years, Gallo has been worth -2 OAA in left, has accrued just 2 DRS, and had a UZR/150 of -6.5 last year and -52.1 this year. Additionally, over the past two seasons, his success rate added in left has been a wash at best and extremely negative at worst.
Of course, at this point in time, we’re dealing with a fairly small sample size — after all, he’s played just 70 games in pinstripes, only 63 of which came in left field. It had been two years since he had played left field and that larger-than-people-realize left field in Yankee Stadium isn’t exactly the easiest job. There’s a reason the Yankees prefer the Aaron Hicks/Aaron Judge/Giancarlo Stanton alignment when Gallo’s on the bench, or the fact that they’ve trotted out a small parade of center fielders in left over the years (Brett Gardner, Hicks, Johnny Damon). Even for an elite defender such as Gallo, making the adjustments takes time.
That being said, it would be better for all parties involved if Gallo were to bring his defense back to a Gold Glove level sooner rather than later. Like it or not — and I’m sure there are many in the comments section who don’t — Gallo will be getting the majority of the reps in left field for the foreseeable future. If he can harness his Gold Glove potential out there, he should at least be able to provide some positive value to the team and make it more bearable as he tries to work his way through his slump at the plate.