Nothing against him, but New York Yankees outfielder Joey Gallo is irrelevant in Major League Baseball right this second. His team isn’t in the playoffs. He’s never played for any of the teams involved in either Championship Series. He’s at home watching the games from his couch, the same as you and I. So, why on Earth am I bringing him up now?
Well, Gallo just had one of the most entertaining seasons in the StatCast era. We almost missed it, and I’m here to make sure it gets noticed for the incredible feat that it was
In 2021, Joey Gallo was near the bottom of all qualified MLB hitters in strikeout percentage, getting sent back to the dugout via strikes on 34.6 percent of his at-bats. That’s actually a career-low for Gallo (despite recording a career-high in total strikeouts with 213). He’s decreased his strikeout rate each of the last two seasons, but it’s still high enough for Gallo to rank in the bottom one-percent of the league. Why does he strike out that much?
Gallo is actually one of the most patient hitters in Major League Baseball. He only swung at 40.2 percent of pitches thrown his way in 2021, ranking him eighth among Major League hitters with at least 400 plate appearances. If he doesn’t swing often, but strikes out a ton, that must mean a lot of strikes get thrown his way. You fool! How dare you think logically. Last season, Gallo was one of only 33 major-leaguers with at least 400 plate appearances to see strikes less than 40 percent of the time. Gallo was near the bottom of that list, with a rate of 39.9 percent. Still, the question remains: “How can someone who doesn’t swing very often and doesn’t see many strikes, strikeout so often?” Maybe he chases pitches a lot. Good thought, but that’s still not the case.
Joey Gallo ranked in MLB’s 99th percentile for walk rate in 2021. He didn’t just lead the American League in that category, he walked more often than 99 percent of all qualified Major League hitters, earning 111 free passes throughout the season. When the pitch was outside the zone, Gallo rarely ever let his bat leave his shoulder. He swung at only 22.9 percent of pitches he faced outside the zone, the ninth-lowest rate in the league. So the question remains…
Does he take too many pitches in the zone? Maybe. He only swung at 67.5 percent of strikes he faced, but that ranks just 67th in MLB. There are players who swing at pitches in the zone far less often with much lower strikeout rates: Juan Soto, Mookie Betts, Michael Brantley, Jose Altuve, etc. Therefore, that’s not really an explanation.
It’s actually because when Gallo does swing, he never makes contact. Gallo only puts bat to ball on 63.1 percent of his swings — the second-lowest rate in 2021 (behind only Javier Báez, at 62.2 percent). Gallo simply cannot make contact, and that inability to put the ball in play tends to lead to his demise.
Everything I’ve stated above is happening all while Gallo tied for tenth in MLB in home runs (38) and maintained a batting average under the Mendoza line (.199), and that immediately makes me reminisce about… Adam Dunn.
For the younger folks in the crowd, Adam Dunn had an incredibly amusing career. He led the Majors in strikeouts four times, walks twice, and never held a batting average over .270. From the mid-2000’s to early 2010’s, Dunn had seven consecutive seasons with at least 38 home runs, including four straight (‘05-’08) with exactly 40.
Much like how Gallo consistently ranks near the top of the league in home runs, walks, and strikeouts, Dunn did as well. Dunn actually ranked within Major League Baseball’s top 20 in all three categories nine times in his 14 seasons. While Gallo clearly hasn’t played as long as Dunn did, Gallo has ranked top-20 in Major League Baseball in all three categories in every full season he has played (excluding 2020 for obvious reasons).
Where Dunn was the “three true outcomes” player of the 2000’s, Gallo is the “three true outcomes” player of this generation. Dunn is the only player with at least 200 career home runs to have finished his career with more than 50 percent of his plate appearances ending in a home run, strikeout, walk, or hit by pitch (51 percent). Through seven seasons, Gallo is sitting at 59.4 percent — an absurd difference!
Gallo’s insane jump into the stratosphere of career “three true outcome” hitters is likely a product of modern baseball. I’m sure if we look deeper, we can find several other current hitters scraping the 50 percent mark for their careers. That’s just how baseball is now, but in the 2000s it definitely wasn’t this way. Dunn blew everyone else out of the water in this department, just as Gallo is doing now.
I’m not making fun of Gallo with this data, just pointing out how awesome his career has been. Adam Dunn was always one of the most fun players to watch, and Gallo is the same way, because you know that more often than not, Gallo’s plate appearances are only going to end one of three ways. In a game filled with potential every time someone comes up to bat, it’s thrilling to see someone so restricted to just three. Gallo is Adam Dunn reincarnated, and if I’m being honest, probably even more extreme than I’m giving him credit for.