FanGraphs released i’s ZiPS projections for the Indians on Wednesday. As creator of ZiPS Dan Szymborski notes in the article, it’s a great opportunity to help in the forgetting about the rude bouncing the Tribe suffered in the ALDS as soon as possible. Sorry for the reminder. Anyway, things look good in places you’d expect them to.
Matt Lyons wrote about it in total, so give his piece a look. It’s the comparison’s that drew my attention, though — namely that of Yandy Diaz. It’s hard not to pay attention the massive Cuban, especially when you write for this website due to editorial fiat. Diaz’s comparison was Al Gallagher. Yes, that’s right.
This comparison raised many questions for me. Namely, who the hell is Al Gallagher? I don’t pretend to be some ultra-historian of the game of baseball, and nobody could possibly pull every name from the last 150 years from the top of their head. It’s just that, normally, these comparisons are someone I kind of heard of. This was not the case with Diaz and Gallagher. Not that Diaz has made much of a name for himself outside of the Cleveland baseball world. Even so, knowledge must be found.
By the numbers, the comparison to Gallagher makes a lot of sense. He, Gallagher, played four years for the Giants and a bit with the California Angels in the early 70’s after getting drafted 14th overall by San Francisco in the 1965 draft out of UC Santa Clara. He was a hometown boy, born and raised in San Francisco, and spent five years in the Giants system before debuting in 1970. His numbers were... unimpressive:
Al Gallagher stats by year
Looking at these though, you can get the sense of where the comparison comes from. In particular, Gallagher’s first two years are pretty similar to Diaz’s career stats to this point:
Yandy Diaz career numbers
So that’s where that story comes from. Simple, right? Done deal.
But really, this is where historical comparisons like this run into trouble. Gallagher wasn’t a brilliant hitter. He was also 6 foot, 180. A bit smaller than than Diaz, but not some kind of shrimp. So perhaps physically, there was some similarity too. Though he had more that wiry baseball man body that everyone from Ted Williams to George Brett had, basically. Before people knew about weight training. And of course ZiPS doesn’t delve into the history of a player, who they are, and how that plays into the comparison. But aside from the numbers, is there anything we can glean from Gallagher that can tell a story of Diaz?
There’s actually a wonderful profile of Gallagher (nickname is Dirty Al, by the way) in the New York Times that paints a brilliant picture, literally titled “Meet an Average Major Leaguer”. Use one of your four free monthly samples to give it a glance. It’s a nice look into early 70’s baseball. It tells the tale of a very mediocre player on a team on the downswing. Gallagher was “not manager Charlie Fox’s favorite athlete”, something he knew and accepted. At the same time though, “Gallagher resents his long periods of inactivity, as much as he wishes the Giants would trade him to a club that would give him a better opportunity, as much as sitting on the bench and watching the games rips at his soul, he does not dare talk too loudly”. He was someone who simply, for some reason outside his control, couldn’t break into the starting lineup consistently. Sound familiar?
This code of baseball, to not complain, hasn’t changed too much since the 70’s, and it’s part of why the story of Diaz going with Francisco Lindor to meet with manager Terry Francona during the season was as big a deal as it was. Bit players, even ones built like mountains, aren’t supposed to go to the manager like that and lobby for playing time. But both Gallagher and Diaz, decades apart, found themselves stuck on the bench more than they’d like, feeling like they could help the team. Gallagher even mentions that in the profile. That they could consider trading him for a player like Steve Renko, someone Gallagher noted “can’t get anyone out this year (1972)” while Gallagher was hitting a decent .280, it seemed absurd to him. I’m sure Diaz has felt a similar way, watching as other players struggled in the batters box while he felt his ability to abuse the ball could help the team. He at least has the backing of the star of the team, something it seems like Gallagher never had. To say nothing of being in the favor of the manager.
That profile also discusses Gallagher’s proud membership of the League of Singles Hitters. This is something that I don’t think Diaz is as proud to be a part of, even as he lives there now. A man can’t hit the ball that hard and be that strong and be trying to “drop it behind the second baseman, slap it over the first baseman’s cap or send it skipping up the middle toward the center fielder”, as Gallagher wanted to do most times.. Diaz is trying to be a home run hitter, or at least smash the ball through the outfield wall. We at Let’s Go Tribe have harped on it time and again, and maybe 2019 will finally bring that swing adjustment that we so demand. Because that’s what will let Diaz escape from this comp.
Al Gallagher has had a good life. He’s managed a series of independent league baseball teams including the Kansas City T-Bones and the St. Joseph Blacksnakes, he sold insurance for a while, taught 6th grade, actually made a brief stint of a comeback with the Durham Bulls in the 80’s, and in all worked in baseball for more then three decades. It’s a good baseball life. It’s just not one I could ever foresee for Yandy Diaz. A latter day Gallagher is who he is now, who he’s been. That history doesn’t write his future though.