Late last week it was revealed that the Cleveland Indians, along with the Philadelphia Phillies, were in heavy pursuit of Texas Rangers third baseman/right fielder/dong smasher Joey Gallo. Like many of you, I wondered why. Why would the Indians want a sub-sub-par defender in the outfield who can hit home runs and do almost literally nothing else?
I joined in the playful bewilderment over the Indians “aggressively” pursuing a tree trunk of a man that can’t play the outfield. It just didn’t click. There’s no way the Indians could be serious about such a silly idea. Right?
Well folks, I have seen the light.
Maybe I’ve just emotionally given up on the idea of a fully competent outfield. Maybe it’s time to just take the Milwaukee Brewers approach and forgo defense for more massive dingers. It’s not an awful strategy, and if that’s the way the Indians want to go, there’s no better direction than Joey Gallo.
You’ve probably heard of Joey Gallo — or at least seen the home run highlights — but here’s a quick breakdown:
- He hits huge home runs.
- He is a very large man.
- He can’t play defense anywhere.
- Teams shift everybody on his pull side because they know there’s no way he’ll go oppo.
- He strikes out a ton.
- He walks a ton.
- He’s 24, and under team control for four more years (three years of arbitration).
- The dongs.
Statistically, that breaks down to a .197/.316/.484 slash line and 74 home runs in 1086 career plate appearances. He hits a home run once in roughly every 15 at-bats, one-third of the time. He’s a weird anomaly, and in some exaggerated fashion, a glimpse into where the game is headed. The MLB players of the near future probably aren’t going to have a sub-.200 average, mind you, but the Three True Outcome Player (walks, strikeouts, home runs) are becoming more and more common in baseball, and some of the best players are beginning to lean that way.
If there was ever a time to pick up one of the most exaggerated forms of this players, it’s now.
Why Gallo works on the Indians
Despite his basement average, Gallo has a career 108 wRC+, meaning he’s eight percent better than average — and that’s without being able to hit a single to save his life. His 103 wRC+ in 2018 would have him as the second best non-injured outfielder on the Indians by a pretty wide margin. Michael Brantley leads, of course, with a 122 wRC+ while Brandon Guyer, Melky Cabrera, and Rajai Davis tail with wRC+’s of 86, 80, and 72, respectively.
Gallo isn’t a superb all-around hitter against either handed pitcher, but he doesn’t show enough of a split between righties and lefties that would mandate a platoon. For his career, his slugging percentage against right-handers is .493, while his slugging against lefties is .461. He has a double-digit walk rate against both. The Indians are already a mismash of platoon options in the outfield, and Gallo could be a serviceable force against either handed pitcher.
The outfield defense is going to be an issue, for sure. Indians pitchers have the third-lowest groundball rate of any staff in the majors. They do strike out a lot of opponents, though, so it might even out enough that Gallo wouldn’t cost the Indians multiple wins when it really matters.
Forgot all that “intelligent baseball” stuff for a moment, though. Look at the dongs.
If you’re a fan of home runs, is there a better player in baseball to watch than Joey Gallo? I love me some Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez dingers, but nobody hits them quite like Gallo.
MLB knows this, and they were nice enough to put together every single shot he hit in 2017. Enjoy.
The idea of him hitting one of these in October in an Indians uniform gives me chills. The guy is just pure fun baseball when he’s on, and the Indians just have to hope he’s on when it matters most. Now, that’s a big if, and it’s essentially the same reason I advocated against the Indians trading for Manny Machado — we don’t know if he’ll suddenly go into a slump for a month and be virtually worthless to the Indians’ World Series hopes. But Gallo has another big advantage: Control.
Unlike Machado, who is only a three-month rental, Gallo has another year of team control plus three years of arbitration. If the Indians did trade for him and wanted to hold onto him, they could have him through the 2022 season. That’s plenty of time to either hold onto him through the first few years of his prime (and the Indians’ window to win), or flip him if things go south in the next couple years.
That’s going to drive up his price, but if the Indians can convince the Rangers to be reasonable and not demand Triston McKenzie, we could have ourselves a conversation here.
Let’s clear up some misconceptions about Joey Gallo
Whether or not you feel the Indians should trade for Joey Gallo, there are a couple very incorrect assertions floating around about him, and the idea of the Indians getting him. Here are a couple particularly wrong ones.
It’s Chris Davis all over again
Chris Davis, like Joey Gallo, hits a bunch of home runs, he strikes out a lot, and he walks a lot. They are very similar players. The biggest difference, right now, is that Davis is nearing the end of his peak at age 32, and the Baltimore Orioles did the most Baltimore Orioles thing ever and signed him to a massive contract (seven years, $161 million) when he was clearly starting to go on a downturn.
If you really want to ride the Gallo/Davis comparisons, keep in mind that Gallo is only 24. At 24, Davis was a pretty awful hitter for the Rangers and he didn’t start to put up good numbers he was 28, with a higher slugging percentage (but lower on-base percentage) than Gallo has had in his short career.
The Indians also don’t have to pay Gallo a massive contract. Like I said above, they can easily use him up through his team control years and flip him if he turns into something great at the end, or just let him walk in his last couple years of arbitration.
There are very few similarities between these two players outside of both of them hitting dingers. The Indians front office isn’t as short-sighted as the Orioles. They know there’s no reason to ink a player like Gallo long term, especially when he turns 30.
It’s Russell Branyan all over again
This one is more personal for Indians fans as Russell Branyan made his debut with the Tribe in 1998 and was an utter disappointment throughout his four and a half seasons in Cleveland. He, too, had a high slugging percentage, walk rate, and strikeout rate, but didn’t hit quite as many home runs. Branyan also had career-long injury issues that plagued him from Cleveland all the way to Los Angeles when he ended his career with the Angels in 2011. Gallo doesn’t have those same concerns. His only lengthy trip to the disabled list was following a freak collision with pitcher Matt Bush in 2017 that resulted in a concussion.
Also, Russell Branyan wasn’t exactly a terrible hitter. He was an above-average hitter for his career, just in an era where we weren’t properly evaluating power and walk rates. He had a low average, so what?
Who’s fault is this, anyway?
Credit where credit is due in turning my thoughts on Joey Gallo all the way around. From the moment the rumors were announced, Kevin Dean on Twitter (@kvnbsbl) was tweeting out positive Gallo stats and why it potentially made sense.
Barrels per batted ball— Kevin Dean (@kvnbsbl) July 28, 2018
1. Joey Gallo - 22.2%
2. J.D. Martinez - 19.1%
Barrels per plate appearance (so, even taking the strikeouts into account)
1. J.D. Martinez - 12.7%
2. Mookie Betts - 11.5%
3. Khris Davis - 11.3%
4. Joey Gallo - 11.2%
Hitting home runs in the postseason is probably a better bet than stringing together hits against elite, curated pitching staffs.— Kevin Dean (@kvnbsbl) July 28, 2018
Last thought on Gallo: His floor is above-average hitter. Ceiling? I mean, Adam Dunn was a top-20 regular in wRC+. He is only 24.— Kevin Dean (@kvnbsbl) July 28, 2018
And, of course:
I tried to resist the logic, but he kept Wormtonguing the facts until it was undeniable: I want Joey Gallo in Cleveland. And I want it now.