This morning, baseball Twitter has noisily hopped aboard the Joey Gallo hype train. Industry folks noticed his Steamer and THE BAT projections which suggest he should be far more highly regarded than is currently the case. Consider these projected fantasy lines:
Steamer: 83 runs, 39 home runs, 94 RBI, 6 stolen bases, .225 average
THE BAT: 94 runs, 46 home runs, 111 RBI, 6 stolen bases, .226 average
The more conservative Steamer projection – which projects only 597 plate appearances – implies a value of about $18 in a default 12-team league. That puts him around the 40th hitter, sandwiched between Starling Marte and Lorenzo Cain according to our Auction Calculator tool. Call that a should-be ADP of 60? He’s around the 20th best hitter via THE BAT; an implied ADP of roughly 28th. He has an actual 102 ADP according to FanTrax. When I participated in the Rotoworld Draft Guide mock, I picked Gallo 105th overall.
And so, in conclusion, you should reach for Gallo. Right? Article over. That’s a wrap.
Not so fast. I’m a longstanding conductor upon the Gallo hype train. Part of liking a player more than everybody else is learning why others are skeptical. First, let’s focus on the good. The traits I like about Gallo are a willingness to make adjustments along with extreme hard contact and pulled fly ball rates.
We can hand calculate a projected home run total to use as a smell test against the projection systems. Although he hasn’t reached 600 plate appearances in a season yet, let’s assuming the rebuilding Rangers set him loose. We’ll pencil in 650 plate appearances. About 49 percent of those will end in a walk or strikeout. Of the remaining 318.5 plate appearances, half will be fly balls. The 159.25 fly balls will leave the yard between 25 and 30 percent of the time. That comes out to about 43.8 home runs – right in line with the two formal projection systems.
Those rates feel reliable because he’s performed consistently over his first 1,262 plate appearances. He’s a 44 home run bat plus/minus six (or so) over a full season. That’s the stat we can mentally lock in. Maybe.
Although he’s a flawed comp, Orioles slugger Chris Davis had Gallo-like attributes in his prime. Most importantly, a high ratio of his plate appearances ended in a walk or strikeout. Davis never managed to show any sort of consistency from year to year. In his prime from 2013 through 2015, he sandwiched monster fantasy seasons around a disaster in which he hit only 26 home runs with a .196 batting average.
With his noticeable contact issues, Gallo has that kind of downside. We’re referring to the potential of a 300 plate appearance funk. It’s a risk for any hitter. The difference between a Jose Ramirez funk and a Gallo or Davis funk is that the former can still use speed and a high contact rate to reach base. When the latter lose their touch, they make outs at an over 75 percent rate (i.e. a sub-.250 OBP).
Of course, these painful scenarios aren’t the only extreme outcomes. On the flip side of the coin is Davis’ insane 2013 campaign. He hit .286 with 53 home runs, 103 runs, and 138 RBI. This is also a feasible outcome for Gallo. He legitimately looks like a low BABIP hitter (career .256 BABIP). However, a fluky .320 BABIP one year would fuel something like a .250 average. Toss in 50 home runs – which is only about one standard deviation above his projections – and we have a borderline first round talent.
To me, the downside is more tangible than the upside, and I think that’s why Gallo’s ADP is so modest. Looking at his supporting cast, he has exactly one ancient Shin-Soo Choo to get on base ahead of him. The rest of the roster is… unimpressive… when it comes to reaching base. As for driving him in, he’s going to have to mostly do that himself.
I usually avoid talking about lineup protection because it’s overwrought bullshit. Save it for the radio shows. However, Gallo is the sort of hitter opposing pitchers can opt to simply ignore because his supporting cast is so weak. That could do wonders for his OBP, but it may also eat away at a chunk of his home run totals. Further, young hitters – Gallo is only 25 – can sometimes react poorly to being always pitched around. It’s not uncommon for sluggers to expand the strike zone, leading to the aforementioned half-season funk. Perhaps that’s what happened to Rougned Odor last season?
Projection systems suggest Gallo is currently a big draft day value. It’s hard to fight this conclusion. I came into this post planning to fight for his current ADP. Instead, I’d look to target him in the 70th to 85th overall range. I do have some team-specific reservations which prevent me from reaching higher. Volatility could be a problem too, although that cuts both ways.
Selecting Gallo also depends on the composition of your roster. Because you’ll be dedicating so many plate appearances to a batting average killer, you’ll need some above average hitters to offset the damage. When it comes time to pick Gallo, if you find yourself holding Mookie Betts, Juan Soto, and Daniel Murphy, you’re in a great position to achieve the maximum benefit without feeling the pain. Conversely, an offense of Giancarlo Stanton, Cody Bellinger, and Rhys Hoskins probably can’t survive any more damage. Besides, you’d have plenty of power already.