The first time I saw Joey Gallo was a few years ago in spring training. He was coming off a 40-homer season in his first full year in the minors that had vaulted him up the prospect charts. He struck out three times that day — or maybe it was four. I can’t remember exactly. I do remember him swinging through a bunch of fastballs and my wondering what the future might hold.
The future has finally arrived, and it’s fascinating.
Adrian Beltre‘s calf injury opened a spot for Gallo in the Texas Rangers‘ lineup, and he has played every game for the suddenly red-hot Rangers, who have won ten of their last 11 games as they head into their game against the Tigers on Sunday night on ESPN. Gallo is testing the upper limits of what is achievable in modern baseball: He strikes out, he hits home runs, he strikes out some more, he draws a few walks, he hits some more home runs, and he strikes out a whole lot more times. He’s taking the concept of “three true outcomes” to a level never seen before.
Entering Sunday’s game, Gallo is hitting .184/.303/.504 with 13 home runs, and he ranks second behind Nomar Mazara on the Rangers with 29 RBIs. He leads the team with 29 runs, tied for 14th in the majors. Despite that .184 batting average, his park-adjusted wRC+ of 113 means he has been better than an average hitter (100 is average).
The raw power, of course, is prodigious, an 80 on the 80-point scouting scale. He does things such as this home run off Daniel Norris on Friday:
.@JoeyGallo24 just keeps crushing.
— #Statcast (@statcast) May 20, 2017
Or this walk-off home against the A’s on May 12:
Or this 462-foot home run over the popcorn wagon in the right-field concourse:
Of course, while he’s on pace for 47 home runs and 106 RBIs, he’s also on pace for 231 strikeouts, which would break Mark Reynolds‘ single-season mark of 223 set in 2009. Reynolds hit 44 home runs for the Diamondbacks that season, but he also managed to hit .260. The strikeouts caught up to him the next season, however, when he fanned 211 times and hit just .198 with 32 home runs.
That’s the most home runs ever by a sub-.200 hitter. I guess that’s one “record” Gallo is aiming to break. Only 12 players have hit 20 home runs while batting under .200, including Reynolds twice. Here are the top seven, plus Gallo:
You can see what makes Gallo unique, even within this extraordinary group: He has the highest strikeout rate and the highest wRC+. That strikeout rate, in fact, would be the highest ever by a player with at least 400 plate appearances. Only eight times has a player with that many PAs fanned in at least 35 percent of them; Melvin Nieves has the highest at 38.8 percent. If you’re striking out that much, you eventually find yourself on the bench.
Can Gallo keep this up? He has 26 hits — half of them for home runs. That’s insane. When Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001, 46.7 percent of his hits went for home runs. Mark McGwire was at 46 percent when he hit 70 in 1998. His 2001 season, listed above? He had 56 hits, 29 for home runs — that’s 51.8 percent. As such, Gallo isn’t quite in unprecedented territory. His BABIP is extremely low at .200, which you would expect because when he does make contact, it often flies over the fence.
Here’s the concern, however. Through April 24, he was hitting .232 with a .985 OPS, with a 32.4 percent strikeout rate. Since then, his strikeout rate has skyrocketed to 38.2 percent, and he’s hitting .145/.244/.406. Although his overall season line suggests that he can succeed while striking out nearly 40 percent of the time, that appears to be the upper limit. You can play a guy hitting .184 who hits home runs and draws walks, but a .145 hitter with a .244 OBP, even with Gallo’s power, might force manager Jeff Banister to rethink things.
That’s the thing: The future has arrived, but we don’t know how the new future will unfold, let alone where Gallo will move on defense once Beltre returns to third base. If Gallo can cut that strikeout rate to 32 percent, like he did in April, he’s going to be a star. But what we’ve seen in May suggests that he isn’t a lock to remain in the lineup all season.
You’re up, Joey. What comes next?