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Joey Gallo Could Have the Worst 50-Home Run Season in MLB History

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterMay 30, 2018

ARLINGTON, TX - MAY 22:  Joey Gallo #13 of the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington on May 22, 2018 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

We know what a 50-home run season looks like.

It looks like Aaron Judge, last year with the New York Yankees. It's spectacular. It's special.

It looks like Giancarlo Stanton last year with the Miami Marlins. You can't wait for the next at-bat. You can't wait for the next game.

It's not Joey Gallo this year. He might hit 50 home runs, but this isn't what a 50-homer season looks like.

"Same as ever," said one American League scout who has seen Gallo many times. "All or nothing approach. Huge holes."

Huge holes. Small impact.

Home runs, including some that travel ridiculously far. Strikeouts, tons of them, often at the worst time for the Texas Rangers.

Gallo has 15 home runs, one of seven major leaguers with 15 or more. The other six are All-Stars, six of the best players baseball has to offer: Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Bryce Harper, J.D. Martinez, Jose Ramirez and Manny Machado.

The seventh is Gallo, who despite all those home runs, has an OPS+ of 92 as calculated by Baseball Reference. That's eight percent below league average, and that's hard to do.

Those other six guys with 15 or more homers? Their OPS+ numbers range from 143 (Harper) to 209 (Betts).

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The 29 guys in baseball history who have hit 50 home runs in a season? Only one had an OPS+ below 150. That was Andruw Jones in 2005 with the Atlanta Braves, and his was still more than respectable at 136.

But this isn't just about one number. Gallo may not even get to 50 home runs this season. He was on a 60-homer pace in early May, but with just three in his last 20 games he's only on pace for 43 right now.

Given his ability to homer in spurts, he could be back on a 50-homer pace in a week. And he still wouldn't be having a good year.

He didn't have one last year, when he homered 41 times and somehow managed to drive in only 80 runs (by far the fewest ever for a player with 40-plus homers). But Gallo played last year at 23 years old. There was every hope he would get better, that the flashy power would translate into production, that he'd be worthy of the middle of a batting order (he hit seventh and eighth most frequently last year).

It hasn't happened, not yet anyway.

Even with all the home runs and Adrian Beltre on the disabled list, Gallo hasn't been in Rangers manager Jeff Banister's cleanup spot one time all year. The Rangers have had rookie Isiah Kiner-Falefa batting third this week, which tells you what Banister thinks of more experienced options like Gallo or Rougned Odor.

The problem is what it has always been with Gallo. He's too easy to pitch to, even though a mistake can cost you a 466-foot home run (as he hit May 5 off Boston's Eduardo Rodriguez) or even a 490-footer (as he hit last year).

Or this one last August in Minnesota:

MLB @MLB

Get the tape measure out. Joey Gallo just lost his 30th baseball of the season: https://t.co/ezMXuqvDpY #Crushed https://t.co/UoyFZ5fK4K

Gallo's 80 strikeouts lead the major leagues. He's almost an automatic out once he gets to two strikes, with his .075 batting average and strikeouts in 65 percent of those at-bats. His walk percentage has dropped from 14.1 percent last year to 9.4 percent this year. His .199 batting average is in the bottom 10 in the American League among those with enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title. Baseball Reference gives him a minus-0.2 WAR, which is hard to do with all those home runs.

No player since Adam Dunn in 2009 has had a negative WAR in a season with at least 35 home runs. Only three have ever done it: Dunn, Tony Armas in 1983 and Dave Kingman in 1986.

The numbers actually do suggest one positive for Gallo. According to Fangraphs, he is only pulling 37.2 percent of the balls he puts in play this year, as opposed to 49.6 percent last year.

As much as that may sound like progress, though, the lefty still hits nearly all of his ground balls to the right side. MLB.com's Statcast says opponents have used a shift in 90 percent of his plate appearances, one of the highest figures in baseball. Some teams have played all four infielders on the right side against him. Some have used four outfielders, because after leading MLB in fly-ball percentage in 2017 (54.2 percent, according to Fangraphs), Gallo's figure has actually gone up this year (to 55 percent).

The only surprise is that teams don't shift on Gallo 100 percent of the time. Statcast says his wOBA (weighted on-base average) is .297 when they shift, as opposed to .466 the few times they don't.

The home runs are nice, but Rangers manager Jeff Banister would like to see a few more hits. For his career, Gallo has more homers (63) than singles (60).
The home runs are nice, but Rangers manager Jeff Banister would like to see a few more hits. For his career, Gallo has more homers (63) than singles (60).Rick Yeatts/Getty Images

Gallo has bunted for a hit this year, something he never did last season. But one bunt hit in two months isn't going to make opponents change anything,

The big question is whether Gallo is capable of making changes that would make him productive. Could he hit for a higher average if he concentrated more on using the whole field? Could he be more productive if he focused more on putting balls in play (he has 22 strikeouts in 54 at-bats with a runner in scoring position)?

It's not that he's a bad athlete. Gallo has played first base, third base and the outfield in his big league career (although he told reporters he would rather catch than play third base now). Gallo even pitched in high school, and his 97 mph fastball had scouts flocking to try to see him.

"I'd literally hide, so they wouldn't see me pitch," he told me last summer. "Pitching was fun. I liked pitching a lot. I enjoyed being out there controlling the game. But I wanted to play every day. I liked playing the field. I liked hitting."

With his home runs that bash into the second deck, we all like watching Gallo hit—sometimes. We like the highlights, because we only see the good stuff, the home runs that inspired the Rangers to come up with a Joey Gallo tape measure bobblehead to give away next month.

It's not as good when you watch at-bat after at-bat and unproductive out after unproductive out. It's really not good when you look at the numbers.

It's hard to have a bad season when you have a chance at 50 home runs, but Joey Gallo is doing it.

      

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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