Rangers Joey Gallo, Marlins Giancarlo Stanton And Strikeouts
Giancarlo Stanton has a career strikeout rate of 28.1% at the MLB level. As the trade off of power for punch outs becomes more widely accepted by baseball fans and prospect followers, so will the level of forgiveness for minor league power hitters like Joey Gallo. The Rangers third base prospect hit 42 home runs, but struck out 179 times — his second consecutive season of 170+ whiffs. How easy is it to project the young slugger at the MLB level?
When it comes to minor league power hitters, it’s important to accept they’ll strike out more at the Major League level than minor league level. Giancarlo Stanton’s minor league high was 29% after a mid-season promotion to Double-A in his second full season. In High-A, it was 21.4% prior to being promoted.
This can be compared to Joey Gallo who spent his first full season in Single-A (37%) before being bumped two levels in 2014. In the Carolina League, Gallo struck out 26% of the time before surging to a 39.5% whiff rate in Double-A. At roughly the same age and level of competition, Joey Gallo K’d 10.5% more than Stanton — the equivalent of 50 extra walks back to the dugout in a 500 plate appearance minor league season.
After being promoted, the Marlins slugger struck out 31.1% of the time in his first taste of MLB pitching. To date, Stanton is having his best season, striking out “just” 26.7% of the time. Remarkably, his ability to gradually bring down the strikeouts has resulted in a career batting average above .270. Like many sluggers, Stanton had a strikeout rate of 26.2% in the upper minor leagues, then saw it jump against MLB pitching before stabilizing somewhat.
What does this mean for Joey Gallo? If we can agree the left-handed hitter will improve his strikeout rate next season (let’s estimate 10%), his Double-A strikeout rate will be about 35% when he’s either promoted to Triple-A or called up to the big club. Against MLB pitching, his strikeout rate will rise by 5-7% or so, meaning he’ll perform like Javier Baez in his first taste of MLB. Through his first 148 plate appearances, the Cubs shortstop has a triple slash line of .164/.209/350 with a 41% strikeout rate. In fairness to Joey Gallo, his batting eye is better than Baez, so initial results should be marginally better.
In time, Gallo’s strikeout rate will improve, but where will it stabilize? If it’s 33% or more, then Gallo would have to be a unique Major Leaguer to accumulate substantial value at the game’s highest level. Between 2010 and 2014, only Chris Carter and Tyler Flowers have been considered “starters” with strikeout rates so high.
In fact, the highest batting average of any player with 400 plate appearances and a 30-plus percent strikeout rate is Bryan LaHair at .263. Of course he did it with a .361 BABIP and ended up in Japan. Only three other hitters (Darin Ruf, Chris Davis and Jack Cust) have batting averages equivalent to a 40 hitter on the 20/80 scale at the MLB level. This isn’t to say Joey Gallo won’t be the exception to the rule, but he’ll have to be exceptional to do so.
Joey Gallo And Platoon Splits
Another concern with Gallo is the fact he struck out 34 times in 60 at bats against left-handed pitching. He walked just once. Unless the top-100 prospect makes drastic changes to his approach, the Rangers product will end up a platoon player accumulating 450 plate appearances per season. If this happens and he punches out a third of the time, while walking 10% of the time, Joey Gallo will put the ball in play approximately 250 times in a season. When Mark McGwire is the career leader in home run rate at 9.42%, Gallo’s path to 25 home runs includes his having the highest home run rate in MLB history. Can anybody say Juan Francisco?
Back in 2011, Chris Carter was used in a piece about predicting the power tool using metrics. It’s become a personal favorite because the Astros slugger proved to be an anomaly, bucking probability and becoming one of the game’s top power hitters in spite of a huge strikeout rate. This isn’t to say Joey Gallo won’t follow suit, but the odds are against him.
9 Sep 2014 / Mike Newman /
Categories: MLB Analysis
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