The official end to Joey Gallo’s Yankee tenure appears to be on ….
The official end to Joey Gallo’s Yankee tenure appears to be on the horizon. The MLB trade deadline is next week, and the organization has already acquired a new left-handed outfielder in Andrew Benintendi.
While Gallo will likely be suiting up in a different uniform in the near future, he knows he will be thinking about his time in New York for the rest of his life.
“Every time I see a Yankees hat, every time I see a Yankees jersey, it’s something I’m going to have to understand,” Gallo said at Yankee Stadium on Thursday. “I didn’t play well as a Yankee. I wish I had.”
Gallo is hitting .159/.282/.339 with 12 home runs this season and has gone from being a starting outfielder to a bench player with a ticket out of the Bronx, even if the timing and next destination is yet to be determined. In 139 games for the Yankees over the last calendar year, Gallo has hit .159/.291/.368 for a .660 OPS, a significant dip from the .833 OPS he had in seven years with the Rangers while hitting .211/.336/.497 for them.
When the Yankees acquired Gallo, they had a large enough sample size of outcomes to understand that the player they were receiving was offensively streaky, defensively solid, and came with a hard-to-watch strikeout rate even when putting together an All-Star first half in 2021. This is who Gallo is: He has an uppercut swing that leads to pitchers routinely finding ways to exploit his low-contact profile, and he’s a left-handed pull hitter who faces the shift in all but a handful of plate appearances each season.
Gallo is a player who comes with a lot of statistical idiosyncrasies. This season, his contact rates and strikeout rates are not significantly different from previous years, and he’s still hitting the ball hard when he makes contact. But his barrel rates and overall exit velocity numbers are down significantly, and the results are not showing up in relation to the power he can seemingly generate when he actually gets to a ball he can square up.
“When I see my numbers, I feel like I’ve played better than that,” Gallo said. “There are a couple of things mechanically that I think I could have been better about monitoring. Baseball is a weird game. You can be doing something slightly wrong, and in baseball you just start doing it every day, and it starts to become a habit you don’t notice. I just feel like something here got out of rhythm, out of whack.”
Gallo said Thursday that he doesn’t fully know what “rock bottom” looks like in a baseball sense, but “in the major leagues, it’s probably close to my experiences” in New York. With the possibility of a move that takes him out of the Bronx within the next week, Gallo appeared in a noticeably better headspace than he did in early June, when he answered a question about the underlying factors leading to consistently poor outcomes with a simple, deflated response: “I’m just not good enough.”
The question of “what went wrong for Joey Gallo in New York” is not sufficiently answered by a lesson in mechanical maintenance, however. It has been a difficult mental year for Gallo, and that seems to have showed up in the numbers more than any small mechanical quirk.
“I think it’s been a little bit of a combination,” manager Aaron Boone said earlier this week. “I think he’s tried to work on some things mechanically that haven’t totally clicked for him. And also, I think he’s borne the brunt of struggling here. I think he’s carried that burden.”
“This is a tough place to not play well,” Gallo said of New York. “It’s hard to deal with, and at the end of the day, you want to make fans happy and proud. So when you are understandably getting not-good feedback from them on a constant basis, it’s tough. It doesn’t make you feel good about yourself. But that’s something I needed to learn, and I see it as part of growing for me as a person and as a player.”
Gallo came to New York from Texas, where he was the star on an underperforming team, playing in front of a crowd that hardly had anyone else to consider a star and gave him grace with his streakiness because he was a homegrown talent, and they ultimately saw a handful of productive seasons from him in the end. Throughout the past year as a Yankee, Gallo has said he felt pressure to be “that guy” for Rangers fans, and he was rewarded for his efforts with patience and appreciation even during his turbo-strikeout streaks.
As a player, Gallo is self-aware. He understands his contact skills are far inferior to the league-norm, and finds it important to add some value in things like baserunning and defense to help make up for his consistently low batting average. He knows that his season hitting stats are usually buoyed by a couple of scorched-Earth hot streaks, the likes of which he hasn’t gone on once since coming to New York.
But for all of Gallo’s awareness of his own game, and his relationship with the fans in Texas who he feels came to understand him, he came to New York seemingly naîve as to how his deficiencies would be perceived in this market, and in this scenario.
Yankees fans, for the most part, likely did not watch Gallo closely while he was with the Rangers. He was the hottest hitting name available on the trade market last year, and he had recently made a trip to the All-Star Game when he was traded to the Yankees. There is a difference between understanding Gallo to be a swing-and-miss type player — which Yankees fans could assume might look like an Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton type — and recognizing the extreme strikeout tendencies Gallo brings, and weathering many hopeless at-bats to get to the homering hot streak.
Gallo appeared at times blindsided and overwhelmed by the extent of the negative feedback he has received as a Yankee. Asked to put himself in the shoes of the fans who are paying to watch him take four at-bats in a night, Gallo says he thinks he would “wish he were playing better, but still try to see that he plays hard.”
He added that he “understands the feedback I’ve gotten. This is not what the expectation was when I was traded here.”
Gallo is now attempting to use his struggles in New York as a way to grow as a player, noting that “there’s no other place that’s going to be as tough to play in as this place, especially when I struggle.”
But while he hopes to use his experiences in New York to become less swayed by criticism in the future, the reality is that the feedback matched his poor results.
“I feel bad,” Gallo said. “It’s something I’m gonna have to really live with for the rest of my life. It’s going to be tough. I didn’t play well, I didn’t live up to expectations. And that’s a tough pill to swallow.”