A few weeks ago, fellow Pitcher List Podcaster Pete Ball of the Keep or Kut Podcast and I discussed Robin Ventura and leadoff hitters on my show Long Ball Legacies. With a career 13.0 BB% and a .362 OBP, we wondered if we transported Ventura to today’s baseball environment, would he have been a stud leadoff hitter where getting on base consistently outweighs speed or stolen bases in today’s game? The more and more I thought about it, I started thinking about other hitters today who fit the same mold where they are miscast in their spot in the lineup because it accentuates their weaknesses while minimizing their elite skills. The player that came to mind was Carlos Santana – who had a career year in his one season as a leadoff hitter – but the second hitter who came to mind is the subject of this article: Joey Gallo. Gallo is the embodiment of the three true outcomes era as nearly every at-bat of his ends in either a walk (18.0 BB% in 2021), a strikeout (34.6% in 2021), or a home run (38 HRs in 2021). Now you might see that last number and do a double-take at the headline. 38 HRs and you want him to bat leadoff? You bet your sweet sassafras I do.
There are three things the world agrees on about Joey Gallo:
- At 6’5″ 250 pounds with a career 20.1 BBL% and a 117.5 Max EV, his bat is where baseball go to receive their last rites.
- That’s only when he makes contact which given his career 60.7 Contact%, 44.5 Swing%, and 36.9 K%, which for most is unacceptable.
- He has an incredible eye at the plate based on his career 15.0 BB%, and 27.5 O-Swing%.
Last year with the Rangers Gallo primarily batted 3rd, 4th, or 5th and after a trade deadline move to the Yankees, he mostly batted 4th or 5th. It is my theory that is not the way to maximize Gallo’s elite skills. A move to leadoff hitter would add a ton more value to his most elite skill (his ability to draw a walk) while minimizing the negative value of his greatest weakness (his strikeouts) all without greatly affecting the impact of his most desired skill (his home run power). To make my point we’ll need to consult the fantastically named “The Book” By Tom M. Tango, Mitchel G. Lichtman, and Andrew E. Dolphin and the metric they heavily analyzed within called Run Values. They define Run Values as the average number of runs created by a specific event (single, double, triple, walk, home run, etc.) and within their book, they determined that not only does every single type of event in baseball have its own individual Run Values number but that number can change based on the situation. One of the major things that can change on average the Run Value of an event is where the hitter hits in the batting order. Allow me to demonstrate:
Run Values, By Event and Batting Order (Excerpt from “The Book”)
There are a few things to notice. First off it’s clear to see that walks are worth the most when accomplished by either leadoff hitters or #2 hitters. In fact, a walk by a leadoff hitter carries .04 runs of value over a walk by the cleanup hitter. In any one given situation that doesn’t matter much but as you’ll see throughout this article it adds up. The second thing to notice is that there isn’t much of a difference between the negative impact of strikeout by a leadoff hitter and the cleanup but the gap between the walks and strikeouts is much larger for leadoff hitters than any other spot in the lineup. Finally, look at the home runs. You would imagine that there would be a sizable gap between the home run value between the leadoff hitter spot and every other spot but in actuality, the #2 and #3 spots carry greater on average Run-Value than the leadoff spot and not by much. It’s not even close to the difference between the value a walk carries for a leadoff hitter and everyone else.
Now let’s take these values and apply them to Gallo. First, let’s look at the career walks:
So you can see over his career his walks would have added 18 runs of value over hitting in the #3 spot, 14 runs over batting cleanup, and 13 runs over the #5 spot. How about looking at just the 2021 numbers?:
Once again we can see that throughout 2021 Gallo’s walks would have carried four additional runs of value at the leadoff spot over hitting in the #4, or #5 spot and five runs over hitting #3 or #6. Now what about the negative side of things with the strikeouts?:
So it’s clear first right off the bat (*cue Groucho Marx eyebrow waggle*) that as a whole Gallo’s strikeouts outweigh the positive by almost double. At the leadoff slot, those strikeouts would have had the second-highest impact of a lineup spot outside of the Clean up spot. How about just in 2021?:
There is still a pretty sizable gap between the negative impact Gallo’s strikeouts had versus the positive runs his walks created. We aren’t done yet though. There’s one more thing to look at here…How does the value of his home runs change based on where he would have hit in the lineup? As before we start with his career numbers:
Over his career, if Gallo had hit leadoff instead of cleanup he would have lost just eight runs in run value. If he had hit #2 or #3 that number drops to five and just two if he had hit #5. Hitting leadoff over his career would have minimal impact (at most roughly the value of six home runs or so and only if he hit clean up. How about 2021?:
So in 2021 hitting leadoff instead of cleanup only reduced the run value of his home runs by runs or just over one home run. Any other spot is even less than that. So let’s put it all together: