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  • Justin Stombler

Joey Gallo Is No Hero

Editor's Note: This author of this article does not take any statistics from the start of the 2024 season into account. He procrastinated far too long on finishing this.


Sacrifice flies are a noble act.


A batter, recognizing himself as only a small part of a greater system, works to sacrifice his life (get out) to allow his team to survive and live to see another day (score a run).


It takes a special type of valor to be someone who excels in this selfless act. A batter must have the courage and situational awareness (and skill) to get the ball to the outfield when a teammate is on 3rd with fewer than 2 outs, deep enough to allow them to tag up and score. Players who have this skill are incredibly important.


This valor is not a trait exhibited by Joey Gallo.


Joey Gallo is no hero.


Joey Gallo, grimacing
 

The Lord of the (Sac) Flies


Sacrifice flies, while occasionally critically important, are also exceedingly rare. From 2000-2023, they accounted for the outcome of only 0.70% of all MLB plate appearances.


Some hitters have contributed more to that total than others. On the high end, Albert Pujols led all batters in this timeframe with 123 sac flies, on 13,041 total plate appearances. A high volume and an impressive rate, amounting to a 0.94% sac fly rate.



On the other hand, this article's namesake Joey Gallo brings up the rear. How many sacrifice flies does he have in his first 9 seasons in the bigs?


Not 1.


Not 2.


Not 3.


Wait no, no it's 3.



What? Gallo's 3 sac flies, out of 3,143 plate appearances no less, is shocking. A mere 0.10% sac fly rate; once in roughly every 1,000 PAs for Gallo ends in a sacrifice fly.


It isn't as though he gets fewer opportunities than his fellow player either; roughly 5% of his career PAs come in a sacrifice fly situation (runner on 3rd, fewer than 2 outs), which is in line with other players who have played in during the same timeframe.


For further hilarious context:


Table comparing various pitchers to Joey Gallo in terms of sacrifice flies

What's happening here?


Baseball player hitting
Zack Greinke, probably hitting a sacrifice fly
 

Gallo's Humor


Obviously, a sacrifice fly cannot be created without a ball in play. Joey Gallo does a lot of things well, putting balls in play isn't necessarily among them. This is exhibited in a few areas of Gallo's game: strikeouts, and non-sacrificable fly balls.


Strikeouts


Gallo sports a 37.9% strikeout rate throughout his career, 2nd worst among all qualified batters during this span.


It's a problem he's consistently dealt with as well. As 4 of his individual seasons make appearances on the list of the 25 highest strikeout rate seasons since 2015. Most recently in 2023.


Strikeout Rates, single season totals since 2015

Non-Sacrificable Fly Balls


For someone who refuses to hit sacrifice flies, Joey Gallo puts the ball in the air a lot.


In fact, since the start of 2015, he leads all qualified batters in flyball rate. Over half of his batted balls are fly balls.


Flyball Rates since 2015

But in the realm of sacrifice flies, not all fly balls are created equally. Specifically, two kinds of fly balls, infield fly balls (IFFB) and home runs are easy examples of fly balls that can't lead to a sacrifice. As it turns out, Joey Gallo also has high instances of both of these.


Of his fly balls, 11.9% are IFFBs, and another 26.7% are HRs. This means a total of 38.6% of his fly balls are non-sacrificable (not a real term). This is a lot. In fact, it is again the most of all qualified hitters since 2015.


As such, the effect is twofold. Gallo struggles to get the ball in play, and when he does, it is often not the kind of ball in play that would result in a sac fly.

There is however, at least one more reason worth looking into.


 

Choosing Life


When Joey Gallo is in situations where a sacrifice fly would lead to a run; that is to say, a runner on 3rd with fewer than 2 outs, he absolutely rakes. Both relative to himself and the rest of the league.


Stathead offers a convenient look at this via a metric called tOPS+, which is just a fancy way of comparing how a player performs in a given scenario compared to their overall.


Outside of the his first 2 seasons (53 total games played) Gallo has continually excelled in situations where a sacrifice would be helpful, choosing instead to simply be better at avoiding outs.


In fact, his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) in these situations goes from .255 to a blistering .349.


His career OPS of 0.917 in these spots means he's hitting well-above league average in these situations. For reference, it would have been the 9th best OPS in the majors in 2023.

 

Baseball, as it is often noted, is a sport based on variance, sometimes to the extreme.


Joey Gallo has done himself no favors to hit sacrifice flies across his career, but there is something to be said for the extreme variance that is also needed for someone of his caliber to not simply luck into at least a few more along the way.


Baseball Scatter Plot

Perhaps he'll hit number 4 soon.


Knowing baseball, he'll hit number 5 the day after.

 

Thanks for reading! If you liked this article, check me out on Twitter at @SevenYardsBack

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