It's true: Yankees' Joey Gallo has actually been one of the unluckiest hitters in baseball

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Joey Gallo home pinstripes day game leaning a ball back in fair territory in front of umpire
Joey Gallo home pinstripes day game leaning a ball back in fair territory in front of umpire

We’ve gone over the fact that Joey Gallo is a baseball anomaly.

He provides a ton of value – he’s a two-time Gold Glover who can hit 30-plus home run in his sleep from the left side of the plate. But at the same time, he’s one of the most frustrating players in the game, especially for Yankees fans.

Already just a career .206 hitter entering this year, he’s hitting just .138 through his first 10 games. His on-base percentage, a strength of his, is .294 – 38 points lower than his career OBP. His slugging is the same as his batting average, as he does not have an extra-base hit, or an RBI, this year. His career SLG? .484.

He’s striking out at barely a higher clip than career average, but nearly not enough for such drastic changes to his numbers.

So we ask, why are the numbers this horrid?

Well, as easy it is to make fun of Aaron Boone, he’s right – Gallo has been very unlucky.

Boone said Gallo “has scorched some balls” and has “been a little bit unlucky” before Saturday’s win over the Baltimore Orioles.

He, in fact, has scorched some balls, despite the stat sheet not showing an extra-base hit.

Gallo currently ranks in the 77th percentile of hard-hit percentage (50 percent), and in the 95th percentile in barrels per batted ball (22.2 percent).

But this is where things get interesting, and where Boone furthermore makes his case.

Thanks to Baseball Savant, we can see “expected batting average,” which is a metric that combines a batted ball’s exit velo and launch angle, and people much smarter than us can calculate the likelihood of it being a hit.

Because Gallo has been hitting the ball hard, but just right to people, Gallo’s current xBA is .234. While .234 is not great BA (it's league average, actually), that’s 96 points higher than what his average is now. His -0.096 difference between his actual BA and his xBA makes him the 35th “unluckiest” hitter in baseball.

Aug 26, 2021; Oakland, California, USA; New York Yankees center fielder Joey Gallo (13) looks on before a game against the Oakland Athletics at RingCentral Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 26, 2021; Oakland, California, USA; New York Yankees center fielder Joey Gallo (13) looks on before a game against the Oakland Athletics at RingCentral Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Now, we can't exactly calculate his "expected on-base percentage" for two reasons:

1) it's not a thing.

2) he's had 29 at-bats. Six hits in 29 ABs gives him a .206 BA, but seven bumps him up to .241. It's literally impossible to hit .234 with just 29 at-bats.

We'll be practical though (this is Joey Gallo we're talking about), and give him two hits to his season based on his lack of luck - that bumps his xOBP (my own made up, very flawed stat) to .343 - we'll need this in a moment.

Maybe that bored you, because a .234 batting average still isn't great. But let’s get into the fun stuff.

Gallo currently owns a .223 wOBA – that’s weighted on-base average. To explain this like I’m writing “Analytics for Dummies,” it’s on-base percentage that takes extra-base hits into account (whereas OBP only takes into if you reached base). But his xWOBA is .406. That’s the seventh-lowest difference in baseball, and a .406 wOBA would have been the sixth-best mark in baseball last year.

This is where it gets really good. Even more interestingly, Gallo’s expected slugging percentage is – wait for it - .612!

First of all, that would have been the second-best slugging percentage in all of baseball last year. Second of all, that’s a negative difference of 474 points. That easily makes him the unluckiest slugger in the sport.

Last Wednesday, he hit a ball with an xBA of .980 - it was a flyout. On April 10, he had a batted ball with a .990 xBA. That, too, was a flyout. This is all direct proof of the phrase "he's hitting it hard, just right to people."

I know it sounds otherwise, but in no way is this a defense of Gallo - he's been disappointing since the day he stepped foot into New York. He has not been what the Yankees hoped when they acquired him from the Texas Rangers.

The hatred for Gallo is understandable. No matter how we slice these analytics and try to make him look good, he’s simply not a player you want at the plate when you just need a base hit. That's why batting average will always be an important stat, no matter how far analytics go. He will always be frustrating, and he will always be a severely flawed hitter.

And sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good.

But if Gallo weren’t hitting into directly into bad luck, he’d probably be the one of most productive players on the Yankees right now. Seriously, who wouldn’t take a .234/.343/.612 slashline?

Of course, the results are the results, and they’re unacceptable. But these porous numbers are just not sustainable, and Gallo will produce (the way the Yankees want him to) eventually.

However, it does have to happen soon, because bad luck can only buy so much time - you can't win a division in April, but you sure can lose it.