How The Joey Gallo Experience Is Going So Far

The Nationals signed Joey Gallo, a two time gold glove outfielder, to be their everyday first baseman. The same Joey Gallo who year after year leads the league in strikeouts or K%. But the upside is clearly tantalizing. How has it been going?
Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals
Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals / Jess Rapfogel/GettyImages

Joey Gallo has arrived in Washington, and he's brought his fascinating skill set with him. If you don't know about Gallo, you've missed out on one of the most interesting, unique, and frustrating All-Stars of the current generation. He's a player who maxes out every scale he's placed on, for better or for worse.

As of writing, Joey Gallo's career batting slash line is .196/.322/.465, good for a 109 wRC+ and a 108 OPS+. Just from the batting average alone, it's clear that Gallo is a rare breed of player - one that can bat below the Mendoza line and have a lengthy career. And while Gallo does have decent defensive skills like other light-hitting regulars, he's not rostered just for his work in the field. Joey Gallo is a monster power hitter who goes through intense peaks and valleys at the plate: sometimes he's unstoppable, but more often he's a walking strikeout.

Gallo is unlike any player. Watching him hit on a daily basis is an existential experience. When I see a Gallo plate appearance I always find myself wondering: "How is Joey Gallo real?", and "Is this what the future of baseball looks like?". You've likely come across Joey Gallo fun facts before, because everything about his performance is jagged and absurd. He often hits more homers than singles, he walks or strikes out in well over 50% of his tries, and he has one of the highest all-time home run per plate appearance ratios. All of this strangeness, and yet Gallo is neither especially good nor bad.

Joey Gallo is the opposite of your traditional, well-rounded ballplayer. He doesn't choke up, he doesn't go the other way, he never shortens his swing, he doesn't adjust his approach based on the pitcher. He's a simple man with a simple approach, and that simplicity makes him a unicorn. He's big and strong, and he lets it rip like it's all he knows. If you showed a 20th-century baseball manager Joey Gallo, their mind would melt. This isn't anything you've ever seen before. But what is Joey Gallo, then?

Joey Gallo has insane power, that much is clear. To reach huge exit velocities, a stellar barrel%, and tons of dingers, Gallo uncorks huge, max-effort uppercut swings every time he's up. He's really, incredibly bad at making contact, with 1st-percentile Whiff% and K%, but he rarely swings and knows the zone quite well, allowing him to draw tons of walks, but only barely enough to keep his production around average.

As for Gallo's strikeouts, there has only been one player in any season since 2017 with as many plate appearances as Gallo and a higher strikeout rate, which was the avant-garde performance of Chris Davis in 2019. Aside from Davis and the Orioles playing chicken with a contract buyout, Gallo is one of one. There's nobody else that can survive with a 35%, 40%, and last season's 43% strikeout rate. Forty-three percent! Some players run these rates in spurts, but Gallo is looking to approach 1000 career games at a bat-first position like this. Seriously, there's nobody else like him.

There have been several versions of Joey Gallo over the years, all of them resembling the familiar Three True Outcomes king, but to differing degrees. From 2017 to 2021, Gallo hit 151 home runs with a .336 on-base percentage and strong defense, leading to two all-star appearances, two Gold Glove awards, and an ill-fated trade to the Yankees. In the past two seasons, Gallo has lowered his slash line all at once, with a .168/.290/.394 showing and worse defense. His underlying skills haven't declined all that much, though, and competitive teams have still rostered him searching for the best version of Joey Gallo. Let's look at what could be on the table for Gallo in 2024.

2024 Joey Gallo Steamer Projections: .192/.314/.396, 94 wRC+

This is the baseline for Gallo, as he has shown decreasing power recently. Gallo will need to at least mash more home runs and bump up the slugging percentage to survive at these rates. There's no point in a 94 wRC+ first baseman, but

2024 Joey Gallo after 3 Games: .000/.143/.000

This is, obviously, how bad Gallo can be in a small sample, and we've seen him slump even worse at times. After looking unable to hit the ball against Cincinatti, there was reasonable concern about the Joey Gallo experience.

2024 Joey Gallo after 7 games: .200/.333/.520

All it took was two home runs in the homestand and Gallo suddenly looked great. If he can go at these rates, a .200 batting average is perfectly fine. There haven't been many Nats in recent years with an .800 OPS or higher, and Gallo easily has that kind of potential.

2024 Joey Gallo after 11 games: .167/.302/.417

It's still incredibly early, but this is right about where Gallo is expected to perform. A couple extra fly balls squeaking out and a couple favorable umpires could be the difference between a just good enough line and one that isn't worth rostering. Either way, the slash line looks ridiculous.

Gallo will attempt to play his way out of Washington, but it remains to be seen if a non-tanking team would take a risk on him knowing the deep downside of his slumps, as seen in his .159 batting average for the 2022 Yankees. He's playing more first base than ever, which is weird considering the Nats outfield of subpar defenders and Gallo's Gold Glove awards, but he has at least looked good at first. It will all come down to the home runs, though, especially in a lineup in desperate need of them.

If Gallo has permanently slid down the defensive spectrum, he's unlikely to last much longer in MLB. He's just 30, but has slowed down in recent years, making a return to his 40-homer seasons seem unlikely, but not impossible. The upside for the Nats isn't that high, as even a great Gallo season would only lead to a minor trade return. The good version of Gallo fits in quite well with the makeup of the Nats while he's still wearing the Curly W, or the block W, or whatever it is on a given day. The bad version of Gallo, well, that's the one we're probably going to see more often. It's definitely an experience.