Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Texas Rangers Slugger Joey Gallo Becomes the Ninth Player Since 2015 to Finish a Season with 40 or More Home Runs and Fewer Than 100 RBI

Gallo hit 41 HRs with just 80 RBI in 2017

By hitting his fortieth and forty-first home runs on the next-to-the-last day of the regular season, Texas Rangers slugger Joey Gallo became the ninth player since 2015 to finish a season with 40 or more home runs and fewer than 100 RBI.  Prior to 2015, a hitter reaching the 40 home run plateau without driving in 100 runs was a rare occurrence--only being completed sixteen times by thirteen different sluggers.  However, with the trend over the last several seasons showing a rise in strikeouts and home runs, the odd combination of 40 home run campaigns with fewer than 100 RBI continues to become more common.

Balls were flying out of the park at a noticeable rate during 2017.  In fact, new records for total number of home runs hit during the season (6,105) and average number of homers per game (1.26) were set in 2017--shattering the previous marks.  However, 2017's incredible longball totals were tempered by records set for total number of strikeouts for a season (40,104) as well as average number of strikeouts per game (8.25).  Yet, as substantial the increase in home runs has been over the last few seasons, the rise in strikeouts has been even more dramatic with new records for total number of whiffs per season and average whiffs per game set each year since 2008.  Furthermore, the strikeout per game rate has increased from 6.77 in 2008 to the whopping 8.25 it was in 2017.  On top of that, 141 hitters struck out 100 or more times in 2017--a total which is more than double the 67 hitters who reached that dubious mark between 1871 and 1960.

Sluggers with 40 home run/sub-100 RBI seasons between 2015 and 2017

By reaching the 40-home run plateau while driving in fewer than 100 RBI, Gallo joined Albert Pujols, Carlos Gonzalez, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Nelson Cruz, Todd Frazier, Chris Carter, and Brian Dozier as the ninth player since 2015 to finish a season with that odd combination of totals.  At age 23 in his first full year in the major leagues, Gallo struck out a staggering 196 times in 2017, trailing only Aaron Judge for the highest total in all of baseball.  Strikeouts undoubtedly played a role in Gallo falling shy of 100 RBI but the Rangers slugger is not alone in his tendency to punchout with regularity as, aside from Pujols, each of the other sluggers to put together 40 home run/sub-100 RBI campaigns over the past three seasons have fanned at least 131 times.

Sluggers with 40 longball/sub-100 RBI campaigns prior to 2015

Lofty strikeout totals became more commonplace during the mid-1990s and early 2000s but the scoring environment was so high that the 40 home run/sub-100 RBI campaigns either took place during the strike-shortened 1994 season or had special circumstances like in 2003 when pitchers walked Barry Bonds at an abnormally frequent rate rather than risk giving up the longball to him or in 2006 when Alfonso Soriano was batted leadoff, a rarity for a home run hitter.  Prior to the increase in strikeouts, sluggers with 40 home run/sub-100 RBI seasons generally did not put up the high punchout totals of modern day hitters and were not among the league leaders in strikeouts.  However, the first three sluggers with 40 home run/sub-100 RBI campaigns--Hall of Famers Duke Snider, Mickey Mantle, and Harmon Killebrew--resembled modern day sluggers by finishing among the league leaders in both longballs and strikeouts.  In contrast to the sluggers of today, Snider, Mantle, and Killebrew were exceptions to their era rather than the rule as whiff rates typically hovered around just five per game in their times.

Gallo & fellow "Three True Outcomes" slugger Adam Dunn
Gallo finished 2017 with just 80 RBI, the lowest amount for a slugger who reached the 40 home run plateau.  In addition, Gallo is the first slugger to hit 40 or more round-trippers with an RBI number less than twice their longball total.  Gallo batted a meager .209, the second worst average for a slugger who reached 40 home runs as only Adam Dunn's .204 mark during his 41-longball 2012 campaign was lower.  Dunn had several seasons in which he hovered just above or below the 40 home run and 100 RBI marks and is just one of three sluggers to have two 40 longball/sub-100 RBI campaigns, having turned the odd feat in 2006 in addition to 2012.  Of all the sluggers to put together 40 home run/sub-100 RBI seasons, Dunn is the most similar to Gallo as they both post impressive walk totals while homering and striking out at an alarming rate.  Dunn and Gallo can both be described as "Three True Outcomes" hitters who are most likely to end a plate appearance with either a walk, home run, or strikeout.  However, Gallo may be taking the "Three True Outcomes" hitting style to a new level as he walked 75 times while recording just 94 hits--less than half his 196 punchouts.  Moreover, Gallo's 94 hits was a new low for a slugger who hit 40 or more home runs.  Not surprisingly, the slugger who held this dubious distinction before Gallo was Dunn with 110 hits in 2012.  Set to turn 24 and having just completed his first full season in 2017, Gallo could have several 40 home run/sub-100 RBI campaigns in his future.

Aside from his "Three True Outcome" hitting style, Texas' use of Gallo in the latter part of the batting order also played a role in his lack of RBI.  Gallo made his highest number of starts, 37, hitting out of the seven-spot for the Rangers but was also written into the batting order in the five, six, eight, and nine-holes at least 20 times.

Seasons where hitter had more home runs than singles while qualifying for the batting title

Another unique aspect of Gallo's 2017 campaign is that the youngster joined Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire as just the third slugger to hit more home runs than singles while still amassing enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title.  Interestingly enough, Bonds and McGwire accomplished this odd feat during years in which they broke the single-season home run record.

In his short career, Gallo has already established himself as one of the game's most powerful sluggers, often hitting highlight reel, tape measure home runs.  In fact, Gallo crushed 494 and 490 foot longballs which ranked second and third, behind only Aaron Judge's 496 foot blast for longest home run distance in 2017.  Overall, eight of Gallo's 41 round-trippers this seasons were of at least 450 feet.

Gallo played three defensive positions in 2017
Gallo's power is undisputed, however, if the slugger fails to progress from being a "Three True Outcomes" hitter, he may need to rely on his defense to stay in the starting line up.  The importance of Gallo's defense is underscored by the differing career paths of two fellow "Three True Outcome" sluggers, Todd Frazier and Chris Carter, who both put together 40 home run/sub-100 RBI campaigns in 2016.  Frazier plays a competent third base and also has the ability to fill in at first as well.  By contrast, Carter proved himself too immobile to play the outfield regularly and was thus limited to first base or relegated to designated hitter duties.  In recent years, Frazier has been a hot commodity in the trade market, first being the centerpiece of a three-team deal that sent him from the Cincinnati Reds to the Chicago White Sox prior to the 2016 season before being swapped to the New York Yankees this past July and aiding the club in capturing the top seed in the AL Wildcard game.  Carter, on the other hand, hit the free agent market but found few teams interested in signing him despite leading the NL with 41 home runs.  Carter ultimately signed with the New York Yankees but struggled for playing time, was released mid-season, and finished the year with the Nashville Sounds--the AAA minor league affiliate of the Oakland Athletics.

Fortunately for Gallo it appears his defensive skill set more closely resembles Frazier's than Carter's.  In his short career Gallo has already spent time at both corners of the infield as well as left field.  Gallo started the majority of his minor league games at third base and filled in for five-time Gold Glove winner Adrian Beltre at the hot corner to start 2017 season while the veteran spent most of April and May on the disabled list.  Gallo was error prone at third as evidenced by his .930 fielding percentage but the advanced defensive metrics did not completely discount his glove as both total zone and DRS saw him as just 4 fielding runs below average.  Following Beltre's return from injury, Texas mostly used Gallo at first base but also started him in left field as well.

Gallo and sluggers who just missed putting together 40 home run/sub-100 RBI campaigns in 2017

After the once rare combination of 40 or more home runs with fewer than 100 RBI was completed by eight different sluggers between 2015 and 2016--having just Gallo turn the odd trick in 2017, one might assume 40 longball/sub-100 RBI seasons are a declining trend.  However, in 2017, several sluggers nearly reached the 40 home run plateau while finishing well under the 100-RBI mark.  Three sluggers--Justin Smoak, Mike Moustakas, and Logan Morrison--each hit 38 home runs while driving in 90, 85, and 85 runs, respectively.  In addition, Cody Bellinger ended the year one longball shy of 40 and three RBI short of 100 en route to breaking Frank Robinson's long standing NL rookie home run record.  Like most sluggers to reach 40 home runs without driving in 100 runs in recent years, Bellinger, Smoak, and Morrison all walked frequently while posting lofty strikeout totals.

Gallo's 41 HRs were part of a record 6,105 in 2017
Another sign that the trend of 40 longball/sub-100 RBI campaigns will continue is the fact that the past two seasons have been the only times in major league history that total number of RBI for the season has been less than four times the total number of home runs.  In 2017, there was an average of just 3.53 RBI per home run, down from 3.70 in 2016.  Although the number of runs scored continues to rise, more and more of these runs are being driven in via the longball by sluggers who post high walk, strikeout, and home run numbers or even hit in the "Three True Outcome" style like Gallo.  Once a statistical oddity, 40 home run/sub-100 RBI seasons have now become a yearly occurrence.

----by John Tuberty

Follow my Twitterings @BloggerTubbs

Photo Credit:  Joey Gallo 2017 Topps Heritage, Joey Gallo 2016 Topps Chrome Baseball Refractor, Adam Dunn 2011 Topps Heritage, Joey Gallo 2013 Bowman Platinum, Joey Gallo 2015 Topps Update

Other Articles By Tubbs Baseball Blog:

No comments:

Post a Comment