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There’s an argument to be made that Joey Gallo is the perfect player for the current moment in MLB.
When he finished his first full season in the major leagues in 2017, he was a marvel, an oddity who had managed to prosper in offensive extremity. More than half of his plate appearances ended in one of the three true outcomes (home run, strikeout, walk). There had never been a player like this: Gallo was the first in history to boast a slugging percentage over .475 while keeping a batting average under .215. Perhaps you looked at that and thought it wasn’t particularly sustainable—this much power with this many strikeouts, with a healthy portion of walks, and without much of anything else. Then he pulled off the same feat in 2018. This was a player who had never been seen before. This was, simply put, weird.
Now, a few years later, Gallo isn’t too different—more walks, fewer strikeouts, but still a three-true-outcome percentage well above 50%. The environment he plays in? That’s another story.
When Gallo debuted, 30.7% of league plate appearances resulted in a strikeout, walk, or home run. Now, 35.9% do, with strikeouts responsible for the biggest portion of that increase. That’s not to say that everyone suddenly looks like Gallo. In fact, no one does: He’s still a remarkable outlier. Gallo’s 57.6% three-true-outcomes percentage this year is slightly below his career average, yet it’s the highest in baseball right now by far, the only one above 50%.
But even while the Texas outfielder remains far ahead, the rest of baseball is beginning to catch up, hitting a little more like him with each passing year. And this rise in three true outcomes is not just a statistical phenomenon but a frequent topic of discussion. It’s been positioned as a question of aesthetics, of entertainment, of the future popularity of the sport. It’s not the only topic that defines this moment in the game. But it’s certainly one of the most prominent. If modern baseball is looking increasingly like The Age of Three True Outcomes—who better to define it than Gallo?
Which is all to say that, yes, it is fair to argue that Joey Gallo is the perfect player for the current moment in MLB, and if you do, you won’t be wrong. But you won’t be quite right, either. Because to watch the current offensive environment is often to think about not just where all these trends might end up but also about what’s behind them—all the ways in which hitting has grown carefully optimized as pitching has become so hard to hit.
To watch Gallo, meanwhile, is to think about something completely different. It is to see a player who seems to be doing what he is born to do. Nothing about his approach at the plate seems optimized, or calculated, or even particularly careful. It seems instead almost guaranteed: How could he do anything else? His raw power is the stuff of legend, hyped from his prospect days, and every other feature of his game manages to fall into place alongside it. There has never been anyone who performs at the plate quite like this—with such an oddly skewed hitting profile. Maybe he couldn’t have existed at any other time. But that doesn’t mean that this time has any player quite like him.
So Joey Gallo may or may not be the perfect player for the current moment in MLB. But he is inarguably, clearly, unquestionably the perfect player for the Home Run Derby.
He has never participated in the event. Yet he’s seemed destined for it since before he was in the majors. (Literally—in 2014, as a minor-leaguer taking batting practice before the Futures Game, he sent a ball so far that it smashed the windshield of a pick-up truck parked on the concourse, intended to be the prize for the winner of the following day’s major-league derby.) The most extreme features of his game have always felt a little like something out of mythology, and so they have always carried with them the question of how they might play somewhere fantastical, unconstrained by the terms of reality: Imagine how many home runs he might hit if strikeouts did not exist.
The Home Run Derby, of course, would provide an answer to that. And what would be the best location? It would have to be the closest thing that baseball has to somewhere fantastical, unconstrained by reality, which is to say: Denver. A Home Run Derby in the place where home runs famously soar with abandon. Gallo has built a career in the most extreme statistical nooks and crannies that baseball has to offer. This, finally, might be the one place he would look perfectly natural: A Denver Home Run Derby.
On Wednesday, Joey Gallo announced that he would be participating in next week’s Home Run Derby in Colorado. Then he went out to play a baseball game. He hit—what else?—two home runs.
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