By The Numbers: Joey Gallo, Ryan Zimmerman, Patrick Corbin
Joey Gallo is one of the game’s most fascinating sluggers, perfectly exemplifying the league’s shift towards hitting more home runs, strikeouts be damned. Indeed, three true outcomes is the name of his game, finishing 2017 fifth in home runs (41) and ninth in walk rate (14.1%), while owning the second-highest strikeout rate (36.8%) and fourth-worst batting average (.209).
But an interesting wrinkle this offseason was that Gallo was working on putting more balls in play, and his strikeouts were down during Spring Training. Given his immense power, even sniffing a .230-.240 average would be a huge boon to his fantasy stock. As we approach mid-May, have there been any signs of improvement?
Well, the short answer is… no. The average is still wallowing dangerously close to the Mendoza Line (.213), and while both his strikeout rate (33.1%) and walk rate (8.9%) are down, they’re still in the range you might expect. His contact rate still isn’t anything to write home about (63.9%), and he’s also swinging at more pitches outside the zone (38.3%). That improved batting average sure looks like a pipe dream after all.
But the good news is everything else is still intact too. Gallo’s hard-hit rate (46.1%) and fly-ball rate (54.5%) are nearly identical to 2017, and he remains a Statcast darling, sitting near the top of the leaderboards in both average exit velocity and barrels. The .338 wOBA may appear modest, but a .400 xwOBA suggests that this too should rise to more impressive heights.
So while Gallo may not remove the batting liability from his ledger — at least not yet — it’s safe to say he can still dole out the pain in round-trippers with the best of them. Luckily, in this day and age, for most leagues the average isn’t quite as crippling as it used to be, and he’s as good a bet as any to contend for the home run crown this season.
Let’s check in on how some other guys’ numbers are shaking out in 2018.
Despite a slow start to the season, Ryan Zimmerman still owns a .376 xwOBA
Following arguably the best season of his career, it’s safe to say the early returns on Ryan Zimmerman’s follow-up effort have been lacking. Zimmerman is slashing just .217/.280/.409, resulting in a woeful .299 wOBA, and with the emergence of a hot-hitting Matt Adams, his stranglehold on first base may not be as strong as it used to be.
But rest easy, fantasy owners, because maybe we shouldn’t stick a fork in Zimmerman just yet. The results haven’t been there, but there are signs that he isn’t playing as poorly as the surface numbers would suggest.
Statcast’s xwOBA gives us a better idea of what a player’s wOBA “should” be based on exit velocity and launch angle, and as it turns out, Zimmerman has produced a .376 xwOBA, a massive difference from his actual results. This coincides with Zimmerman’s other numbers, as he’s posted one of the highest average exit velocities on the year (95.1 mph), and is still making a lot of hard contact (41.8%). In addition, his .233 BABIP dips way below his career mark (.310), suggesting poor luck on balls in play, and his strikeout rate is actually slightly better than last season (19.2%).
In all, in spite of the lackluster fantasy contributions, this season’s version of Zimmerman actually looks pretty darn good! After sitting out a few games for a minor injury, he’s submitted a pair of multi-hit games, perhaps giving us hope that the results will begin to reflect his strong peripherals. Hang in there if you’re a frustrated fantasy owner, and if you’re not, it might be worth trying to snag Zimmerman on the cheap.
Odubel Herrera has produced a .405 wOBA, but only has a 26.9% hard-hit rate
After getting surprisingly benched on Opening Day, Odubel Herrera has taken off with an impressive .405 wOBA and .341/.411/.527 slash line. The batting average is good for fifth in the league, and he’s also shown improvements in both strikeout rate and walk rate (15.1% and 9.6%, respectively). He’s solidified his spot as the Phillies’ number three hitter, which can only help him rack up the counting stats.
But are we truly witnessing a breakout? Herrera’s .362 xwOBA, while still strong, is a notable dropoff from his real wOBA, and he hasn’t seen any noticeable change in average exit velocity (87 mph) from his career norms. He also has a curiously low 26.9% hard-hit rate, which is down from 2017, and despite annually showing the ability to hit for a high BABIP, his current .379 mark looks difficult to maintain.
Of course, this isn’t to say Herrera is going to come crashing down. The improvements in plate discipline are encouraging, and with five home runs on the year, it’s not like he’s been displaying an unrealistic amount of power. But whether he’s a significantly improved hitter remains to be seen, and with just two stolen bases, the speed component he showed in 2016 (25 stolen bases) doesn’t look like it’s coming back any time soon either.
With everyday playing time in the heart of the order, Herrera should easily exceed his career-best in RBIs (56), and there’s no reason he can’t hit for a high average, particularly given his .292 career mark. And that’s still pretty good! But he’s unlikely to maintain a wOBA around .400 over the long haul, and there’s no evidence he’s adding more power or speed to his game in 2018.
Patrick Corbin has shown reduced velocity in his last two starts
Finally, we must touch on Patrick Corbin, who has begun the season as a human buzzsaw, showing a sparkling 2.12 ERA and 0.82 WHIP to go with a stellar 34.5% strikeout rate and 6.7% walk rate. Supported by a 2.62 SIERA and 15.0% swinging-strike rate, the early dominance sure looks like the real thing.
But Corbin has suddenly seen his velocity drop to 90-89 mph over his last two outings, which is no small concern. And despite solid stats in the box score, his swinging-strike rate has plummeted over his last three starts, and at least for the last two, that could coincide with the decline in velocity. He’s also allowed a rough 45.5% hard-hit rate over that span, another bad look. And on the season as a whole, Corbin has proven to be a little lucky as well, displaying a .217 BABIP and 89.9% strand rate, which are both unsustainable marks.
Is it time to panic? The numbers have been so good to this point that we shouldn’t sound all the alarms yet, but there’s no getting around the fact that the velocity is a big worry. If it continues for another start, we could see his effectiveness drop in a hurry, if we haven’t already. There’s always the chance Corbin rights the ship in short order, but we’re entering uncharted territory, and depending on your pitching situation, it could be worth selling high if you can acquire a less potentially volatile piece.