by Mickey Bell
To recap the articles so far, I buy Cody Bellinger, Christian Yelich, and Yordan Alvarez as values, sell Keston Hiura and Alex Bregman (at his price), and fall somewhere in the middle with Gleyber Torres, Javier Baez, Austin Meadows, Yoan Moncada, Ketel Marte, Kris Bryant, and Victor Robles. Please check out Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, and Part Seven of this series as well.
Joey Gallo – OF – Texas Rangers
2020 Yahoo preseason rank: 85
2020 final rank: 400
2021 ADP: 166
The UDWOBP darling’s average dropped to its floor in 2020 finishing at 0.181. Injuries might have contributed to this. Beat writers reported Gallo’s right wrist injury early in August 2020 during a series against Oakland, the same hand he had hamate bone surgery on in 2019. He also ran into the right field wall on August 15, supposedly doing more damage to the wrist. In the eight games (35 plate appearances) to start the season before the Oakland series, Gallo had 3 HR, 8 RBI, 2 steals, and a 1.153 OPS. In the remaining 49 games (192 PA), he had just 7 HR, no steals, a 0.159 AVG, and a 0.594 OPS.
Lack of Lefty Luck
Gallo still had excellent hard hit numbers, though they were down from his previous three seasons. His 2020 numbers suffered from a 0.161 BABIP against LHP. Just 6.1% of Gallo’s batted balls against lefties were line drives. This percentage should positively regress to the high teens to mid twenties. His 2020 stats vs LHP are notable for another reason: in 2019, his BABIP against lefties was 0.500 in 90 PA helping him to a 0.368 BABIP overall. Besides 2019, Gallo has not had a BABIP above 0.250 overall since his rookie year in 2015. While he clearly will not duplicate his 2019 BABIP vs lefties, the quality of Gallo’s batted balls versus lefties will greatly influence his overall success. And while he will likely continue to strike out around 35%, hitting more line drives would allow him to have a more respectable BABIP and thus average.
Although Gallo might have had BABIP luck in 2019, that is only part of the reason he was an early MVP candidate that year. Only two qualifying players have had seasons with a Barrel % over 20%: Aaron Judge and Gallo. Gallo, who had 41 and 40 HR in 2017 and 2018, talked to David Laurila (https://blogs.fangraphs.com/joey-gallo-talks-hitting/) of Fangraphs during 2019 and discussed “staying through the ball”, not overswinging, simplifying his movement, and much more. He had a GOATish 26.4% barrel rate in 2019. Gallo eventually suffered an oblique injury and had an awful July before his season officially ended due to the hamate injury.
According to Yahoo, Gallo finished as the 91st and 111th player in 2017 and 2018, respectively, despite not hitting better than 0.209 in either season. Especially if you build your team around getting average elsewhere, a healthy Gallo can help your team immensely. Steamer projects him to have a very similar season to 2017 and 2018, which were remarkably similar themselves. My z-scores have him around 145 overall, meaning he is a value around 166. And if he can get that average anywhere close to a 0.250 average, he will be a top 100 player like many hoped for last year.
Gary Sanchez – C – New York Yankees
2020 Yahoo preseason rank: 94
2020 final rank: 628
2021 ADP: 198
Similar to Gallo, Sanchez’s 2020 average plummeted and he finished at 0.147. Long gone are the days of 0.299 and 0.278 averages in 2016 and 2017. Sanchez, whose career strikeout rate is 26.3%, struck out 36% last year. When he did make contact, he still crushed the ball but not always to the right place. He popped up 14.3% of the time though he always has had that issue (14.9% career; 21st worst overall since 2015).
Playing into the Defense’s Hands
Sanchez is pulling the ball into the ground more than ever. His ground ball rate which increased about six points compared to 2019, and he became more pull-happy than any previous season (57.6% compared to 51.9% career). These factors played right into hands of the frequently shifted defense. Sanchez, whose sprint speed has decreased every year of his career, had a BABIP of just 0.086 on ground balls. He finished with a 0.159 BABIP overall, 97 points under his career average.
My Steamer-based z-scores have Sanchez as 13th best catcher. What he shares with fellow 2020 underachiever Mitch Garver is the easily imaginable upside of 30+ HR. Even Salvador Perez’s career high is 27 HR so Garver and Sanchez might be the only two catchers capable of reaching that mark this year. But Sanchez’s weaknesses show no signs of going away. He strikes out, pops up, and grounds out too much. Lacking the athleticism of Gallo, his 11th percentile sprint speed does him no favors.
El Gary’s ADP has actually risen in recent months (170 since Jan 1 on NFBC and even higher on other formats). On NFBC, he goes after Sean Murphy and Austin Nola and before James McCann. These players are safe bets to have 25-35 points on Sanchez’s average but their home run projections hover around 15. There is major power upside in Sanchez but tons of red flags.
Josh Bell – 1B – Washington Nationals
2020 Yahoo preseason rank: 82
2020 final rank: 421
2021 ADP: 156
Out of this trio, Bell wins the 2020 batting title with a whopping 0.226 average.
Josh Bell was picked around 180 early in the offseason, but his ADP rose to around 145 since the trade to the Nationals. Bell’s fantasy value yo-yos from season to season. He broke out in 2017 in his first full season with 26 HR and 90 RBI. The power then evaporated in 2018 (12 HR, 62 RBI) albeit with a better wRC+ due to improved average and OBP. In 2019, he had 37 HR, 116 RBI, and a 0.936 OPS.
Last year, he hit his floor with a 0.669 OPS but did manage a respectable 8 HR and 44 R+RBI. He still crushes the ball (87th percentile exit velocity (EV) and 20th best Max EV in 2020) but saw huge regression in his average launch angle (LA). He went from a career high 13 degree average LA in 2019 to 5.9 degrees in 2020, the worst since his rookie year. His GB% went from 44% in 2019 to 56.4% last year.
Whiffs and Splits
Launch angle is not Bell’s only concern. His contact percentage went down on pitches in and out of the zone and dropped over seven points overall. His K rate unsurprisingly also rose by seven percent. He broke his previous career high 19.2% K rate by striking out 26.5% of the time. Bell also has splits concerns. The anecdotal: as a switch hitter, he needs to constantly think about tweaking and perfecting two different swings.
The factual: Josh Bell is simply not good against lefties (as a right-handed batter). He has a career 91 wRC+ as a righty compared to 121 as a lefty. He has zero seasons in which he hit lefties better than righties. While he is probably safe from playing time concerns this year, he is in danger of being platooned if he does not learn to hit lefties better.
The bad news is Bell has clear and unnerving issues. The good news is Josh Bell has made adjustments in the past (2019). He also goes to a better lineup and ballpark in Washington. Considering his ground ball issue, whiff concerns, and struggles versus lefties, I will tend to avoid players like Josh Bell who, similarly to Keston Hiura and Austin Meadows, we are relying on to make adjustments they may or may not make.
Most projection systems have him around an 0.835 OPS which is fair considering his peak 2019 season. But he is also coming off a 0.669 OPS and has a career 0.814 OPS. In that 145 range where Bell is going, I will tend to take a pitcher, Christian Vazquez, or other batters who seem more like sure things like Mike Yastrzemski or some of the podcast favorites (Joey Gallo, Franmil Reyes, Rhys Hoskins, Trey “Boom Boom” Mancini).