Sometimes in dynasty leagues, it’s all about rolling the dice. Play it safe or take a chance? That’s the big question for this week’s Tale of the Tape pitting 26-year-old Jake Lamb, a current big-leaguer with some upside, against Joey Gallo, a 23-year-old power behemoth with enormous swing-and-miss concerns. You’ve gotta ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?”
Lamb got off to a blistering start to the 2016 season, hitting .291 in the first half. His second half told a completely different story (potentially due to reasons we’ll get into) and he crashed down to earth after the break, managing only a paltry .191 average. In addition, he really struggled against lefties, hitting a bleak .164 average in 129 plate appearances. His .287 TAv and career minor league line of .321/408/.552 suggest that his first half wasn’t exactly a mirage, but if he’s going to be an everyday player rather than one half of a platoon, he could be subject to some batting average growing pains.
Everything Joey Gallo is or will be revolves around making contact (not to simplify things too much). Gallo carried some decent batting average numbers through his minor league career, that is, until he got to Triple-A. Once he started facing tougher competition, his fatal flaw (the swing and miss) began to rear its ugly head. His struggles were magnified in 153 big league plate appearances, as he struck out nearly 50(!) percent of the time. Perhaps even more troubling, Gallo only made contact on only 59.1 percent of pitches in the zone last season, nearly 30 percent below league average. Sure it’s a small sample, but if Gallo can’t even get his bat on pitches in the zone, he’s going to be in serious trouble. Advantage: Lamb
Outside of his second-half struggles, Lamb has consistently shown the ability to draw walks and get on base. His 4.5 percent walk rate in his rookie 133 plate appearances notwithstanding, he has delivered a career walk rate of over 10 percent, placing him comfortably above league average. Some of this ability comes from his tendency not to chase, as last season he only swung at pitches outside of the zone at a 28 percent clip. If he continues to progress and his second half struggles turn out to be the exception rather than the rule, he could even be a decent OBP asset.
Gallo has carried double digit walk rates at every level as a professional, including a 13.1 percent clip in his short big league career. When hitters have power (and Gallo does, oh boy does he ever), pitchers naturally nibble a little bit more, hesitant to give up the long ball. So Gallo has, and will draw walks. The question becomes whether Gallo will hit enough to give his OBP a boost to a playable level. If he could somehow muster even a .240 average (as he did last season in Triple-A), there’s a great chance he could post a solid OBP. It remains to be seen whether that number is something he is capable of at the major-league level, however. Advantage: Lamb
Lamb had never eclipsed 15 home runs in a season, at any level, before last year. He hit 20 bombs in the first half alone. Now, much of that barrage can be traced to a 28.2 percent HR/FB rate before the break. That number probably isn’t sustainable, but the underlying power surge could be real. According to Statcast, he put up above average tallies in exit velocity, generated velocity, launch angle, and average distance. So even with a pretty terrible second half, there’s a lot to like about Lamb’s power profile moving forward.
To say that Gallo has a little pop in his bat would be like saying Meryl Streep has a slight talent for acting. 80-grade raw power doesn’t come along too often, but Gallo has it in spades. Even with strikeout rates that approach speed limit sign numbers, he has never dropped below 20 homers in any year of his career, despite not always having a full load of plate appearances. As is the theme, the worry remains whether Gallo can make enough contact to flex those muscles. His meager .240 average in 433 Triple-A plate appearances last season was enough to be accompanied by an .896 OPS, so the bar is pretty low for the power to be playable. He still struck out at a huge 34.6 percent rate in Triple-A, so again, that will need to be improved upon for Gallo to cash in on the breathtaking power potential. Advantage: Gallo
Lamb combined for 172 runs and RBI last season, and should continue to occupy the middle of a pretty good Diamondback lineup for the foreseeable future. The offense finished tenth best according to BP’s offensive VORP and presumably (knocking on all the wood) should get one of their best players back for 2017, in A.J. Pollock. Also, hitting in front of or behind Paul Goldschmidt is a wonderful thing for rate stats.
In another installment of “The Curious Case of the 2016 Texas Rangers”, the lineup ranked 24th in offensive VORP, but seventh in runs. In 2017, they’re bringing the band back together (minus Mitch Moreland), so the team should be a threat to produce some runs once again. With Gallo’s role less than clear at the moment, it’s unlikely he will top Lamb in 2017, but moving forward this could be a much closer decision. Advantage: Lamb
Lamb swiped six bags last season, and was thrown out only once. Since 2013, he stole six bases…combined. You won’t hear anyone calling him a burner by any stretch of the imagination, but historically Arizona has liked to run, and Lamb could supply a handful of steals each season.
The good news: Gallo hasn’t been caught stealing since 2014. The bad news: Gallo hasn’t attempted more than five stolen bases in a season since 2013. While he could sneak one from time to time (he attempted more stolen bases in his short MLB stint), he’s probably not going to be reliable in the category. Advantage: Push
Playing Time/Injury Risk
Lamb suffered a hand injury almost immediately after the All-Star break. He didn’t miss much time, but it clearly limited his production. Perhaps the bigger issue is his inability to hit lefties. Manager Torey Lovullo has already stated that he sees Lamb as an everyday player, which is great on its face. On the other hand, it’s also reminiscent to every angry head coach press conference declaring loyalty to the struggling quarterback. Look, I don’t think Lamb is going to be platooned any time soon, but it’s not great that they’re already thinking about it.
Jon Daniels has already indicated that Gallo is likely to start 2017 at Triple-A. It’s probably a good call, but it will obviously cut into his major league production this season. Another issue for Gallo is health. He hasn’t been able to suit up for more than 126 games at any stage of his career, and a recent hamstring strain pulled him from Venezuelan Winter League action, so there’s a chance he misses time to even start the season. If Gallo can’t stay healthy, all of the strikeout worries might be moot. Advantage: Lamb
Part of the fun with dynasty leagues is betting big on the unknown quantity. With Lamb, you have a safe pick. He’s already established as a slightly above average major league third baseman, and even has some room for growth. On the other side, Gallo has huge power, but there are obvious questions as to whether he’ll get to utilize it in Arlington. At this point, Gallo is a lottery ticket with four of the first four numbers matched, and now we’re waiting on the last two. Gallo is either going to win this one by a lot or lose by a lot. In the end, I’m chickening out and playing it safe.
And the winner is… Jake Lamb.