Keeping an Eye on Joey Gallo

The slugger has made some key changes heading into 2021.

It’s easy to get excited when a player makes some changes to his game. In the day and age of technology and data, anytime a hitter makes a noticeable change to his swing it’s inherently interesting. Over in San Diego last season, we saw Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers rebound their careers with some swing changes. Additionally, we all know the well-documented mechanical adjustments players like Josh Donaldson and Justin Turner have made, which essentially helped them reach their full protentional. After a disappointing 2020 season, where he produced just a 86 wRC+ and batted .181, Joey Gallo has made a few tweaks to his approach at the plate. Gallo has always been well regarded as a power threat. Evident by his 120 career homers in just 1792 PA, it’s common understanding across the league that Gallo can mash with the best of them. On a plate appearance rate, Gallo has second-most home runs since his 2015 debut.

Home Runs/PA Since 2015

But even after consecutive 40-homer seasons in 2017 and 2018, Gallo didn’t fully breakout offensively until 2019 — where he hit 22 homers in 70 games and turned in a 144 wRC+ before his season was prematurely ended due to injury. Heading into the 2019 season, Gallo worked diligently with Rangers hitting coach Luis Ortiz on implementing a new approach at the plate, headlined by some mechanical adjustments that would lead to a more “simple” swing. The changes we saw reinforced those concepts and the results were almost has loud as his contact. Take a look.

 

Sure enough we see his 2019 stance width a bit wider, a little more closed off, and the leg kick has been cut down dramatically. All the key differences are on par with what many hitting coaches would deem a more “simple” approach. Fast forward two years, Gallo is heading into the season with a few more swing tweaks.

 

2020 In Review

 

After the “simple” approach helped Gallo take flight in 2019, he stuck with it for the shortened season. However, it didn’t help him produce nearly the same results. In 226 PA, Gallo slashed .181/.304/.378 — a big step backwards from his .253/.389/.598 slash line a year prior. It was certainly a poor campaign, but Gallo still found himself doing well in some advanced stats. Take Dynamic Hard Hit Rate (DHH%) and TrueHit, for example.

 

2020 DHH and TrueHit Leaders

 

These aren’t exactly the kind of stats you throw on a spreadsheet and bring to your arbitration hearing, but they do confirm a few key skills of Gallo’s. They support Gallo’s ability to consistently hit the ball hard and with power. Gallo’s strength is his biggest strength and when he makes contact, he yields some of the best results possible, showcased by his TrueHit+. While these stats are nice to paint the picture of “Gallo could be really good again,” they do nothing to convince us that Gallo’s biggest issue in years past is still his biggest issue. Gallo whiffs way, way, too much. He has never posted a strikeout rate below 35% or a whiff rate sub-37%. These metrics are consistently placing him in the fifth percentile in the league. Is 2021 the year we see these trends change?

 

New Approach, New Gallo

 

Probably not. Chances are Gallo will always be a high strikeout hitter, but any changes that can help Gallo decrease those whiff marks — even by just 5% — are going to have an impact. Given Gallo’s ability to smash the ball, it is easy to assume that simply more contact will translate to more barrels. But in 2020, we actually saw the opposite happen. Gallo whiffed a bit less than his previous years, but his contact was drastically worse. His barrel rate dropped 12%, while his batted ball profile worsened in almost every way possible — with more ground balls and pop-ups and less line drives and fly balls. Gallo needs a change that will keep that decrease in whiff rate, but also get him back to consistently barreling the baseball like he did so effortlessly in 2019.

So what changed? Well for starters, Gallo has a new bat. For his first six seasons Gallo swung a top-heavy bat, common for hitters with plenty of strength and size. But now, Gallo is picking up some new lumber to take to the plate. After paying a visit to Marucci’s Baseball Performance Lab facility in Louisiana, Gallo was advised that a more evenly weighted bat would pay dividends to his bat speed. The theory is that with a little bit more weight in his hands, his swing would play better. Could a new bat help lead to more consistent, and more effective, contact? It definitely could, especially if it’s partnered with some mechanical adjustments.

In the above linked MLB article, Rangers manager Chris Woodward also discusses Gallo’s swing tweaks, emphasizing his posture. Let’s take a look at some swings of Gallo and breakdown what we see. Here we have Gallo hitting a home run early on in 2020.

 

A nearly identical hack to his 2019 swings, Gallo is going with a slightly opened stance and a smaller “pick it up, put it down” kind of leg kick. His stands stay up close to his ear and his knees hold a good bit of bend. It’s certainly a balanced and beautiful swing, even if it didn’t produce the desired results.

Now his 2021 swing, taken from Opening Day, where Gallo went 2-3 at the plate with two singles, three walks, and two RBI.

The first thing I notice is the upper body lean backwards before he comes completely set. Maybe the lean is just to stay comfortable in the box, but perhaps its an intentional cue to remind Gallo to keep his posture. If that was a focal point in his offseason work, it would make sense that he’s digging into the box with a cue that reinforces the new developments. As for the rest of the swing, it definitely looks more simple. He still has the same simple leg lift, but this time with a more narrow stance with his feet close to straight in-line. He goes from having to stride towards the plate and towards the pitcher, to essentially only needing to stride forward. There’s also a lot less movement in his hands. Before we saw Gallo almost bouncing the barrel head off of his shoulder and now it’s a soft, quiet rhythm that he keeps with his barrel. I can imagine this allows him to still feel the barrel, but also minimizes the potential for deviation from his best, most efficient, swing path. Fast forward a day later, and Gallo absolutely demolishes a ball off LHP Mike Minor.

After crushing left-handers with a 190 wRC+ (albeit a .500 BABIP) across 90 PA in 2019, Gallo struggled against lefties last season, posting a 68 wRC+ in 79 PA. He’s been an above-average hitter in his 517 career PA against lefties, so there wasn’t real cause for concern, but quick success with a new swing is always encouraging.

I’m not preaching that he’s going to lead the league in hitting this year, but with his kind of elite power, any tweak or change at the plate is worth monitoring. If Gallo’s new approach can help him consistently barrel the ball while cutting his whiffs a bit, he’s going to be dangerous. Through his first 19 PA of 2021, Gallo is hitting .385/.579/.615. An already-good hitter might have made the necessary changes to take his game to the next level.

Photos by John Cordes and Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Jacob Roy (@jmrgraphics3 on Instagram)

Kyle Horton

Kyle is a former Division 1 baseball player and Cincinnati Reds fan. Please follow him on Twitter @Hortonimo, he already told his mom that you did.

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