Analysis

Joey Gallo’s Breakout is Legit

In his brief tenure in the majors, Joey Gallo has earned a reputation for being really good at two things: hitting moonshots, and striking out. Gallo has almost turned into a modern version of Adam Dunn, meaning that almost every at bat he has results in one of the Three True Outcomes: home runs, strikeouts, or walks. In fact, he recently hit his 100th career single, after he slugged his 100th career home run. However, Gallo has flipped a switch this season, and has made sustainable changes to be a more dangerous piece of the Rangers lineup for years to come.

In his first two years in the big leagues, Gallo’s power was never the question mark surrounding his ability. The question lay in his ability to get on base, as his 36.3% strikeout rate in his first two full seasons didn’t leave much reason to be optimistic about how sustainable a major league hitter he would be. His all or nothing approach resulted in batting averages of .209 and .206, and a measly on base percentage of .322. Sure, he hit 81 home runs, but his potential still left a lot to be desired. He was always going to hit homers, but his approach needed work.

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Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Whatever changes he made in the offseason worked in a big way. Before landing on the injured list with an oblique injury, Joey Gallo was among the early front runners in MVP voting. At the time of his injury, Gallo was slashing .276/.421/.653, good for a 1.074 OPS, with 17 home runs and well above average defense in the outfield. Although he surpassed 40 home runs in each of the past two years, the knock on Gallo was always his ability to consistently put the bat on the ball, as a league average walk rate over the last two seasons (13.4%) was not enough to offset his gaudy strikeout numbers, producing the mediocre aforementioned on base percentage of .322. In the early goings this year, Gallo had found a way to more consistently hit the ball, leading to a 70 point increase in his batting average and a subsequent jump in on base percentage as well. His overall swing percentage has dropped by 8%, while his swing percentage on pitches outside of the strike zone has dropped 7.6%, down to 25.1%. While he is still making contact at almost the exact same rate as last year, he is being far more selective in the pitches at which he’s choosing to swing, which has led to an increase in exit velocity from 93.9 MPH to 96.3 MPH that results from making less contact in which he doesn’t square the ball up. This is slightly a product of luck (.385 BABIP), but it’s hard for balls to not fall in for hits when Gallo is absolutely scorching them almost every time they’re put in play. This is not a product of luck, but the product of a refined approach from a budding superstar.

Gallo’s defense has also continued to improve, as his 3 DRS in both left field and center field would put him on track to well above average defensive seasons at both positions. While he isn’t among the fastest players in the league, his sprint speed ranks squarely above average and allows him to get to many more balls in the outfield.

Charts courtesy of Baseball Savant

On these charts, red means good. Joey Gallo has some DEEP shades of red in the offensive categories on these charts, meaning that, results aside, he’s one of the most dangerous hitters in the league this year. Even his defense is great for a slugger of his caliber, which gives his game a two dimensional threat that provides immense overall value. Although his BABIP has taken a considerable jump from .249 to .385, I truly don’t see a huge regression coming. After all, he’s still hitting the ball harder than almost everybody else in the league, and it’s a lot easier to get hits when you hit the ball hard than when you don’t. There’s just as much of a case for Joey Gallo being unlucky the past two seasons as there is him being lucky this season. Joey Gallo hits the ball hard. Joey Gallo also hits the ball in the air. Those two together usually lead to good things, and those good things are called home runs.

This is still Joey Gallo’s age 25 season, which means we might have not seen the full extent of his power. This is only his first season of a drop in swing percentage, which means he could easily regress back to his career norms upon his return from injury, or even next year. But further refinements in his approach at the plate could lead us to a different kind of special hitter. Joey Gallo could easily turn himself from a perennial 40 to 50 home run challenger. His power is as prolific as we have seen in this era, rivaling that of the likes of Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge.

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Brian Schlosser

Rockies, Angels, and general baseball fan. I love talking about baseball more than I love writing about it, and I'm always open for discussion on Twitter @brian_slosh.

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