The Strange Case of Joey Gallo

July 18, 2016

 

 

One of the best things about baseball is watching players with extraordinary physical abilities. Although it doesnít look like it when you see it on TV, some of the things they do are truly mind-boggling. For example, when I first saw Francisco Rodriguez during the Angelsí championship run in 2002, the broadcasters were raving over the awesomeness of his slider. I watched him pitch on TV and thought it was good but I didnít see what all the hype was about. A few years later I happened to be scoring a game for MLB in Baltimore and the Angels were in town. By then, Rodriguez had established himself as the closer and sure enough he got his chance in the 9th inning. The Orioles werenít very good at the time so I wasnít expecting them to mount much of a challenge anyway, but when I saw his first slider I knew they had absolutely no chance to hit him. It started on the edge one half of the plate and bent to a few inches off the other side of the plate. Itís physically impossible for a pitch to break 20 inches horizontally within 60 feet unless itís a wiffle ball, but thatís what it appeared to be doing. I was completely gobsmacked.

 

I felt the same way the first time I heard a Nolan Ryan fastball (didnít actually really see it other than a blur) from the third row of the first base side at Memorial Stadium. And the first time I saw Mark McGwire take batting practice at an exhibition game in RFK (he hit one over the roof but slightly foul). These things, I thought, were impossible, yet thatís what I saw. Iím sure people think the same things when they see Giancarlo Stanton hit, or Billy Hamilton run or Aroldis Chapman pitch. This doesnít seem humanly possible, and yetÖ

 

And so it is with Joey Gallo, a young third base/outfield prospect with the Texas Rangers, who just happened to have played Little League with Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant. And the general consensus is that he has more power than either. For two players with 40+ home run power, thatís saying something. That reputation was confirmed when he hit 40 homers in partial seasons in 2013 and 2014 split between minor leagues, and then another 29 homers last year split between Double-A, Triple-A and the majors. That reputation was additionally confirmed when, in the batting practice before Futures Game in 2014, he hit a ball so far it hit the pick-up truck that was to be awarded to the game MVP. His first major league home run went into the second deck of the Rangerís home park.

 

So the power part has never been in question.

 

What has been the concern is whether or not heíll make enough contact to be an impact player, or just a novelty. What gives reason for optimism is that at each level he has improved his approach and mechanics to make it more likely he will be a major league regular. Upon first exposure he has struggled but at each level he has made the adjustments necessary and simply crushed the competition for half a season before moving up. And now he sits on the cusp of playing in the majors with an elevated walk rate and a slightly diminished strikeout rate. But making consistent contact is still an issue.

Season

Team

G

PA

HR

R

RBI

SB

BB%

K%

AVG

OBP

SLG

2012

Rangers (R)

43

193

18

44

43

6

19.20%

26.90%

0.293

0.435

0.733

2012

Rangers (A-)

16

67

4

9

9

0

16.40%

38.80%

0.214

0.343

0.464

2013

Rangers (R)

5

21

2

4

10

1

9.50%

33.30%

0.368

0.429

0.895

2013

Rangers (A)

106

446

38

82

78

14

10.80%

37.00%

0.245

0.334

0.610

2014

Rangers (A+)

58

246

21

53

50

5

20.70%

26.00%

0.323

0.463

0.735

2014

Rangers (AA)

68

291

21

44

56

2

12.40%

39.50%

0.232

0.334

0.524

2015

Rangers (AA)

34

146

9

21

31

1

16.40%

33.60%

0.314

0.425

0.636

2015

Rangers (AAA)

53

228

14

20

32

1

11.80%

39.50%

0.195

0.289

0.450

2015

Rangers

36

123

6

16

14

3

12.20%

46.30%

0.204

0.301

0.417

2016

Rangers (AAA)

61

261

16

45

39

1

17.60%

29.90%

0.249

0.383

0.554

 

Many observers see him as a Russell Branyan-type three-true outcomes hitter (walk, strikeout or home run) or even a Dave Kingman, who did a lot of the latter two but not much of the first. I see his potential as Adam Dunn or even perhaps something better. But in order for that to happen he has to be able to make more contact. Good things happen when he makes contact. But what else can he do?

 

In watching the videos I noticed he uses a pretty standard bat, which makes sense so that he can cover the outside part of the plate. But what if he decided to either choke up on it, or like Tony Gwynn used to make so much contact, used a shorter bat? Gwynn was one of the best ever at making contact and his eight batting titles are pretty good evidence that it was a pretty useful skill. The advantage of using a smaller hitting surface (choking up or shorter bat) is better bat control so more contact inside and over the middle of the plate. The disadvantage is that itís harder to make contact on the outside edge, and one sacrifices power in order to make more contact. But on an outside pitch, Gwynn merely flicked the bat head out there for a bloop single. With his power, if Gallo did the same thing the ball might go to the wall for a double. As for the sacrifice in power, Barry Bonds reportedly used he same size bat as Gwynn for much of his career and it didnít seem to affect his power numbers. Likewise, Adam Dunn used a smaller bat for part of his career and he, Bonds, Babe Ruth and Ralph Kiner are the only players in history to hit at least 40 homers in five consecutive seasons. Dunn never hit .300 and itís unlikely that Gallo ever will either, but if he simply were able to hit .260 instead of .220 it would mean the difference between being simply a batting practice phenom and an All-Star.