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The Evolution of Joey Gallo: Part 1

Evaluating the Rangers Best Hitter

AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez

In the classic spy tale Our Man In Havana, Graham Greene writes:

In that moment, he began to realize the impossibility of explaining anything to a man with power

Surely, Greene was referring to those who have the ability to mold the world to their liking, using their nearly unlimited power to do as they please against their opponents. Similarly, our man in Arlington utilizes a 32-ounce chunk of Maple to inexorably wield unbridled power against his mound-dwelling opposition. Joey Gallo has been blessed with herculean strength, unconstrained by the genetics of us mere mortals. With this light-tower power, he is capable of doing this quite often:

Gallo broke out in 2019, producing 3.3 fWAR in just 70 games. He finally looked the part of the consensus top-10 overall prospect he had been rated as prior to the 2016 season. Let's take a look at some of the changes Gallo made to his swing to facilitate that 2019 breakout. Here, in a clip from 2018, you’ll see Gallo with an entirely different set-up than you saw in the two home runs above:

You might be asking yourself what’s the big deal? After all, each of the plate appearances we've seen ended in a home run. Maybe you just don’t see much difference between Gallo’s swing in 2018 and 2019. Regardless, I’ll show you several key changes that Gallo pursued from 2018 to 2019.

In this initial alteration, Gallo shortened his swing’s motion and simplified his swing’s timing by moving his right foot inward. In doing so, he’s better prepared to catch up to fastballs, while also improving his ability to slow his kinetic chain to adjust to off-speed pitches. In closing up his stance, Gallo is also increasing the amount of time he keeps his front shoulder tucked in. In a measure that optimizes his swing’s efficiency, this action allows him to keep the bat head through his hitting zone as long as possible. The next group of changes is reflected below.

This grouping can be broken down into three specific characteristics. The most obvious of which is the way Gallo primes his load from 2018 to 2019. Against Gerrit Cole (2018), Gallo brings his lead foot up in a significant leg kick. While potentially increasing Gallo’s power, this move adds additional motion to his swing, thereby lengthening it. With such a long series of movements, Gallo has to ultimately determine when to swing much earlier than he otherwise would. When we are talking about deciding whether or not to swing, every millisecond counts. Gallo’s smoother 2019 swing, featuring a much more muted leg kick, is clearly the preferable option.

The second of these changes is indicated by the arrow pointed towards Gallo’s back foot. In 2018, the back foot is pointed up the third base line, at something nearing a 45° angle. This would indicate Gallo’s already shifted his weight off his back foot, and based on the moment that predicates his foot getting to 45°, he’s not maintaining a great deal of balance in his swing. Conversely, in 2019, Gallo’s back foot is pointed directly towards the third base dugout, in a near 90° angle. He is staying on his back foot, waiting to transfer his weight forward until he knows Spencer Turnbull has served him a middle-middle meatball.

The final change in this grouping involves Gallo’s hand placement, as indicated by the blue arrow above the home plate umpire. At 6’ 5”, Gallo’s levers are obviously long. In 2018, as Gallo primes his swing’s load, he keeps his hands higher and further back from his body. This delays his swing, allowing him to better adjust to off-speed pitches; however, this action also lengthens his swing. Simply put, Gallo’s swing has more movement the further back he brings his hands. In 2019, Gallo noticeably altered his hand placement.

He brought his hands down and closer to his chest, while also closing his lead elbow in towards his body. Each of these adjustments shortened Gallo’s swing and better prepared him to do damage against the baseball. In the following image, you’ll see the final notable change (Gerrit Cole truly puts the Ass in Asstros).

As I discussed at length in the Nate Lowe write-up, power hitters should try to keep their back elbow as tucked into their hip as possible. Gallo does not do so in 2018, as his swing leaves a relatively huge hole between his hip and elbow. This action shows Gallo is not ideally balanced, as he lunges out at Gerrit Cole’s fastball. This imbalance is further exhibited by the location of Gallo’s eyes. As you can see from following the red arrow’s path, Gallo’s head moves appreciably during his swing path, leaving his eyes above the baseball.

Inversely, in 2019, Gallo’s head remains stable, as he focuses directly on the baseball at the point of contact. His elbow, while still away from his hip, is much closer to being ideally placed than it was in 2018. The 2019 swing also features a much more balanced Gallo, who doesn’t feel compelled to lurch out at the incoming pitch. Gallo, comfortable in his 2019 form, stayed back, let his legs do much of the work, and demolished the baseball. Clearly, each of his extensive swing adjustments led to his 2019 breakout.

I had initially prepared this to be a standalone piece, focusing on Gallo’s two-strike approach. I do plan on eventually getting around to that topic. But when I dove into Gallo’s video, these swing changes became just as compelling a subject of examination.

These improvements enabled Joey Gallo to put up a .986 OPS, .401 wOBA (weighted On-Base Average), and occupy MLB’s 99th percentile in Exit Velocity. While the Rangers organization has failed to finish off many of their prospects’ development at the Major-League level, the efforts to alter Gallo’s swing are a substantial step in the right direction.

While it may appear impossible to explain anything to a man with power, Rangers Hitting Coach Luis Ortiz must have gotten through to this masher. Hopefully, we will see similar development successes with the other young hitters on the Texas roster in 2021. In the next piece in this series, we’ll look at Gallo’s 2020. We will dive into what may have caused his rough season, and see if we should expect positive regression trending towards his 2019 performance this upcoming season. If his first at-bat in Spring Training was any indication, we’re in for an exciting year.