Joey Gallo is a unique hitter having an outstanding season. Though temporarily sidelined with an oblique injury, he’s slashing .276/.421/.653, with 17 home runs in 214 plate appearances and a 170 wRC+. And when he’s not bopping, he’s usually fanning or walking. The 25-year-old Texas Rangers slugger has the second-highest walk rate, and the second-highest strikeout rate, among qualified major league batters. The antithesis of a singles hitter, Gallo is all about Three True Outcomes.
Gallo sat down for an in-depth discussion of the art and science of hitting earlier this week.
David Laurila: Straightforward question to start: What is your hitting approach?
Joey Gallo: “I feel that I have a pretty in-depth thought process at the plate. I always have an approach. I think a lot of people assume I just go up there kind of ‘beer-league-softball,’ and try to crush everything I see. But I have a plan of what I want to do against a certain guy; the pitches I want to look for; who is behind the plate, umpire-wise; who is calling the pitches, catcher-wise; what the environment is; what the situation is. There’s a lot that goes into hitting. It’s not just me trying to put the ball into the seats.”
Laurila: Nuance aside, are you generally hunting fastballs middle, and adjusting from there?
Gallo: “I don’t want to give away exactly what I’m thinking at the plate. Obviously, you’re taught to look fastball and adjust to off-speed, but there are situations where you change that approach and look for different stuff. It changes at-bat to at-bat. Sometimes you’re looking off-speed. Sometimes you’re looking for a certain location. You’re not always just looking fastball, because the guys are so good in this league that you can’t always have exactly the same approach.”
Laurila: Have you made changes this year with either your approach or your mechanics?
Gallo: “I’m trying to stay through the ball a lot more now. That’s something we’ve worked on: I try to stay as short and compact as I can. One thing we talked about when Luis Ortiz was hired [as hitting coach] was that I don’t need to generate any more power. All I have to do is touch the ball; all I have to do is put the barrel to the ball. So we worked on simplifying my swing, throughout the offseason and in spring training. I had too much movement for a big guy. Now I’m just thinking about getting my foot down and putting the barrel to the ball.”
Laurila: Is there any compromise with the shortening up? All hitters have their timing mechanisms.
Gallo: “I’ve never really had a timing mechanism. My leg kick was just my load — my leg just always came up — but we looked at video and I was like, ‘Okay, I think I can shorten that.’ I thought about just picking my foot up a little bit off the ground, and putting it back down. That was it. So it was never a timing-mechanism thing; it was just a comfortability-thing for me. Once I was able to get out of that habit, it was just as comfortable to pick it up and put down. It’s about working on good habits, informing those, and getting them to be normal.”
Laurila: Have you changed anything with your hands?
Gallo: “I don’t feel that I’ve changed my hands too much. I do like my hands to load back a little bit, and then go forward. My hands have always been in a pretty good position, and will kind of naturally lead me to the ball. So it wasn’t really about my hand positioning, it was more about my lower half and calming all the movements.”
Laurila: Are you seeing the ball better?
Gallo: “I think so. I’ve always felt like I see the ball well, but when I would swing, I would miss [the ball] because my head was moving so much. Now, once I land, my head isn’t moving any more and I’m seeing the ball all the way through. The extra movement had contributed to me missing pitches, and striking out too much. Instead of seeing the ball the whole way, I would kind of lose it half way, with the ball seeming like it was kind of bouncing up and down — moving more than it really was — because my head was moving.”
Laurila: Hitters who are into biomechanics often talk about the kinetic chain. By quieting your lower half, you quieted your head movement.
Gallo: “Yes. That’s exactly what we talked about. Our new guys are high into that stuff, and they do a good job of explaining it to us. There’s a science behind it. There’s proof that it helps.”
Laurila: Tools like HitTrax are becoming more and more prevalent. Do you study hitting far beyond the conversations you have with your coaches?
Gallo: “I don’t study is as much as some guys do. I more study myself in terms of how I feel; I’m more of a feel guy at the plate. I know that if I feel good — if I feel that my swing is there — the HitTrax stuff is going to be there. The exit velocity is going to be there. The launch angle is going to be there. I’ve never really had to study how to do that. I’ve always had that ability.”
Laurila: Are you letting the ball travel more than you have in the past?
Gallo: “I am. That’s one thing that was tough for me. I would hit the ball out front so much that I would get caught in the shift. One of the ways to go the other way is to let the ball get a little bit deeper. I have fast hands — I have good bat speed — and I have to trust that. I have to trust that I can let it get deep and still be able to make great contact. But it’s tough, because my whole life I’ve tried to pull the ball in the air to right field; I would try to hit the ball out front. Now I’m starting to let it get a little bit deeper, a little bit deeper. Something we talk about is contact point — making the right contact point every time — and being able to hit the ball to center, and to left.”
Laurila: Is it the same swing when you do that?
Gallo: “It’s a better swing. When you let the ball travel, you can go to all fields. I’ve realized that if I’m staying middle, staying on the ball longer and letting it get deeper, my swing is better. Over time you learn those things. Experience helps with that.”
Laurila: One thing I’ve talked to hitters about is the idea of an “A-swing.” Moreover, is is possible to have more than one A-swing?
Gallo: “You’re always trying to get off your A-swing, but you have to have those adjustable swings, for when it’s not the pitch, or the location, you expected, so you can still fight to it — you can take a B-swing and still have a chance to make something good happen. Obviously, I’m high on taking my A-swing as much as possible. I’m up there to do damage. But you can’t just work with one swing all the time, because you’re not going to get balls down the middle every pitch. Not in the big leagues. They’re going to pitch all around the zone. You have to be able to hit those pitches as well, and it’s not necessarily going to be with your A-Swing.”
Laurila: There are people who will argue that a player with your hitting profile should always be trying to drive the ball, that you shouldn’t be willing to settle for singles the other way.
Gallo: “And that’s fair. I agree with that for the most part. But there are situations where you have to put the ball in play; you should try to put the ball in play. If the guy is throwing 100 mph at the top of the zone, my A-swing probably isn’t going to get to that. I’m going to have to tinker something. I’m going to have to change a little bit to get to that pitch. Maybe I have to shorten up, or take more of a battle swing. Sometimes you need to tip your cap to a guy because he’s got great stuff, and he’s locating it.”
Laurila: Circling back to something you said earlier, what exactly did you mean by “trying staying through the ball a lot more?”
Gallo: “One thing our new staff has talked to me about is how pull-oriented I was, because I’m a righty [throwing]-lefty [swinging] hitter. I’m front-side dominant. And it’s true. I was pulling all the time because my right side is so strong. My left side was uncoordinated; it wasn’t as strong, because I don’t do anything lefty besides hit. So we worked on staying through the ball with my back side every time. We do one-hand drills, back hand, every day.
“For me, it’s about keeping that back side — the left side of my body — out through the ball. I’m pushing through the ball, instead of pulling out around it, which you have a tendency to do. We have a few of those guys. [Rougned] Odor is a righty-lefty. That’s why you see him pulling so much; that side is so much stronger. That’s one thing I’d never really thought about before.”
Laurila: What are you typically doing wrong when you’re scuffling?
Gallo: “A lot of things lead to scuffling. And sometimes it’s not even scuffling; sometimes it’s bad luck. Things don’t always go your way. But sometimes it can be a mental thing. There are times where it’s because I’m pulling off too much. Sometimes I’m hitting the ball into the shift; I’m not lifting the ball because I’m not staying through it. So there are a lot of things that lead to scuffling. It’s just part of the 162-game grind.
“It’s not always just one mechanical thing. That’s something a lot of people don’t understand about baseball: there are a lot of things going on over the course of a season. I’m also a pretty up-and-down hitter. I can go 0 for 15 and strike out 10 times. Then I can go 10 for 15 and hit seven home runs. I’m trying to limit that [streakiness], but at the same time, I have to accept that I’m a different type of hitter than most everyone else. I know that I’m going to strike out more than the average player. I know that I’m not going to hit .300. But I’m going to do more damage. I’m going to bring a different aspect to the team.”
Laurila: Which numbers on your stat sheet are the most meaningful to you?
Gallo: “I like Weighted Runs Created. I like OPS, because it tells a story of slugging, which is damage — creating runs, essentially — and getting on base. I’ve hit .200 before in the big leagues, but I had a .330 on-base percentage. In my head, I was essentially hitting .330, because I was getting on base 33% of the time. I like those numbers. They tell a truer story of how valuable a player is than average does. I think batting average is getting pushed out of the game, because it tells such a limited story. You can hit .300 and not be especially valuable if they’re mostly singles. Not every hit is created equal. If I hit a home run, it has more value than if I hit a single.”
Laurila: Do you ignore the shift?
Gallo: “I don’t look at the field anymore. I’m just focused on who’s pitching. I know that guys are moving around. I know the third baseman is in f-ing right field. That’s fine. If I take my swing, and do what I need to do at the plate — hit the ball in the air with a high exit velocity — it doesn’t matter where they’re playing.
“I think the shift is primarily a way to get guys like myself out of our game. They’ll take a single the other way. They don’t care. ‘That’s great; he didn’t hit a home run; he didn’t hit a double.’ If I play into their game and change my approach, suddenly I’m not a threat. I get that hitting a single the other way can be a good thing, but in today’s game, the other team will take that 10 times out of 10.”
Laurila: If I’m understanding correctly, your mindset is always to do damage, but on certain pitches, and in certain situations, it may be necessary to adjust and settle for less.
Gallo: “Yes, it’s a pitch-by-pitch thing. I’m not going up there thinking I want to hit a groundball the other way. It’s hard for me to get on board with that. And I know our team is definitely not on board with that.
“I think you’re going to see guys get better with the shift. With the shift, guys are taking more walks now. They’re telling themselves, ‘OK, I’m going to make sure it’s my pitch to drive, and if not I’m just going to take a walk.’ That’s kind of my philosophy. I’m three-true-outcome. For me, a walk is a single. I’m not even swinging the bat, but I’m getting on base. If I can stay stubborn to the zone, I’m going to be able to take my walks and do damage when I swing. That’s what I’m out there trying to do.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.