Joey Gallo has been one of baseball’s weirdest hitters for his entire career. He was something of the poster boy for the new approach to hitting, which was only developed as a counter to the devil magic that more and more pitchers were equipped with. Lift the ball, drive it, and the easiest way to do that is to pull it. Don’t worry about your average, take your walks, and just make all of your contact loud if you can. Gallo would see the most aggressive shifts, but at no point did he alter his approach to deal with it, other than to just try and hit it over it.
Gallo’s Yankees career will come to an end at some point today or tomorrow, as they’ve already acquired Andrew Benintendi to take his ABs. The narrative around it, as these things always are as the Yankees and their fawning press corps never miss an opportunity to celebrate themselves, will be that he just couldn’t hack it in New York. The stage was too big for him, it doesn’t matter until you do it in the Bronx, only real ballplayers earn their pinstripes, and whatever other scattered puke you’re used to hearing by now.
Before we get into the actual details, it’s important to remember that Gallo’s approach had earned him so much. He hit 38 homers in A-ball at 19. He hit 42 homers the next season at both high-A and AA at just 20. He hit 23 in just 42 games the following season before his first call-up to Texas. You can bet at no point during his stay in the Texas system that the Rangers did much to change an approach and swing that was resulting in such gaudy power numbers. Gallo didn’t hit much for average even in the minors, but he walked a ton, and combined with a slugging percentage over .600, no one likely much cared about the average.
Gallo has yet to hit free agency, he will this winter, but even without that benefit, his power saw him take $10 million home this year, which is definitely antihistamine money. Keep all that in mind.
Gallo’s production this year has been truly dumpster-rific, and whenever a hitter like Gallo goes into the tank it’s easy for fans and media alike to point to the all-or-nothing, damn-the-shift approach as the reason why. That same approach got him where he is. But Gallo’s contact numbers aren’t all that different than they’ve ever been. He’s striking out a touch more, 38.8 percent vs. 34.6 percent in 2021. But it’s hardly out of the neighborhood of his career 37.1 percent rate. He’s walking less than last year, 14 percent instead of 18, but again his career rate is 15 percent. It’s not abnormal. Gallo’s launch angle is actually a little higher this year, though his barrel rate has dipped a little less than two percentage points. Gallo is chasing out of the zone more, but his contact rate on pitches out of the zone is about the same.
Gallo has hit more flyballs this year and more line drives, meaning fewer groundballs, which is the aim for just about every hitter. The problem is his fly balls aren’t going anywhere. Last year, on flyballs his slugging was 1.201. Other than the season-in-a-can of 2020, Gallo has never failed to slug less than 1.000 on flyballs. This year it’s .765.
Which can probably be explained by his average exit velocity dropping to 88.4 mph from 91 MPH last year, and his career mark of 92.5. But he’s making the same type of contact, and in the same fashion, and just watching the baseball die. Gallo’s chase numbers have risen as the season goes along, but is that a change in approach or just panic about his numbers deflating along with the baseballs he’s hitting?
Gallo is the exact type of hitter that MLB had in mind when changing the baseball, trying to get away from homer-happy games but indirectly (maybe) punishing hitters like Gallo who are merely around to hit flyballs to their pull-field. Perhaps it hoped that more and more would try and just slap singles through the vacant side and go for more contact.
Joey Gallo is 28, and until this season, hitting the ball the way he does and attacking ABs the way he does had gotten him everything he could have dreamed. And now on a dime he’s supposed to turn because MLB has addressed the problem of pitchers throwing too hard and with too much spin by…punishing hitters?
Wanting homers isn’t a new fad in baseball. Earl Weaver was talking about it 50 years ago. It’s how the game is won. MLB can’t identify the real problem, and it certainly can’t come up with a solution for it. And hitters like Gallo are getting churned in the wake of this misdirected vessel.
Let’s cap it off with Phil Mickelson getting exactly what he deserves, if only for a minute:
Then again for $100 million just for remaining upright in a certain place, you can probably deal with a few hecklers.