Joey Gallo has not been a good baseball player for the New York Yankees. Does that mean he is eternally doomed? No. However, he isn’t the guy they got from the Texas Rangers. He is nearing 400 plate appearances in pinstripes and has accumulated 0.2 fWAR — replacement level performance from a player with this level of talent is truly mind-boggling. I’m going to try and make sense of all this through the lens of what it means to be a hitter or more specifically, how can Joey Gallo be a formidable version of himself?
To me, there are two main aspects of hitting in which all fundamentals and skills are built around: swing mechanics and approach. Understanding your own swing is the single most important part of hitting. Why? It lets you gear your approach to your strengths and do your best to mitigate your weaknesses. If a hitter wishes to make wholesale adjustments, it’ll be to the structure of their swing or tweaks to their approach to cater towards their swing.
Let’s put this into the context of the subject of this analysis. I’ve said this a ton since Gallo’s entry into the Bronx, but I’ll say it again anyways — he has some serious swing limitations. He doesn’t take many different types of swings. The tell-tale sign of this to me is his vertical bat angle, or the angle of his shoulders. While varying his swing paths and entry to the zone may have been a skill of his in the past, he has become more one dimensional during his stint in the Bronx. I’m not sure whether that’s due to a lack of consistency in preparation and plan, but he is simply just not the same adaptable hitter.
His kryptonite has come against sliders and changeups. They are nearly 40 percent of the pitches he sees, so not hitting them is a big issue. He hasn’t really ever hit them in his career, but this year is worse than ever. His batting average against sliders is .040 and he whiffs at half that are thrown to him. His output against changeups is better, but still awful as he sits at a .179 batting average and 41.3 percent whiff rate. He is going to whiff a ton, that’s his main limitation, but he needs to be more serviceable against these pitches.
This lets us see where exactly his big weak spots are. Low and away is a tough zone for Gallo. His swing path is best catered to inside pitches, given the steepness of his bat path and where he makes entry into the zone. Therefore, for him to make solid contact with a righty changeup or lefty slider, he needs to let the ball travel a bit deeper. That can be tough if you’re sitting on fastballs on the inner half and middle-middle. Check out these two whiffs from Gallo low and away:
Gallo clears his hips too early on these pitches. I actually don’t even think his bat path is the issue here — it’s the point of contact, or potential contact. It is nearly impossible for him to make solid contact while clearing his hips so early in his hitting process. I’m not sure if this is due to a dead pull mindset or something else, but it’s holding Gallo back from giving competitive at-bats on a consistent basis.
It’s not all negative though. Gallo has been a good hitter against fastballs. These are just an example of the pitch location of his homers for you to see what zone he is locked in on. It’s not even cherry picking. He has never been better against fastballs than he has this year! He’s hitting .265 with a .618 SLG against the pitch — of course he is still whiffing like crazy, but at this output, you take it.
That leaves the question, how can he replicate his fastball swing against sliders and changeups? Well, I don’t know for sure, but one idea I’ve always been interested in is Gallo closing off his over rotation in his hips. That could come in the form of striding closed or starting closed. Over rotation can cut off your swing path from an entire part of the zone. If the rotation comes at the wrong time, then you might not even have a chance to make contact.
I always think back to this lefty-lefty home run Gallo hit in 2019. As his stride foot lands, his hips are staying corked and haven’t committed too early. He even has a full scissor kick. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s the kickback movement of the back leg after contact. The best hitters in this world have this movement, I’ll leave it at that. Anyways, the most glaring difference is the level of stretch he makes before the pitch arrives at home plate.
This just isn’t something you see from Gallo all that often this year. Instead, his first hip movement after landing is a drift towards first base. I feel comfortable saying he is more than capable of making this adjustment, but I’m unsure when it can happen. His rotation direction is just all over the place and it’s leaving bigger holes than he already has.
So, what does this all mean? I showed you the negatives and positives I’ve been focusing on the most. I’m still trying to figure out myself where I fall on the spectrum of “Gallo Believer.” Do I believe in the ability? I always have and always will. (He even had a nice game just last night.)
Nonetheless, it’s tough to ignore Gallo’s lack of variability or adjustability in his swings. I think he has shown a willingness to play around with his mechanics, so he’s not doomed on that front. I guess all this leaves me with saying, yes, he is certainly salvageable, but he needs to make an adjustment now. His time in the Bronx is ticking. If he doesn’t get going soon, he will soon be another star not meant for New York.