The Yankees’ trade for Joey Gallo made tons of sense at the deadline in July: They needed outfield help; they wanted an impact lefty bat to go along with Anthony Rizzo; and a cherry on top was Gallo’s year of control still on his contract before becoming a free agent after the 2022 season.
But when Gallo came over from the Texas Rangers, his play wasn’t what anyone expected. Sure, he hit his patented towering moonshots that awed the crowd. But he slashed .160/.303/.404 in 58 games with New York before going 0-for-4 in the AL Wild Card Game against the Boston Red Sox.
Now let’s make no mistake: GM Brian Cashman and the Yanks’ front office knew that Gallo could be a feast-or-famine hitter when they traded for him. Over his seven-year career, he’s hit .206, but they liked that career .333 on-base percentage.
Get on base. Hit home runs. Striking out is fine. That’s the Gallo formula to date.
But wouldn’t it be better if the outs were at least balls put in play? And frankly, if his batting average were higher, like the .253 mark he put up in his 2019 All-Star campaign?
As the offseason is fully underway and players take a break from the game, Gallo is certainly going to look back on not just this season, but his 2020 shortened one, where he hit just .181 over 57 games. He still has one season (at least) left in New York, and he’s obviously going to want to produce much better than he did to garner a new deal – either here or somewhere else in the league.
So, how does he do that? As Gallo does his own digging into a plan for success, let’s try to map it out with some (professional) help along the way:
What’s to like about Gallo
In 2017, Gallo played his first full season with the Rangers after being a first-round compensatory pick by Texas in 2012. He was highly regarded as an outfielder with a plus arm and lumber that crackled every time he made contact. “Light tower power,” as MLB Network’s Mark DeRosa called it.
Gallo would go on to belt 41 homers and 80 RBI over 145 games.
“He’s a monstrous guy,” said SNY Mets studio analyst Todd Zeile. “He’s big and tall with a long swing and obviously generates amazing power.”
Coach Jason Ferber — who works with players from Little League to the pros on hitting, as well as sharing his knowledge on Instagram with his over 143,000 followers — couldn’t agree more with Zeile’s sentiments on Gallo.
“I love his body type,” Ferber told SNY. “He’s a fast mover. All of his actions, the guy’s a really, really quality athlete. You can just watch just the way he looks and see that. I feel like his swing would play. It looks like he’s got enough bat speed. It looks like he’s got enough adjustability in his swing.”
But there’s another aspect of Gallo’s game that stands out: His vision at the plate, which is why the OBP doesn’t match the AVG.
“I think for a guy that’s as big as he is and generates so much power, he’s actually got a pretty good idea of the strike zone,” Zeile said. “He’s not a wild, wild swinging guy. He’ll strike out a lot, but he also draws a fair amount of walks and he’s got some patience at the plate.”
Gallo, honestly, is what owners and GMs might think of when they’re looking for a high-impact player: Strong, athletic, speed in his swing and in the field, good pitch recognition, cannon arm. The tools are undeniable.
So what exactly has been his issue, especially when he put on pinstripes?
Hitters, coaches and everyone in between talks about approach at the plate before even stepping in the batter’s box. Why? It is crucial to walk up with a plan. It’s rare hitters have success by just winging it.
For Gallo, it’s hard to know his exact approach without consulting former Yankees hitting coach Marcus Thames when he came over to the Yankees. Coach Ferber explained:
“We need to figure out what the Yankees are telling they want to see, because if I don’t know that, then we don’t know,” he said. “In somebody else’s eyes, he might be doing a good job. They might say, ‘Hey, we just want you to get on base and hit a home run every once in a while.’”
So, the Yanks may not have minded all the strikeouts he accumulated. They just wanted him to get on base and get extra base hits when he made contact. But we don’t truly know, and it could change with new coaching coming in.
For Gallo, figuring out what exactly his ideal approach is – Zeile suggests going back to his previous hot streaks and finding out what was there – is a start.
Check out this bit from MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds, as he points out something specific about Gallo when he joined the Yanks:
As he says, Gallo might have taken something out of Rizzo’s book about getting closer to the plate to get to outside pitches that would normally hurt him. It created some success, which Jomboy — upon doing some more research — confirmed.
Zeile, though, doesn’t believe moving closer to the plate is something Gallo did to get to those outside pitches.
“A guy like Joey who’s struggling on the outside pitch, it’s because of his mechanics pulling off the ball a little early or getting started a little early,” he explained. “Moving closer to the plate would only rectify that for a short amount of time, because… pitchers recognize that ‘OK, he wants to get extended. He wants this ball out over here. I’m not going to let him do that. He comes closer to the plate, all right, let’s see how he handles the inside corner.’
“With his type of swing, which is a longer swing and more up on the plate unlike Rizzo or Barry Bonds or people that I’m talking about, the only thing he can do with that ball on the inside corner, if he gets the barrel on it, he hits it foul. If he doesn’t get the barrel on it, he hits it on his hands or he gets beat on it up in the zone because his swing is longer.”
Gallo did have success moving closer to the dish, but a great example of that last point from Zeile was the AL Wild Card Game, when Gallo went up against Nathan Eovaldi. Scroll to 11:48 here to find Gallo’s first at-bat to see how pitchers like Eovaldi would go after him.
Pounding him with fastballs inside and soft stuff, either down or sweeping toward his back foot, is where Eovaldi and the rest of the Sox staff were trying to go. Gallo would either foul it off, miss completely, or flare it to the opposite field. He did turn on a 96 mph heater in the bottom of the ninth that just missed as a home run, but that was it for Gallo in his first career postseason game.
“For Joey, he likes the ball out over the plate, he likes to drive the ball, and his swing is just long enough, and he’s so big that I think he’s better suited off the plate a little bit,” Zeile suggested. “But his timing is what was really throwing him off and he was pulling off balls, which is why he was getting beat on that slow stuff away.”
Timing v. Leg Kick
Gallo incorporates a leg kick to gather energy and get ready for each pitch. But sometimes when there is a bigger leg kick, the timing of getting your foot back on the ground and starting the downswing gets disconnected.
Ferber adds one more thing that happens sometimes from hitters who don’t stay closed long enough on the ball.
“You do see that quite a bit where the hitter’s front shoulder is working uphill a little too soon,” he said. “So instead of kinda staying with their shoulders at a better posture and being able to turn and be behind the baseball, sometimes if your front shoulder goes up, your bat is going to get disconnected behind you and you could miss under.”
That could explain Gallo’s flare pop-ups to the left side.
What about when it comes down to two strikes? All or nothing seems to be the motto for him, but other power hitters have adjusted strides, leg kicks and other parts of their mechanics to be better when they have just one swing left.
“I went to spring training about two years ago and I was down there with Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette had a really cool approach where he has leg kick and then he does a lot of training in the cage with a two-strike approach with no stride at all,” Ferber said. “It’s basically the tip of his toe on his stride foot is just on the dirt real soft.
“Slam the heel down and go and keep your vision up.”
Gleyber Torres and Gary Sanchez have been doing that, too, shortening with two strikes and not getting their leg kicks involved. And Gallo could look to Rizzo for some more inspiration: Choking up a bit on the handle for a shorter swing.
That could reduce his 38.8 whiff percentage from last season, and being as athletic as he is, the transition should be easy for Gallo.
Was new environment a factor?
We can’t forget about the mental side of the game. This goes along with approach, but when a player is traded from a team with low expectations to one fighting for a playoff spot, of course there may be nerves to perform right away.
Gallo was tossed right into the fire, hitting in the middle of the Yankees’ lineup next to guys like Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and DJ LeMahieu and asked to produce immediately. Zeile said it takes a toll and you certainly feel pressure.
“It’s different when I think you get traded over to some place and you’re there for a quick burst and trying to get to the promised land. I can relate to that as well with Texas,” Zeile said, reminiscing about when he went from the Rangers in 1999 to the Mets in 2000.
“I was really strong after the trade and then I went into the offseason and was really excited about coming back because I had another year left on my deal to come back to Texas. This is the part of it that I don’t know with Joey. Does he like New York? Does he like playing for the Yankees? Because it’s a big, vast difference coming from Texas to New York as I found out.”
It’s something Gallo had to come to grips with quickly, but now he has an offseason to reflect and reset.
“Maybe the offseason gives him a chance to reset, come back fresh, have zeroes all across the board and get an opportunity over 150 games or so – because he can play as many as 150 games. Just produce like he’s been accustomed to in Texas by relaxing a little bit and feeling comfortable and not feeling like every at-bat is under the microscope as it was at the end of last season,” Zeile said.
So… how does he turn things around?
After breaking it all down, it’s hard even for the best of the best to pinpoint one specific thing that Gallo needs to do. Zeile mentioned going back to standing a little off the plate, using his athletic ability to extend and make contact while also focusing on the inside half.
Ferber discussed the two-strike approach and how hitters like Bichette have brought it to their game and it’s worked out to get more hits, allowing their natural power to do the rest once they make contact.
And then there’s the approach side of the game – what will the Yankees’ new hitting coach tell Gallo to look for? Zeile thinks that’s going back, watching hot streaks and seeing what’s worked. It’s a process that worked for himself.
The overall theme for Gallo is basically getting back to what worked in Texas first and then going from there. Once that’s figured out by getting the right approach and stance, then you can work on timing and tweaking what needs to be done.
Gallo should also toy with that two-strike approach in spring training because he is already good at recognizing balls and strikes. His timing becomes simplified in those moments and should allow his quick swing to get through the zone and make contact instead of heading back to the bench with another strikeout.
What all of this should (hopefully) lead to is confidence at the plate again when the results come.
Because that’s what hitting is all about at the end of the day.
“When you’re going well, you have a feeling when you walk up to the plate a lot of times like nobody can get you out, like nobody can beat you. That is as much a part of having success as a hitter as anything else,” Zeile said.
Source: Yahoo Sports