After the Romans conquered the Greeks, they adopted their mythology to tie them to the past. They wanted a foundational belief in purpose, but one far more practical to their view of the world… The first generation of Moneyball taught us that OBP was equally important as AVG, embodied by Kevin Youkilis, the Greek God of Walks (and Scott Hatteberg). He had plate discipline for days and was not afraid to take a ball, even in the shoulder, that led to a career OBP of .382, yadda yadda, we all know the story. Enter 2019, and the age of Exit Velocity, Launch Angle, and Hard Contact. OBP is still praised, but on top of getting on base, the goal now is maximizing quality contact and focusing on bat path to avoid wasting those OBP runners on base — this, the new the prevailing philosophy in baseball.
Meet Joey Gallo, the archetype of new baseball, carved from the very stone that fell from heaven itself. He hits balls hard… a lot. He gets on base, he hits home runs, and he strikes out… a lot. We all are well aware of this. He spent his first 2 full seasons hitting .208, walked 13.4%, struck out 36.3%, while averaging 40 HRs a season. But what if I told you, this season, Gallo has become the spiritual successor and evolution of everything Billy saw in Youkilis. Hit ball hard AND get on base. Gallo spent this offseason refining his approach. With the help of new hitting coach Luis Ortiz, he worked on calming his body movement (including reducing his leg kick) and simplifying/shortening his swing mechanics. He also focused on keeping his hands through the zone more; AND… bat pathing to get the barrel on the ball more often. With his size and strength, he doesn’t need to muscle the ball, he does that naturally — he just needs good hard contact.
So fast forward to the present. Its post-All-Star Break, half a season in the books. If not for an oblique injury that sidelined him for most of June we could be looking at an MVP candidate, but it has still been really good. Let’s take a look at the board.
Right now he’s at a .275 average, which is highly unlikely to continue given his career average of around .208, we know who he has been. There are, however, clearly areas of improvement that worth exploring and pointing to a reborn phoenix, rising from the ashes of the Three True Outcome cyclops he once was. OBP is way up, looks like he walking more, possibly laying off more junk pitches. SLG/ISO is up a lot; is it a function purely of a boosted BABIP? Unlikely to a be 1:1 for numerous reasons, e.g. one does not simply have accidental doubles, etc. What is intriguing, a boosted wOBA of .433 supported by an xwOBA of .420; we got a live one.
His walk rate is now at a career-high 18.8%, that is great. Everybody’s favorite TTO legend of old Adam Dunn, in his best years, averaged 18.9 and 18.7%… hmm that’s oddly similar to the Donkey himself. Gallo sure looks like an ass to me. Which leads us then to the Ks. 36.5% is very high, and on pace with where he’s been in the past, but an 8% increase in line drives 8% increase in Pull% is a positive sign that he’s likely making better contact on better pitches. 40.8% HR/FB ratio is bizarro world crazy; and call me crazy, but if there’s one dude in the league that might be able to pull off something close to that, its Gallo. Next, we will take a look at which his contact data. He has a career average of 30.6%, so he’s always high, and what he’s doing this year could challenge that.
As I said in the intro, Gallo has focused on his swing and better bat to ball contact… the numbers thus far say he’s been successful. Right now Joey Gallo leads the entire league (players with 100+ batted balls) in Barrel%, Barrel-per-batted-ball, Exit Velocity (on non-GBs, top 4 in total EV), and HardHit%. He’s also top 5 in SLG, xSLG, wOBA, and xwOBACON. The quality of contact is there on all levels. Adam Dunn’s career highs for HardHit% was 41.3 and 43.8%. My man Hercules is crushing it, so why is he…
He not only improved his swing, but what he’s doing is waiting for better pitches to put his A-swing on. For your viewing pleasure, I bolded the flashing-light numbers again. So first up, we see that our boy sits on some pitches this year. On all pitches, he’s swinging at nearly 10% less for a total of less than 40% now, that’s a plus. He’s even swinging at fewer pitches in the zone by 10%, 16% less on the first pitch, and the biggest deal of all — chasing balls out of the zone 10% less for an all-time low of 22.5%; that’s flailing at junk only 20% of the time. Don’t like it, don’t want it; you keep it. His zone contact has steadily climbed each year and his swinging strikes are down to career low as well.
So here is Adam Dunn’s career line for plate discipline. It looks eerily similar to what Gallo is doing this year. For the kids in our audience, Dunn was basically an automatic 40 HRs nearly every season, there were few sluggers more consistent than him; and yet he was the TTO anthropomorphic (word of the day!) Donkey-headed God of Sluggery. Gallo looks a lot like the reincarnation of Dunn. His major breakout and career year was his 3rd full season when he hit 46 HRs before juiced balls were a thing (despite what Manfred’s lying face says), and Gallo under the hood seems to be following the same growth curve.
From 2003 to 2004, Adam Dunn’s batting slash line went from .215/.354/.465 (.249 ISO) to .266/.388/.569 (.303 ISO). The main difference between our boy Gallo and Dunn is the Donkey had a K-rate of 28.6% that year, finishing with a .321 BABIP. Aside from the K-rate, Gallo looks like he can level out to about that same peripherals. Maybe a little wishful thinking, but there’s just too much in his favor to not be successful; plate discipline, hard contact, Texan summer heat, and juiced balls. This gives me optimism for what to expect from Gallo for the second half. The second half of 2004 Dunn went for 21 HR and 49 RBIs. If Gallo follows suit with his patron deity, I’d say he goes .245/.390/.580 the rest of the way with 20 HRs and nearly as many ribbies like he bought the buffet at Phil’s BBQ (or your local meat alter of choice).