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Joey Gallo is still making adjustments

Will his embrace of the strikeout finally allow him to break out?

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Texas Rangers Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

For the first week of the 2017 season, Joey Gallo has looked like the most stereotypical version of himself. His walk rate is excellent, but he’s striking out close to 40 percent of the time. His ISO is a whopping .261, while his batting average is hovering below the Mendoza line. He’s hit a pair of monster home runs, included the hardest-hit homer this year:

All in all, he’s filled in admirably for an injured Adrián Beltré, running a 109 wRC+ over that first week. However, Beltré is due back soon, and the Rangers will have a decision to make in regards to what role Gallo will have on the team going forward. He won’t be playing third base as long as Beltré is healthy, but Texas certainly seems eager to keep his bat in the lineup. And when you can contribute the kind of power Gallo can, why wouldn’t they?

In past years, the response to that question would’ve been something along the lines of, “Well, he doesn’t make contact enough to actually make that power usable.” That’s as fair a way of thinking about Gallo now as it was then — we just talked about that monstrous strikeout rate, and no matter how Gallo changes his approach at the plate in the future, he’ll always be a guy who swings and misses a lot. It’s just who he is as a player.

Everyone — including Gallo himself — has recognized that for a long time. Still, that didn’t stop people from criticizing his contact issues, and to be totally fair, they have long been significant, detrimental issues, at least at the big-league level. In each of his stints with the club in 2015 and 2016, Gallo’s performance was disastrous — it was just too easy for big-league pitchers to get him to whiff.

Understandably, that criticism and those on-field struggles took a toll on Gallo’s confidence. As fun as it must be to be the guy with 80 raw power, it’s probably equally depressing to be known as the guy who can’t make contact.

Fortunately, Gallo seems to have come around to the idea that lots of strikeouts are just going to be a part of his game, whether he likes it or not. In a very interesting piece by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Gil LeBreton, Gallo talked about how, in previous years, all of those strikeouts hurt his confidence. This year, Gallo is doing his best to embrace the strikeout, and not let it affect what he does best — hit the proverbial cover off the ball:

“It still sucks to strike out. I just don’t take it personally any more. Now if I strike out, I strike out. That’s what I do. But on my next at-bat, I can hit a three-run home run to win the game.”

Thus far, in an obviously small sample size, he’s been able to do just that. There aren’t many hitters who could survive in the big leagues with a strikeout rate in the mid- to high-30s, but Gallo’s power may well make him an exception, especially if he can continue to supplement all those whiffs with a solid walk rate.

Again with the caveat that we’re just a week into the season, Gallo has come out even more aggressive this year. His swing rate — overall, and inside the strike zone — is higher than either of his previous stops in Arlington, and would be well above average if he were to maintain it over the course of a full season:

Gallo swing rates

Year O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing%
Year O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing%
2015 29.9% 73.4% 49.2%
2016 29.4% 65.0% 44.1%
2017 29.7% 75.5% 49.6%
Data via FanGraphs

For a guy like Gallo, who’s going to swing and miss a bunch no matter what, perhaps that is the right approach. Even if his contact rate is still abysmal, he’s at least giving himself a lot of bites at the apple. The more times he swings, the more times he’ll make contact overall, and we know what happens when Joey Gallo makes contact.

This newfound aggressiveness — if it is indeed sustainable — would certainly be in line with Gallo’s professed adjustment toward how he reacts to striking out. As long as striking out doesn’t get to him like it used to, maybe his willingness to take more hacks will finally allow that incredible power to play in the major leagues.

It’s still incredibly early, of course, but we’ve all been hoping and wishing for the best version of Joey Gallo to show itself on the biggest stage. Perhaps this year will be it. All it might take is Gallo embracing his unique skill set.