Joey Gallo has a lot of power. He hits home runs like this and this regularly enough that you kind of shrug it off as stuff that Gallo just does. Despite that prodigious power, he had struggled in his two previous Major League stints. Now, Gallo is thriving in his own unique way.
As a prospect, Gallo was highly touted. Selected in the first round of the 2012 Rule IV Draft, Gallo shot through the minors. After tearing up the lower levels through his first two years, Gallo debuted in AA at 20 years old in mid-2014. He first appeared on major top-100 prospect lists prior to that season, going as high as number 60 on Baseball America’s ranking. As he continued his success at AA that year, Gallo shot up prospect lists and was a consensus top-15 prospect in all of baseball. Before the 2016 season, even after his struggles in MLB, he raised the bar and was a consensus top-10 prospect in all of baseball.
Gallo’s profile as a three-true-outcome slugger with the ability to stick at third is what propelled him through the minor leagues. Gallo was pegged by an overwhelming majority of scouts as a player with legit 80 power. It’s fairly evident in his rise through the ranks, as he never had a HR/FB rate dip below 22 percent and was often above 30 percent.
Many power hitters feature a heavy swing-and-miss profile with a high walk rate. This is due to pitchers trying to pitch around them instead of attacking and producing a costly miss. Gallo was an extreme example of that, posting a 14.6 percent walk rate in the minors coupled with a 34.6 percent K rate. His uniqueness at the plate extends onto the field, as according to the prospect team at Baseball Prospectus, he boasts a 70-grade arm. That cannon will help Gallo add value to his profile by playing a position with more perceived scarcity.
These extreme skill points help supplement a key deficiency in Gallo’s game — his contact. That shortcoming was precisely the issue in his first two stints in the big leagues. Over 2015 and 2016, Gallo produced anemic contact rates of 52.9 percent and 50 percent, respectively. During that stretch, Gallo also struck out at a 48.6 percent clip and managed to hit only .178. All of that was done with a BABIP of .320, which was heavily concentrated in 2015. In total, it’s clear that Gallo couldn’t make enough contact to showcase that awesome power.
This year, Gallo has dramatically improved on his contact issues. To this date, Gallo’s contact rate sits at 65.1 percent, which is over 15 percentage points more than what he put up in 2016. As a result, he has struck out substantially less at 38.1 percent and has a not as bad batting average at .200. He has done all of this with a BABIP of .238. So we might expect his batting average to rise under normal circumstances. Even if it doesn’t, Gallo currently sits at 1.0 fWAR, which is tied for 23rd among qualified batters, and 0.6 bWARP. If he keeps that pace up, he’ll end up being more than a three-win player.
As you’d predict, his power is what’s driving him. Gallo’s .333 ISO places him among the top ten qualified hitters in the league by that metric. It’s no surprise given that his eight home runs has him tied for ninth. In terms of batted ball data, Gallo continues to be a monster at the plate. His average exit velocity sits at 95.5 mph, which is 7.8 mph over the league average. In a game where one mph can be make or break, almost eight is just absurd. In addition to that, his launch angle is essentially what you’d expect.
Gallo essentially lives in the ideal range for hitting dingers. What a suprise.
Gallo is a perfect example of the amount of margin of error that gets created when you have a unique skill. Predicting success from any player with a 38 percent strikeout rate will result in some pretty disappointing projections en masse. The same can be said for a 65 percent contact rate. Both are well beyond the average rate and present a massive problem for most hitters.
For example, Gallo’s contact rate is fourth-worst in the major leagues. Each of the players below him — Byron Buxton, Trevor Story, and Danny Espinosa — have similar strikeout rates as well. The group combines for an aggregate fWAR of 0.2. However, Gallo’s power not only helps him maximize the value out of his hits, but also puts him in situations where he can draw walks and add to his profile. That gives him a very sturdy floor to build off when it comes to contact.
It’s amazing what you can do with 80 power.
Anthony Rescan is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyRescan.