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Joey Gallo can beat the shift without sacrificing power

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Hint: it involves something most sabermetrics fans hate, the bunt.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Texas Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo is getting the shift treatment.

Gallo, who broke out last season after slashing .209/.333/.537 with 41 home runs and a 123 wRC+, is struggling at the plate in 2018. Gallo is pull-happy hitter who has a 47.9 percent pull rate, 7.3 percentage points above the 2018 league average. As a result, Gallo has been shifted to some degree in 94.3 percent of the pitches that he has seen this year, the highest mark in baseball.

Gallo’s offensive performance has fallen off a cliff. The power is still there, of course, but the batting line is not. He’s now hitting .195/.271/.453 with 14 home runs and an 88 wRC+, a much less valuable line than last year.

Some, like Russell Carleton at Baseball Prospectus, have suggested that Gallo should bunt with the shift in order to maximize his offensive production. Clearly, this is an interesting idea, but the reason that Gallo has not and will not implement such a change is due to the loss of power that would come alongside taking the single. A home run is clearly more valuable than a single, and Gallo would rather not take the single when he could just hit the ball over every single member of the defense and into the stands.

What if, then, Gallo bunted when he was shifted, but only when the count had two strikes? It’s a risky idea. A foul or missed bunt is an out, without any chance to hit a home run at all.

But with some help from my friend Jeremy Frank, who runs the famous baseball statistics account @MLBRandomStats (give him a follow), we did the math to see exactly how much Gallo’s offensive performance would change if he decided to bunt against the shift but only with two strikes.

First, we had to consider the effectiveness of bunting against the shift with two strikes in general. Using data from 2016 to 2018, it could be determined that hitters were successful in bunting against the shift with two strikes about 64.7 percent of the time. It was not a large sample — because, like I’ve said, bunting with two strikes is not considered to be a good idea — but it was a ballpark estimate as to how successful Gallo would be.

This 64.7 percent success rate seems favorable, but then we had to account for the amount of times that Gallo would miss the bunt or bunt the ball foul. That would happen about 54.9 percent of the time and would probably happen more for Gallo, as he is not the most skilled at bunting. We can assume that he would learn the art form over time, but for now, we are going to stick with the 45.1 percent non-foul, non-missed rate for simplicity.

So, what does this mean for Gallo?

Gallo currently has had 52 plate appearances end with two strikes and the shift. That means, for example, the count was 1-2, Gallo was at the plate, the fielders were shifted and the next pitch ended the at bat, whether that would be by a field out, strike out or some sort of base hit. That gives us 52 data points to work with.

Quite frankly, Gallo has not been good over those 52 plate appearances, which make up 24.7 percent of his overall plate appearances for the season. He has just three hits — one single, one double and one homer — along with six walks. So, this means that he’s hitting .065 with a .167 wOBA when there are two strikes and a shifted defense is in order.

Let’s assume that Gallo still walks the six times that he did, giving him 46 at bats. Using the league-wide information, Gallo should get approximately 13 hits if he bunted every single time the count got to two strikes while he was shifted. These presumably would all be singles.

In order to figure out what Gallo’s production would be under this scenario, I subtracted all of his current two-strike with the shift production (not that there has been a lot) from his season totals and added back in 13 singles. The difference is astounding.

Gallo, who is currently slashing .195/.271/.453 with a .724 OPS, would actually be slashing .247/.319/.484 with an .803 OPS, an insane 79 points higher. His wOBA, which is currently .308 and six points below the league-average, would jump to .343 and 29 points above the league-average.

A small change like this for Gallo could legitimately create noticeable changes in his overall production. It’s clearly easier said than done, but if the shift continues to give him struggles going forward, it’s certainly worth a try for the Rangers’ slugger.


Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink. Jeremy Frank helped compile statistics for this report. You can follow him on Twitter @MLBRandomStats.