June 10, 2014
Everyone wants to talk about Joey Gallo’s power, and why not? Dude has power like Kanye West has ego. He hit 40 home runs last year, and his prodigious power has my early-season proclamation of “don’t expect [him] to be a fast mover” looking silly. His power is a legitimate 80, but that’s not what I want to focus on. The reason Joey Gallo’s stock is exploding this year is his ability to make productive changes to his swing.
As a hitting coach, I realize Gallo might not be making these changes on his own, and that is almost more admirable. Gallo’s power is so extreme he could have made very few changes to his swing and still reached the big leagues at 25 and hit 25-plus home runs. His ability to constantly improve his swing (or listen to good coaching) has him on track to reach the big leagues at 21 or 22 and hit 35-plus. This fact even speaks to his makeup, as it suggests he is not willing to coast on his skills and instead seeks continual improvement.
His current swing is built to send baseballs screaming over fences at an alarming rate. It wasn’t always this locked in. Thanks to YouTube there is footage of Gallo from his sophomore year in high school to his current trek through the minor leagues.
We start with a young and skinny Gallo doing things to baseballs that mere mortals can’t comprehend. Notice how even the camera’s focus is affected by the power resulting from his swing. I love watching early swings of guys because you can see traces of their mechanical identity. I observed three separate qualities to his innate swing:
First we have a synchronization of his hands and feet. This is not unique to Joey, not by a mile, but I choose to highlight it for a teachable moment. Hitting is timing, and losing timing within your own swing is terrible. By getting the hands and feet in lockstep, you avoid a potential timing hurdle. Why have two movements to time (move the feet, then hands) when you can have one (move the hands and the feet together)? Joey avoids this hurdle in his own identity and follows the trails of the maestros of hitting. These three hitters (Longo, Miggy, Joey Bats) show how to synchronize the feet and hands even with very different striding patterns.
The second aspect of his identity we see is a momentary tipping of his barrel right as his stride foot begins to move forward and toward the ground. It was an unquestionably good part of his identity to have hands and feet moving together, but this feature is a bit more volatile. On the surface there is nothing wrong with this movement as long as he is able to realign everything at contact. The issue here is that the movement got so extreme it went from unique to harmful over the course of time. Nathaniel Stoltz pointed out this movement when it was at its most extreme in 2013. Stoltz goes to more games in a season than most people will go to in a decade, and even he claimed the barrel tipping "was the most pronounced, extreme loading mechanism I saw any player use all year”.
The third mechanical item I noticed was a massive early recruitment of his hips. There is nothing wrong with hip coil. (Hip coil= a small internal rotation of the hips independent of the shoulders during and after weight has begun to transfer forward.) I used to be in denial about this movement, but having learned its ways I can see how Gallo was aiming to take full advantage of this movement. Think of coiling the hips like eating cake. A little bit is okay and even encouraged. Eating the whole cake is just a bad scene. In his early days Gallo’s hip coil was exaggerated and it created timing issues in his swing and gave him gaping holes in his zone for pitchers to exploit.
Now that we have a feel for his identity lets look at Gallo during the time that the mythos was beginning to grow. Here he is in 2011 hitting a ball 442 feet. With a wood bat. In the All American game. Damn.
The scary part is he hit that ball with a bit of a flaw in his swing that usually creates issues: his hips continued to slide forward after the foot first hit the ground. Ideally, the hips should drive forward during the stride and begin to open after the hitter plants his foot. The flaw of the hips sliding creates various timing issues from a late firing of the hands to premature hip opening, depending on the hitter. Gallo avoids these issues and instead of running into problems he simply continues his swing.
Here we have Gallo in his first season in pro ball. I was lucky enough to see him in person while he played for the Spokane Indians. His power was insane then but the 450 foot moonshots in BP weren’t what impressed me most. He doesn’t have to square balls up to hit them out. He sliced balls off the end of the bat that still cleared the fence. The Rangers have a special hitter who can hit a ball off the non-sweet part of the bat and still send it over the fence.
The swing itself was in a state of flux. Over the five-game series Gallo didn’t leave the yard and looked continually frustrated. The scouts I sat with pointed out a huge hole in his swing. Anything below his shoulders but above his thigh on the inner half ate him up. He was so long into the zone that he simply wasn’t quick enough to get the bat head where it needed to be unless the pitcher went low and inside—where Gallo would just drop the head of the bat and do real damage. There’s a whole lot more to the explanation of Gallo’s stats (his weird righty/lefty splits) but that is for another time. On a pure swing level, in 2012 he was talented but flawed.
But 2013 was the year Gallo really burst onto the scene with a 40 home run campaign. The swing was a bit smoother and featured his bat starting in a bit more of a flat position. He also started with a more open stance and more initial bend in his legs. His lower body was much improved thanks to a smoother transition from his gather phase to where he was delivering the bat through the zone. His upper body was a bit worrisome, especially before he started driving the bat forward. The tip of his barrel was more pronounced than ever and was changing from a nifty mechanical feature to a roadblock in his swing.
But while his swing had its flaws, Gallo was tearing up the minors. This was the moment he could have coasted on his swing or really locked it in. Nobody would have blamed him for featuring the same swing that allowed him to drop 40 bombs as a 19-year-old. Instead he refined his swing even further.
Like any player development situation, this swing change wasn’t always pretty. I was fairly critical of Gallo’s swing in spring training and left camp not being terribly impressed by his performance. He had changed his starting position with his hands both by lowering them and starting with more raise in his back elbow. He had lost timing within his own swing and had trouble syncing his feet and his hands. His hips engaged later in his swing and he appeared to have to force his lower body to work for him rather than allow it to fire naturally.
The season started and I waited. I waited for the reports of Gallo slumping or pitchers finally finding ways to neutralize his power. The opposite occurred. He was lighting guys up left and right. Video doesn’t lie and it seems all that struggle in spring training had proved valuable. The fixes that needed to occur in his swing were/are beginning to take shape.
The starting position of his hands is now helping him. He doesn’t have to move nearly as far to line the bat up where he wants. He still tips the barrel but it’s a subtle and small movement that in no way hampers his swing. His stride is now more controlled. I’m all for Jose Bautista-esque leg kicks but Gallo’s ideal movement pattern seems more suited to this new, smaller stride. Now he floats the front foot while moving his hips forward and creating coil through those hips. The internal timing problem that plagued him in spring training is gone.
In this current season Gallo has calmed down his stride and any pre-swing “noise with his hands.” Even with an overall quieter swing he has learned to use his hips more efficiently. Rather than wait and thrust them forward late in his swing he gets them driving forward and creating tension early in the swing, waiting to gracefully fire them at the proper moment. The incredible part is he didn’t have to. He could have coasted. He could have been satisfied with good. He didn’t and he’s not. This is a hitter who wants to do serious damage at the highest level and possesses the skills and makeup to do so.
Just as fashion is never finished, neither is building an ideal swing. There is always refinement to be done and improvements to be made. Ideally, Gallo continues to improve. In the meantime let’s all sit back and enjoy the show as his career blossoms.