Defensive shifts discriminate against left-handed hitters, agent Scott Boras believes.
Fans scoff when a hitter says it’s not easy to beat a shift by hitting the ball the other way or by dropping a bunt.
Teams employing shifts want hitters to try to beat their alignments by going away from their strengths.
Boras represents, among others, Texas Rangers lefty slugger Joey Gallo. Not only do teams shift against him, they radically shift against him.
As such, shifts have cost Gallo 17 hits and 54 points from his batting average this season, according to research done by Rangers TV analyst C.J. Nitkowski via Inside Edge Data and Analytics.
That’s not insignificant for a player batting .187 this season, albeit with 22 home runs.
Also not insignificant is that Gallo has the worst contract rate in the major leagues and has the second-high percentage of swinging strikes. It comes as no surprise that he is tied for the MLB lead in strikeouts with 132.
So, the shift alone isn’t hurting Gallo.
General manager Jon Daniels has an idea on what else is dragging the big man down. It has nothing to do with swing mechanics or approach, but affects both.
The way Daniels sees it, no Rangers player puts more pressure on himself to be great than Gallo. If he is to have a quality finish to the season, which perhaps is the biggest thing the Rangers need to see after the All-Star break, Gallo must balance the physical and the mental.
“Joey’s got the ability,” Daniels said. “We’ve seen it. We saw what we did in the second half last year. It’s a matter of consistency, and the biggest part for that is Joey’s ability to exhale and kind of do what he’s capable of and not let all the external factors in.”
Maybe the All-Star break, which ends Friday as the Rangers return to Globe Life Park for a three-game series against the Cleveland Indians, gave Gallo’s brain a break. He agrees with Daniels’ assignment that he put pressure on himself, though that’s not entirely different than any other player in baseball.
He admits that he can be too hard on himself.
“Sometimes I might show it more on the field beating myself up, but that’s the type of player I am,” he said. “It’s hard because I strike out a lot. It’s a little different.
“It’s nice to have a break to just mentally relax. There’s not so much stress when you don’t have to go out and perform, but I’ve been feeling OK.”
As much as players like to say that they don’t read what is written about them, they at least hear about things or see things on social media. Many stories have been written about Gallo, about his incredible power but his .200 batting average and high strikeout totals.
He is compared to Dave Kingman and Rob Deer, oafs who fit Gallo’s current batting profile but lacked his athletic ability and defensive versatility. Perhaps those stories, for which he frequently is asked the same questions, have become a beating.
Meanwhile, third baseman Adrian Beltre still believes that Gallo can hit .300.
Gallo hit .300 at a few stops in the minor leagues, where shifts aren’t nearly as prevalent. Disgruntled fans believe that Gallo needs to go to the minors to get straightened out, and he has heard that talk, too.
The Rangers do not want to send him to Triple-A Round Rock.
Gallo believes he can hit for a higher average for the Rangers, and would do so if MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred follows through on limiting defensive shifts.
“The shifts definitely take away a lot of hits,” Gallo said. “It’s tough to be a lefty. If you hit a ball square up the middle, and a guy’s standing right there. Not just everybody has that natural ability to filet a ball to left field. If you’re a power hitter, that’s how you build your swing and that’s why it’s tough on us.
“Once those shifts get banned, I’ll be good.”
Gallo batted .229 in 64 second-half games last season, an increase of 35 points, and also bumped his on-base and slugging percentages. He hit the ball more to left field and left-center.
Gallo, though, doesn’t hit the ball the other way on the ground, so much of his contact that way results in flyouts or pop-outs. The Houston Astros and Colorado Rockies have occasionally played those probabilities by moving their third baseman into left field for a four-outfielder alignment.
When he does hit the ball on the ground, it is usually swallowed up by the shortstop playing second base or the second baseman playing in shallow right field.
The other side of the infield, meanwhile is almost wide open. All Gallo needs to do is slap a ball or drop a bunt, which is exactly what teams want him to do as his home-run threat is taken away.
He was encouraged by a recent ESPN story that talked to lefty hitters and how it’s not easy to drop a bunt or hit the ball the other way. Former TCU star Matt Carpenter, who plays for the St. Louis Cardinals, is one of the three players featured.
“They were saying, ‘It’s not that easy. What do I gain by bunting?’ ” Gallo said Sunday. “I tried to do it with two outs, but even if I can on, it might take a few more hits to score a run. So you take my best tool away and best asset of being ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark.”
Gallo doesn’t turn 25 until the offseason, and though he made his MLB debut in 2015, he is still young. He’s still learning and adjusting, against the best pitchers in the world with would-be critics watching every game.
The Rangers understand that, and that Gallo wants it to change.
Perhaps too badly at times.
“Everyone adjusts to them at their own pace,” Daniels said. “I think Joey’s hard on himself because he wants to be great. He wants to do right by his team and teammates. We’ve got confidence in him. We want to allow him to continue to work through it.”