Rangers' Joey Gallo is hitting the ball harder than anyone in baseball and 2019 looks like his breakout season

Rangers slugger Joey Gallo isn't a household name by any stretch, but he's pretty well known in circles of baseball fans, particularly those who play fantasy baseball. If he continues to play at the level he is so far this season, he's on a path to stardom. I believe we are seeing his breakout season. 

As I noted in our latest edition of power rankings, it sounds funny to say this is a breakout season when the guy is coming off back-to-back 40-homer campaigns. It's just that there's a measurable difference in Gallo's game this year. 

In 2017 and 2018, Gallo took his walks at a reasonable level, posted good slugging percentages and hit 41 and 40 homers, respectively. He also struck out 196 and 207 times, respectively, and hit below .210 each season. He has huge power, but the offensive profile for those two seasons was Dave Kingman, which is more gimmick than All-Star. In order to take a step forward at age 25, Gallo needed to find a way to hit for more average while whiffing less. 

So far, a path to success has been paved. 

Through 21 games, Gallo is hitting .284/.393/.689. He's already at 1.2 WAR after just 2.1 last season. His strikeout percentage is a touch less than last season and his walk percentage is up from 12.8 percent to 15.7. 

I've watched Gallo a good number of times this season and it felt like he wasn't going out of the zone as much as he used to. Sure enough, he chased on 32.2 percent of pitches out of the zone last year and it's down to 25.6 percent this season. That's a 25-year-old learning the zone as he grows into being a more polished hitter. He's actually swinging at all pitches at a lower rate but making contact at a higher rate, so he's becoming more selective and is getting better at making contact. 

There are wins all over the place here. 

Now, this is the part where someone will point out his "unsustainable" .361 batting average on balls in play. Sure, it probably comes down but it's hardly a hard-and-fast rule. This is where watching the games matters. He hits the ball hard. Really hard. It shouldn't take a genius to point out that, generally speaking, the harder a guy hits the ball, the better the chances are that he'll have a higher average. 

Oh, you want numbers? Cool. We've got those. 

Per Fangraphs' "hard contact" percentage, Gallo (68.2) ranked second in the majors to Christian Walker (69.1) heading into Thursday. Among qualified hitters, only Matt Carpenter (4.4 percent) has made "soft contact" less often than Gallo (4.6). Gallo also ranks eighth in line drive percentage. Over on MLB's Statcast, Gallo is first in the majors in average exit velocity at 99.1 miles per hour. 

All that is to say, Gallo hits the ball harder than anyone else on average, he hits it hard more often than almost anyone else and he hits line drives almost as much as anyone. Of course he's going to have a high BABIP

Add everything up and it's hard to find anything aside from the high strikeout total to not love. We're talking about a hitter with as much power as anyone who is hitting the ball harder than anyone else on a pretty consistent basis and is learning the strike zone at age 25. He's also greatly improved in the outfield. 

Formerly a gimmick, Joey Gallo's path to stardom is clear. He just has to stay the course he's taken so far in 2019. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Snyder has been a baseball writer with CBS Sports since 2011. A member of the BBWAA, he's now covered every World Series since 2010. The former Indiana University baseball player now lives on the... Full Bio

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