Looking For Depth: Freddy Galvis
By Andy Singer
Photo Credit: Michael Reaves – Getty Images
Yankee fans far and wide are likely hoping that Brian Cashman ends 2020 with a bang in either Free Agency or the trade market. Fans, blogs, and the media have tried to connect the dots between multiple stars and the Yankees since even prior to the end of the 2020 season, assuming that the Yankees intended to flex their financial might to improve the roster. While there are certainly merits to that train of thought, it is also true that often times, championships are won with depth. We can hem and haw all we want about players like Francisco Lindor, Trevor Bauer, or any number of other big name players and their fit on the Yankees’ roster, but the cold truth is that when healthy, the Yankee lineup is as good as any when healthy, even if they don’t touch the starting lineup this offseason (besides bringing DJ LeMahieu back). Health has been a key issue for this roster over the last 2+ seasons, so depth is paramount for the Yankees heading into 2021.
One could argue that as good as most of us felt about the Yankees’ depth heading into the 2020 season, depth proved to be an issue in more ways than one. None proved more key than in the infield. I was bullish about the combination of Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada coming into the season, but 2020 proved me wrong. We’ve been waiting for Wade’s bat to come around for years, and though I’ve been as confident as anyone that Wade would prove to be a valuable utility infielder for the Yanks, that just hasn’t happened. For a team hoping to contend and win a World Series in 2021, the Yankees could build value by acquiring a steady veteran infielder for the bench. Can Freddy Galvis be that guy?
Over the last few years, Galvis has come up in multiple rumors in relation to the Yankees, particularly following the 2018 season during Galvis’ first trip through the Free Agent ringer. On the surface, Galvis has a lot going for him: he’s a switch-hitter, which would help the Yankees gain a little more lineup balance on days that Galvis is in the lineup; he has a reputation as a strong defender at both SS and 2B; and while he’s not a world-beater at the plate, he is known for his pop. Some of those perceptions were put to the test in 2020, as Galvis was panned for his defensive performance at SS in Cincinnati this year, often getting pulled in the late innings for a defensive replacement. Is perception reality? Who is Freddy Galvis right now? And can he help the Yankees?
First, let’s take a look at who Freddy Galvis is offensively. Since 2018, Galvis has triple-slashed .250/.299/.408 with a 90 OPS+. That may not sound impressive, but for a player who plays a premium defensive position well, offensive performance that sniffs average makes Galvis a near-starting caliber player (and in fact, he has started at each of his various stops since 2018). The summary stats give the impression that Galvis is a free swinger who doesn’t walk enough, but has just enough pop to make the bat playable at a premium defensive position.
That’s not the full story, though. Galvis’ profile has shifted over the last two seasons, particularly in 2020. Galvis’ contact numbers remained relatively static on swings inside the strike zone, even if his batting average dropped. In its place though, Galvis struck out far less, cutting his strikeout rate to 18.9% in 2020 from 24.5% in 2019 while walking more than he had at any other point in his MLB career, jumping up to an 8.4% walk rate from a walk rate that averaged 5.5% in his career prior to 2020. Those rates don’t seem fluky either, as Galvis also cut his chase rate on pitches out of the strike zone to 26.7% in 2020 from a career average of 35.7%. Galvis also proved more passive on the first pitch of at-bats, swinging at just 18.2% of first pitches, down from a career average of 26.5%. Even better, Galvis posted the highest ISO of his career in 2020 (.184), despite Exit Velocity and Hard Hit Rates that wouldn’t typically indicate significant power, though Galvis has consistently outperformed his expected production numbers by Statcast throughout his career. Overall, Galvis may actually be a bit better than his offensive reputation at the present time. Galvis is a hitter with emerging and improving plate discipline who has also grown into more pop as he’s aged.
Defense is supposedly Galvis’ calling card, and he earned that reputation prior to 2019. The metrics widely agree that Galvis was a plus defensive shortstop prior to 2019. In 2019 though, that reputation began to crack at SS. Statcast Outs Above Average (OAA) still loved Galvis’ defense at SS in 2019, crediting him with +11 OAA at SS in 2019. Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) is a little less bullish, crediting Galvis with 4 DRS, while Ultimate Zone Rating/150 Innings (UZR/150) thought Galvis’ defense was below-average at SS, earning -2.4 UZR/150 in 2019. Galvis’ numbers deteriorated further at SS in 2020. Galvis was credited with the following defensive values at SS in 2020: -3 OAA, -1 DRS, 2.6 UZR/150. Galvis’ defensive numbers remain solid overall at 2B in smaller sample sizes.
A few notes about the stats above. First off, I think we have to acknowledge the fact that the starting, stopping, and sudden re-starting of the 2020 season effected all players differently. For some, changes were made seamlessly, while other players struggled with their routines or physical readiness and saw their performance at the plate or in the field (or both) suffer. We can’t rule out the possibility that Galvis fell into the latter category defensively.
Secondly, 2020 presented a very small sample size to work with defensively, so it is really not worthwhile to make sweeping judgements about a player’s defense based on 361 innings of defense (in Galvis’ case).
Lastly, even if we take the numbers at face value, it is essential to understand that while those 2020 numbers at SS are below-average, that doesn’t mean that Galvis can’t play SS. In fact, a slightly below-average SS is still a valuable player when you account for positional adjustment. Galvis will likely be able to play SS in at least a backup/sub capacity for a few years to come, even if his ideal defensive homes become 2B or 3B as he ages.
Overall, I don’t think the numbers indicate the horror show some of the whispers in the media have hinted about Galvis’ defense in 2020. On the Yankees, I see little reason that Galvis couldn’t be an effective defense player at 2B or 3B.
In any other offseason, I think we could expect a bottom-feeding team to pick up Galvis to start at SS in 2021, given his history as a fringe-starter in recent seasons from a WAR perspective. However, teams out of contention are less likely than ever to overspend on a Free Agent veteran if the goal is to rebuild and remain cheap following revenue losses incurred due to the pandemic. All of a sudden, I think a player like Galvis could be an available bench piece for a contending team like the Yankees.
As a bench bat, Galvis is a non-zero at the plate as a switch-hitter with improving plate discipline and power numbers. Defensively, Galvis is certainly capable up the middle in the infield at least on a short-term basis (and likely longer, if needed), and he can likely handle 3B as well even if he hasn’t done it since 2014. Compared to the volatile value Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada bring to the table, Freddy Galvis represents a steady veteran with value off the bench and possibly even some minimal upside. I have a high degree of confidence in who Freddy Galvis is as a baseball player, and that has more value to a championship than the volatility the current options off the bench in the infield provide the Yankees. I think Freddy Galvis is exactly the type of player the Yankees should bring into the fold this offseason. Galvis brings stability, solid play at the plate and in the field, and predictability for a team that needs those things off the bench if they hope to win a championship and potentially survive more injuries to key infielders in 2021.
Freddy Galvis makes a ton of sense for the Yankees this offseason. I don’t expect Galvis to garner a large deal in Free Agency, particularly since he is outside of the top-25 available Free Agents. Galvis made $5.5 million in 2020, so I think a 1-year deal in the $5-8 million neighborhood is fair. If I’m the Yankees, I’d do it in a heartbeat.