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Pittsburgh Pirates Hot Stove Target Profile: SS Freddy Galvis

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It’s no secret, but is it a good fit?

MLB: San Diego Padres at San Francisco Giants Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

By now, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ interest in Freddy Galvis is old news.

The Pittsburgh Pirates had an answer at shortstop.....until they didn’t.

Despite the platitudes and public votes of confidence, general manager Neal Huntington is not as sold on his shortstop options (chiefly, Erik Gonzalez and Kevin Newman) as he has led the public to believe. No harm in that. You don’t want to tip your hand, after all.

But now, consider Huntington’s cards to be laid bare on the table. WTM chronicled the New York Post’s report that the Pirates have “big interest” in free agent shortstop Freddy Galvis. That report backed up previous reporting by John Perrotto of DK Pittsburgh Sports and myself that detailed the interest.

So, yeah, to say that this is some new revelation would be a bit of a stretch, but now that the proverbial cat is out of the hypothetical bag, would the six year-plus veteran represent a solid return on investment for a club that must watch every dollar spent?

Profile and Performance

Galvis is a 29 year old switch hitting shortstop who broke in with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2012.

Since then he has developed a reputation as having a decidedly decent glove at short with an offensive approach to the game that is a bit of a mixed bag. Though he popped off for 20 home runs in 2016 in 624 plate appearances, he has yet to crack the 100 wRC+ plateau in any given season. Even so, he has accumulated 6.7 fWAR across the past four seasons since becoming a regular in 2015.

Galvis has never carried a wOBA of .300 or above in any season. He has only broken the .300 On Base Percentage barrier twice in his career. The reasons for this aren’t so readily apparent. Galvis carries a 20.5 percent strikeout rate against a 6.3 percent walk rate for his career — not elite numbers by any means, but certainly workable. His hard hit percentage has historically been a bit low — 29.2 percent career — yet his took a jump up to 40.3 percent in 2018. And, historically, Galvis has been adequate in avoiding true soft contact, with rates at 20.3 percent or lower since 2015.

So why, then, is it that Galvis seems to be one of those “get your on base from your batting average” types?

Well, we can start with the fact that his ground ball rate in 2018 was high - 41.14 percent. This puts him as having the 8th-highest among the 21 qualified MLB shortstops last season. This, despite a 36.5 percent fly ball rate, which was ninth-best among those 21 shortstops.

Digging deeper, Galvis’ approach might be to blame for offensive numbers that look much worse than they actually are. Let’s take a look at selected plate discipline for Galvis in 2018 along with his ranking for that metric among those 21 shortstops:

Freddy Galvis Plate Discipline

Metric O-Swing Z-Swing Z-Contact Zone % Swinging Strike
Metric O-Swing Z-Swing Z-Contact Zone % Swinging Strike
2018 Rate 36.8% 68.7% 83.6% 41.6% 12.1%
Rank among 21 qual. SS 17th 11th 18th 17th 15th

Pitchers seem to have the comfort of going to face Galvis with a pretty tried-and-true game plan. He’ll chase. More than most. This allows pitchers to stay outside of the zone against him, and when they do have to come in, they can rest assured that he’s only going to make contact at a low clip compared to his peers, if he should decide to swing at all. Couple all of that with a healthy bit of whiff, and it’s suddenly easy to see that Galvis has trouble getting on base.

A closer look at where Galvis is accumulating that whiff shows us some ugliness, but also a clear path to improvement.

Before we get to the data on the edges (those sections of the strike zone above with dotted lines in them), let’s talk about the obvious. Galvis has a pretty big hole in his swing against right handed pitchers: Down and in. Here’s a look at that same chart isolated against RHPs:

Some, if not most, of this is purely sample size related — Galvis faced RHPs more than twice as much as LHPs — yet still this is a pretty obvious hole against pitchers Galvis will face day in, day out. 31.3 percent of whiffs in zones 18,19, 28 and 29 (those in the bottom third/bottom right of the zone with 19,6,21 and 21 whiffs respectively) came on a curveball, while 23.9 percent came on a changeup.

Here’s the good news: this could theoretically be easily improved upon with better pitch recognition. I spoke to an opposing teams’ pro scout over the weekend — who works in the NL West, and thus saw Galvis quite a bit last season, who told me that Galvis’ problem is easy to pinpoint.

“[Galvis] is a great guy, but can get lulled into not thinking about what the pitcher is doing to him within any particular at-bat.” the scout said. “He needs at least try to recognize when a pitcher is wasting a pitch early in the at-bat to set up something else. He’s a smart player, especially in the field, but loses the big picture at the plate sometimes.”

Indeed, Galvis carries the second-highest amount of swing and miss at 0-0, 0-1 and 1-0 counts by volume - 131 total whiffs - and sixth highest by percentage at 5.1 percent among qualified shortstops.

Coaches, managers and evaluators will take a problem in approach ten times out of ten rather then slow bat speed, inability to hit for hard contact, etc. In this way, one could almost assume that Galvis has some other gear that he hasn’t fully realized yet. Suddenly, there is some upside in a bat that already has power-potential to begin with.

Career to Date

The Case For

  • I wanted to wait until this part of our target profile template to lather superlatives on Galvis’ defense. But the truth is, he vacillates between a below-average defender at short to above average. Whether it be by DRS — a rating of -6 in 2015, then +5 in ‘16; -5 in ‘17 and +7 this past season — or by UZR, which ranged from 14.9 in 2016 to -4.4 in 2018. That figure puts him at 19th out of 21 qualified SS in 2018. Still, the potential is there for improvement among the Pittsburgh Pirates’ chief 2018 SS in Jordy Mercer, who carried a -9 DRS rating.
  • While the 20 home runs he popped in 2016 may end up being a career high, Galvis has established a 15-HR/30-Double potential baseline. Through batter pitch recognition as mentioned above, he could easily hit those marks.
  • Galvis can clearly make the case as serving as one of the premier ironmen in today’s MLB, having played full seasons each of the last two years and 158 games in 2016.

The Case Against

  • Despite everything I’ve reviewed above, at what point is a spade simply called a spade? Galvis has had trouble making consistent contact and getting on base. How much can a better approach truly help those figures?
  • Though still young at 29, Galvis had the 44th lowest sprint speed among shortstop with a 26.8 ft/sec rating. In case you were wondering, 25 year-old Trea Turner led the pack with a 30.1 clip.
  • If the Pirates truly want to improve the shortstop...why not Nick Ahmed over Galvis? Ahmed provides much of the same hitter profile as Galvis, but with a more solid defensive track record. Read up on Ahmed for more details.

What it Might Take

Though the market at first appeared to be slow-moving for Galvis, it now is beginning to heat up. Galvis would appear to be able to command at least a two-year deal, but would likely be looking for three-plus. Though he is a nice player that many teams would like to have, no one is going to break the bank for him. I would be surprised if he was able to command more than $9 million AAV from the market. Where he signs could ultimately come down to who might be willing to give him that third year.

Conclusions

The Pittsburgh Pirates clearly know they need to find better options for shortstop than the ones currently in-house. With Cole Tucker progressing through the minors well, the club will have to find the perfect match in terms of production versus length of commitment. Chalk this up as another notch towards Ahmed being a better answer in this light. With just two years of commitment left for Ahmed, he might fit the team’s schedule a bit better than Galvis could while providing a steadier glove.