While Jimmy Rollins is doing his whole “I’m the most patriotic guy in the world” thing at the World Baseball Classic for the next couple weeks, the guys slated to give Jimmy a rest during the regular season are getting a chance to mix it up in Grapefruit League play.
And while the Phils certainly miss Rollins and will be happy to have him back when he’s done playing for Team USA, his absence provides an opportunity to take a longer look at one of the best defensive infielders in the National League, and maybe all of baseball.
Freddy Galvis is a Gold Glove caliber defensive player right now. And while his natural position is shortstop, he has also shown an affinity to playing second and third base, making both the routine and spectacular plays at all three positions.
Unfortunately, Galvis’ weak bat (and Rollins’ three-year contract signed two winters ago) has held him back from landing a starting spot on the Phils’ roster.
The Phillies simply cannot afford to have a player hit .226/.254/.363 (as Galvis did last year in just 200 plate appearances) and be a starting, everyday player, unless the rest of the team is so loaded with offensive talent that they can overcome his shortcomings at the plate.
The Phils are not one of those teams.
So far this spring, Galvis has shown improvement at the plate, albeit in a very small sample size. The standard caveat about spring training statistics still apply. Nonetheless, Galvis has been terrific, hitting .308/.325/.564 after yesterday’s 3 for 4 performance against the Astros. Freddy has 12 hits in 39 at bats, with seven extra-base hits, including five doubles, a triple and a home run. He has shown the ability to hit the ball hard this spring, finding the gap with a nice, line-drive stroke, much like he showed during his cameo appearance with the Phils last year.
The downside, of course, is the lone walk among 11 strikeouts so far this spring. It’s clear Galvis is not a patient hitter at the plate. Right now, in order to get his on-base percentage above .330, he has to hit .305.
So, what does Galvis need to do in order to be considered a starting shortstop in the Majors? How good does he need to be? What kinds of numbers should he put up to eventually take over for Rollins, once he departs?
The good news for Freddy is that many of the greatest defensive shortstops to play the game did not have overwhelming offensive numbers. They were competent at the plate, but their true value was on defense. Their offense was merely competent.
Ozzie Smith: .262/.337/.328 (career) averaged 2 HR, 25 doubles, 37 SBs a season
Omar Vizquel: .272/.336/.352 (career) averaged 4 HR, 25 doubles a season
Tony Fernandez: .288/.347/.399 (career) averaged 7 HR, 31 doubles per season
Dave Conception: .267/.322/.357 (career) averaged 7 HR, 25 doubles, 21 SBs per season
As you can see, none of these guys were winning any Silver Slugger awards. Still, they were competent hitters at the bottom of the order. Most were #7 or #8 hole hitters, providing just enough production at the end of the lineup to make themselves useful.
In other words, they were not easy outs.
Right now, Galvis makes too many outs and doesn’t draw enough walks. His plate discipline is going to have to improve if he wants to have an on-base percentage over .300.
Frankly, if Freddy could put together a consistent slash line of .260/.320/.330, average anywhere from 25-30 doubles, pop the occasional long ball and play his stellar defense, he could be a 3-4 WAR player, maybe better.
Ozzie Smith was worth 73 bWAR during his career with a WAR above 5.0 in six of the eight years from 1985 to 1992. Vizquel was worth 40.5 bWAR during his career, Fernandez 42.0 and Conception 36.5.
Defense should not be underrated. It’s important to make outs in baseball, it’s the only clock the game has.
Galvis has the potential to reach those levels, but only if he learns to be more selective at the plate. It’s almost impossible to have a player as an everyday starter with an on-base percentage under .300. That’s just too many outs, no matter how good that player’s defense is.
Still, Freddy is only 23 years old. And while it would be ideal for him to play an entire season in AAA and get 500-600 plate appearances under his belt this year, he’ll most likely end up as the Phils’ utility infielder this season. A position, by the way, that will be exceedingly important this season, with Michael Young, Chase Utley and Rollins all veterans who will need days off and, in the case of Young, to be substituted for as a late-game defensive replacement.
There’s no doubt Galvis cannot sustain his current spring training numbers over a full season. There is not a single person who believes he is a .300 hitter.
However, the Phils don’t need him to be. They need him to hit .260, get on base about 32% of the time, hit the occasional double and run the bases well.
His defense is so good, he could be an All-Star if he was merely competent at the plate.
Perhaps in time, he will be.