Freddy Galvis Is Trying Something Differenton August 13, 2020 at 2:00 pm

Freddy Galvis Is Trying Something Different

The process of coming up with article ideas often involves trying to find who’s the best at something in baseball right now. With clubs having played around 18 games at most, however, the tops of the leaderboards are still muddled with plenty of players who have gaudy (and most likely unsustainable) numbers. For example, seven technically qualified players currently have ISOs over .400. Seven also have an OBP of at least .440, while a whopping 21 pitchers have a FIP of 2.50 or below. There are potential stories to be written about all of those performances, but many of them run the risk of aging poorly with just one bad start or series.

But this article isn’t about someone who is running circles around the league right now. This article is about Freddy Galvis.

Just over a quarter of the way through the season, Galvis is having the kind of year you would probably expect him to have. He holds a .205/.314/.386 line through his first 51 plate appearances (all stats are through August 11), has hit a couple of homers, owns a 96 wRC+, and has been an above-average defender at shortstop. A below-average-but-not-terrible slash line, some pop, and a reliable glove? Yep, that’s Freddy Galvis alright. But that’s not the complete picture. The reason Galvis has been a consistently below-average hitter despite possessing a bit more power than many other shortstops is because his plate discipline numbers are typically very weak — his career walk rate is 5.5%, and his strikeout rate is 20.2%. With a BB/K ratio like that, a .260 average and 20 homers just aren’t enough to make you a league-average hitter.

Fortunately for Galvis, that ratio suddenly looks very different in 2020.

Seemingly overnight, Galvis has doubled his walk rate while also chopping his strikeout rate by nearly nine points from last year, down to the lowest mark of his career. Yes, part of that is undoubtedly the small sample we’re working with. Over 51 plate appearances, the difference between Galvis’ current walk rate and his career average is just three free passes. That alone isn’t enough to assume this should be chalked up to anything other than a random fluctuation early in the season, but that’s far from the only evidence of Galvis showing a different approach at the plate.

The truth is, I wasn’t being entirely honest when I implied earlier that Galvis wasn’t a league leader in anything this season. He is — you just have to look a little harder to find what it is he’s currently the best at. If you go to our Season Stat Grid and sort by changes in swing rate, you’ll see all the players who have gotten much less aggressive at the plate this season. At the top of that list, we have Galvis.

It’s telling that Laureano and Yastrzemski, the two closest players to Galvis on this list, weren’t full-time big leaguers before 2019. For them, the early change might well just be them getting comfortable enough with major league pitching to relax into their more natural tendencies. Galvis, however, has been around a long time already, debuting all the way back in 2012. He’s been well-acquainted with advanced pitching for nearly a decade now, played for four different organizations before this year, and has never really altered his plans. From 2015-19, his swing rate never rose above 54% or dipped below 48.4%, even as the league began to throw him fewer and fewer strikes. Then, almost overnight, he just stopped:

Unlike the walk rate, it doesn’t seem particularly likely that this can be chalked up to the flukiness of a small sample. The fact that it has occurred at the beginning of a season, rather than in the middle of one, makes it appear a bit more intentional. There’s also the fact that, in the 965 games Galvis has logged in his career, he’s never had a 15-game sample that looked like this:

Is Galvis some kind of strike zone savant now? Not exactly. Since last season, he’s cut his chase rate by a little over 14 points. He’s also cut his in-zone swing rate by almost 17 points. He didn’t start sharing a dugout with Joey Votto and pick up his elite eye at the plate through some kind of osmosis. He’s just gotten much, much pickier about what he chooses to swing at. Here are Galvis’ swing tendencies next to where he was pitched in 2019:

For simplicity’s sake, I’ve chosen to isolate Galvis’ experience against right-handed pitchers, because he is a switch-hitter whose inside/outside perspective obviously changes depending upon which box he’s standing in, and also because he has only logged 12 plate appearances against lefties this season. All of that said, the images above are probably not too surprising for someone who had the 14th-highest swing rate among qualified hitters last year. Inside edge or outside edge, up or down, Galvis was happy to pull the trigger. Contrast that with what his swing tendencies have been like so far in 2020:

The two Pitch% heat maps are quite similar, but in 2020, it seems like Galvis is actually zeroing in on those hot spots in a way that’s helped him considerably. Pitchers clearly seem to have a plan when facing him — avoid the inner part of the plate and hammer him low and away instead. Galvis, on the other hand, never seemed to have much of a plan. That may no longer be the case.

Having that plan hasn’t made Galvis an All-Star, but it almost certainly makes him better. His small-sample wRC+ is already the best of his career, and that’s with him owning a rock-bottom BABIP of just .206. Even in a season in which balls in play are having a very hard time landing for hits, that number is ripe for positive regression. And considering the largest one-year drop in swing rate in the past decade was Charlie Blackmon‘s 9.3% dip in 2015, there’s a really good chance his nearly 17-point cut won’t survive the year either.

Like some other players in this young season, Galvis’s numbers include a lot of extremes. Cut through those, however, and you have a player who is simply using this strange, uncertain year to reinvent himself. That’s an inspiring thing.

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