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Freddy Galvis is an elite defender apparently

Statcast’s new infield defensive metrics cast the Reds shortstop in a new light.

Cincinnati Reds v Seattle Mariners Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

When a new stat is unveiled, it should mostly align with what we previously thought to be true. If when Baseball Prospectus released DRC+ the stat suggested that Mike Trout, the best player of this generation and possibly any generation, were merely average, we would immediately question the veracity of its measurements. DRC+, of course, still had Trout as the one of the best hitters in baseball, so it immediately passed the smell test.

A good stat also needs to offer surprises as well. Otherwise, what is telling us that we don’t already know? DRC+ suggested that DJ LeMahieu was a much better hitter than wRC+ or OPS+ would suggest, and wouldn’t you know, LeMahieu had a stellar year in his first full season away from Coors.

On Wednesday, Baseball Savant unveiled infield outs above average at long last. The names at the top of the leaderboard are the ones you would expect. Javier Báez leads baseball with 19 OOA. Nolan Arenado is right behind him at 17 followed by Nick Ahmed and Andrelton Simmons at 16 each. This all checks out.

Báez is a three-time Fielding Bible Award winner. The same could be said of Arenado. Simmons had won the award six years in a row before Ahmed dethroned him in 2019. There are few surprises to be found on the OOA leaderboard, but then there’s Freddy Galvis coming in tied for eighth among all qualified infielders alongside Matt Olson and the shortstop he’s slated to replace: José Iglesias.

Galvis has generally passed the eye-test, but he’s never graded well according to the two best available metrics for evaluating defense: Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). Since debuting in 2012, Galvis has oscillated between below-average and fine according to both DRS and UZR. His best year with the glove came in 2018 when he posted 7 DRS at shortstop unless it was in 2016 when he wound up with a 14.9 UZR. Overall, Galvis comes in at -5 DRS with a 14.6 UZR (2.8 UZR/150) which would suggest that he’s average to above average at best.

According to Statcast, however, Galvis is elite. So why the discrepancy? It could be that Galvis’s particular set of skills is exactly the type to get overlooked by DRS and UZR.

Galvis doesn’t have the range of shortstops like Báez or Simmons, but he moves in on a ball as well as anyone. As with outfielders, OOA offers directional values In 2019, he ranked sixth among qualified infielders in OOA on plays in front of him while ranking 28th on plays toward third, 72nd on plays toward first, and 61st on plays behind him. In other words, Galvis was elite on plays in front of him, but average everywhere else.

Looking at the last three years, this mostly holds true. In 2018, Galvis was better going to his left (+8 OOA) and DRS gave him credit for that (+7), but in 2017, he was just as good going to his left, and he still graded poorly by DRS (-5). Granted, this was his worst year of the three by overall OOA (6 in 2017 compared to 12 in 2018 and 2019), and his worst year moving in on the ball.

Freddy Galvis as SS

Year DRS UZR OOA In Lateral toward 3rd Back Lateral toward 1st
Year DRS UZR OOA In Lateral toward 3rd Back Lateral toward 1st
2017 -5 3.5 6 1 -2 0 6
2018 7 -4.4 12 5 0 -2 8
2019 -2 -1.7 12 7 2 1 2

DRS might lose some of its telling power on balls hit in front of a player. When a play’s difficulty is calculated, Baseball Info Solutions looks at two things: vector and velocity.

“Vector” is the term for a one-degree wide angle at which the groundball was hit. “Velocity” refers to the recorded speed of the groundball, either soft, medium, or hard.

The measurements laterally are incredibly precise down to a degree. Galvis, who doesn’t move consistently well to his left or to his right, won’t grade well where DRS shines. Velocity, which would affect how far a fielder has to charge a ball, is a less precise measurement and more prone to human error. Galvis may not have been properly given credit for coming in on slow rollers because the distinction between slow and medium might mean the difference between routine and difficult.

Take for instance these two plays made by Galvis in 2019. The first is a routine grounder off the bat of Jesus Aguilar, who is not the league’s fastest runner.

The second is a slow chopper from Luke Voit. Voit isn’t fast either, but his average home to first time was a third of a second faster than Aguilar’s and Aguilar wasn’t trying to beat the throw.

Both were softly hit balls—Aguilar’s had an exit velocity of 62 mph while Voit’s traveled at 59 mph—and both traveled to roughly the same spot on the field. With a stopwatch, I measured that Galvis got to Aguilar’s ball two-tenths of a second faster than he did to Voit’s. As far as DRS is concerned, these plays are about the same, but OOA cares about those two-tenths of a second and the fact that Voit was running with the play (Statcast measures how far a runner is from first when the fielder receives the ball and calculates how much time it will take for the runner to hit the bag).

Better measurement of plays in front of a defender might be why DRS had Fernando Tatís Jr. as a roughly average defender (-2 DRS), but OOA had him as one of the worst in the league (-12 OOA). Almost all of Tatís’s struggles were on plays made in front of him.

OOA also gives Galvis the credit he deserves when playing out of position. UZR doesn’t factor in shifts (which caused it to throw out roughly half of the Dodgers plays last year), so UZR likely didn’t measure all the plays Galvis made shading up the middle.

While he was shaded toward the middle on the left side of second, he had 54 opportunities which were generally more difficult for the average player. According to this breakdown by Tom Tango, the average success rate for an infielder is around 87-88 percent. Toward the middle, Galvis faced a success rate of 83 percent and still converted 85 percent of plays.

Baseball Savant

On the other side of second, it was even more pronounced. Albeit in fewer opportunities, Galvis converted 92 percent of his 39 attempts when it was expected he would convert 85. UZR likely didn’t even factor in this play made by Galvis where he had to charge a looping liner and throw across his body to get Sandy León out.

Before Statcast released its defensive metrics, we had to look for agreement between what the individual advanced metrics said and what the eye test said. It was tough to believe one number when the other disagreed or was at odds with what you saw. I don’t know if we trust OOA above the other metrics. At the time of writing this, it had been out for less than 12 hours. Still, the methodology seems the most sound. At the very least, it’s the least esoteric. If it’s right about Galvis, we may have been wildly undervaluing him.

Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.