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The violent evolution of Freddy Galvis

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Somewhere along the line, the fresh-eyed rook become a dreadlocked baseball killer.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Four years ago, a smooth-faced kid was penciled into the Phillies’ opening day lineup in response to Chase Utley choosing to take one of his trademark, Don Draper-esque hiatuses in which he wandered the California coast, thinking about life and how best to conquer it through baseball and handsomeness.

In his place stepped Freddy Galvis, a middle infielder who had been first targeted by the team as a 14-year-old. He may have gone 0-for-Pittsburgh to start the season, but he contributed immediately on defense from second base, becoming a big part of why Roy Halladay was able to lock down a 1-0 win on opening day at PNC Park.

It was exactly what we were told to expect from the 22-year-old, whose every scouting report was essentially a longer-winded version of this two-sentence passage from Phuture Phillies:

Galvis is one of the best defenders in the minors, and his defense is big league ready, either at 2B or his natural SS position. He hasn’t shown any ability to make consistent contact, hit for power, and steal a significant number of bases.

Four games into the season, it only took the coordinated screaming of over 45,000 people to get him to put the bat on the ball. These days, however, Galvis is able to get all 12 of the people at Citizens Bank Park to let loose with home run after home run. He’s up to 19 now, after hitting only seven in 151 AB last season. It’s all anybody’s talking about, including your neighbor through the wall, yelling at you to stop talking about Freddy Galvis and his funny statistics.

The power that has accompanied his stellar defense at shortstop has been nice, but Galvis' .269 on-base percentage entering the night also ranked last among 151 qualified hitters.

How is he doing this? I don’t know, is he dropping his shoulder? Opening his stance? Closing his stance? Swinging more? Less? Horse tranquilizers? After every game, does he go directly to the clubhouse to trade another year off the end of his life to a forest nymph he keeps in his locker, the spritely magic of which allows him to feel the sweet, solid contact of just one more home run?

Uh, no. He’s using his back leg to generate power.

“[Hitting coach Steve Henderson and I] got to the point where we said, you have to stay back as much as you can and just try to hit the ball from there, hit the ball almost from my back leg,” Galvis said Tuesday afternoon. “And from there, (I’ve kept) all my weight on my (back) leg.”

On a whim - you know how fun whims are, especially ones involving numbers - I perused Galvis’ paltry home run totals of the last few seasons to see if any other trends stuck out. Why? Because it’s mid-September and the Phillies are in fourth place and sometimes the coffee takes a little longer to be ready.

In 2012, Galvis only played in 58 games as Utley’s replacement at second (He said he had allowed himself to “pout” for two for hours upon learning that Jimmy Rollins, whose job he desired, had re-signed with the team), and his impact as a hitter was minimal. His three home runs were spread across statistical tent poles in a way that indicates they just happened rather than being conjured by a special plan or tactic at the plate and Galvis had only 200 PA on the year to hit them. He did like to to swing for the fences early in the AB, however, with his deepest count before homering being 1-1; the other two came from swinging at a 1-0 pitch and the first pitch of an at-bat. Other than that, in such an adorable low number, it’s tough to find a trend.

With 22 more PA in 2013, Galvis doubled his home run total to six and again, he seemed to spread them evenly over a sea of variables: he hit three of lefties and three off righties; four at home and two away; from March to October, he hit at least one every month and never more than two; he homered when the Phillies were winning and when they were behind. The Phillies used him all over the infield that year, but got the most use out of him at second, where he played in 22 games but only homered once. He actually hit half (3) of his dingers as a shortstop, despite only serving as one in 10 games. But again, “six home runs” is limited real estate to try and apply wacky ideas to, so let’s all calm down. Though perhaps he benefited from facing relievers who had just entered the game, striking four of his six homers in his first AB facing a new pitcher? He also hit three of them in the fifth inning. No! No wacky ideas.

No, if Galvis was going to let us generate conspiracy theories, he was going to have to give us more numbers to work with, which he did not in 2014, hitting only four home runs in 128 PA. They all came in the second half, but after the All-Star Game, Galvis had about 30 more AB than he’d had in the first half to work with. His fifth inning prowess moved forward a few frames, with three of his four homers on the season coming in the ninth. In 2015, Galvis’ ‘hot inning’ would shift to the second, in which he hit three of his seven home runs. Six of them came with men on base that season, a new thing he had started doing.

Put this is in the hands of a smarter guy with a sharper eye, and you might discover something - most of the stuff I’m looking at is pretty surface level, anyway. But from 2012-15, Galvis’ extremely limited power never really found a trend. He did, from 2012-13, hit the majority of his low homer totals as a shortstop despite getting more hacks at other positions, but that’s such a blip in both sample size and correlation that it may not merit a mention. So... forget I said anything.

“Freddy Galvis is more comfortable” at shortstop is a solid theory, and also one that probably doesn’t need to be proven since that’s the position he plays, and the one he was bummed to not have inherited initially when he was first promoted.

So.

That brings us to this season, when you can just flip the table and watch him work, because Galvis is zeroing in on 20 HR for the year, having only totaled only 13 over the course of the last three seasons. He’s hit 16 against righties, but he does everything better against righties. Other stuff is, again, pretty evenly spread out.

  • Galvis didn’t go completely dry any month of the season, having only gone a little bonkers in August with 6 HR.
  • From anywhere in the lineup in which he’s received at least 20 AB, he has at least 4 HR.
  • He has 5 HR with RISP and 10 with men on base.
  • He’s hit 11 HR after facing a 1-0 count. This is nothing.
  • There’s a helpful aspect to Galvis’ home runs, as they’ve rarely come in garbage time: There have been 11 with the Phillies facing or holding a one-run deficit and 15 with them facing or holding a two-run deficit. Of course, the Phillies don’t score a whole lot anyway, so that tends to keep more games, win or loss, closer.
  • Location wise, there are no anomalies. He’s tagged a few all over the country, with most of them coming, naturally, in the stadium in which the Phillies play 81 games a year.

Conclusion? Home runs are cool and Freddy is hitting them. Also, if you’re going to start him, start him at shortstop. After a year in which the Phillies top prospect, a shortstop, stalled a bit in triple A, their transition player (who is only 26 remember) started knocking the cover off the ball. Is his success translating into getting on base, too? No. But at least I don’t mean that literally, as is not the case with his middle-infield counterpart Cesar Hernandez, who even when he gets on base can’t always get on the base.

Regardless of what tangled mess of stats you have to hack through to find something, there’s not denying we’re seeing a different player than the one who popped up on the Phillies in 2012, and I don’t just mean the dreadlocks. Galvis’ home run total this year has been flipped upside-down and pored over by more intelligent baseball minds than my own, and the general idea is that a slap hitter’s dingers are going to start falling short of the fence eventually, and by that point, it’d be great if he had a solid OBP to fall back on. Right now, he doesn’t.

But in the mean time, weeeee!

And, uh. Maybe give Steve Henderson a look for that opening in Lehigh Valley, seeing as he apparently knows how to find the “power switch” on underwhelming hitters.