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Crawford or Galvis? Shortstop death match?

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The Phillies need a shortstop for their next playoff run. Is it Galvis or Crawford? Or...is that the wrong question?

When? What? Who? Why? How?
When? What? Who? Why? How?
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This article has been marinating in my brain for a while. I was urged on by this evenhanded and reasonable recent piece by Mike Sielski about Galvis which was breathlessly headlined as "Phillies' shortstop of the future? Despite mistakes, Freddy Galvis looks like the answer". The typeface used was even more breathless. I don't pin either of those on Gielski. I don't think a fair reading of his article really even touched on the future beyond noting that Crawford hasn't been doing well in AAA and Galvis has had some ups and downs but is doing, basically, a reasonable job of playing shortstop for the Phillies right now. Damned headline writers.

Following my consumption of the article and the accompanying headline, I chewed on the thread that started to emerge yesterday about Crawford's struggles in the comments to my post about whether the Phillies are really improving. There is clearly a lot of Crawford angst that is pent up for sweet, sweet release. So, it is time for a Crawford discussion. Or therapy. Or something. And any Crawford discussion necessarily involves Galvis.

The "shortstop of the now" is clearly Galvis. The more interesting question for most of us is the long run question that Gielski really didn't develop: who is the shortstop for the Phillies for the future? The answer to that is pretty obvious if the more important question can be resolved, which is "What's going on with Crawford at AAA?"

While the answer to the first question is pretty obvious, I'll answer it anyway, because I like answering obvious questions. It makes me feel authoritative and lets me hide from my weakness of knowing absolutely nothing about why Crawford is struggling at AAA. So let's start with "easy" first.

In a world of "Galvis vs. Crawford", Crawford is the shortstop of the future. There. Why? [puts on Captain Obvious outfit, including tights and a cape, and continues to type furiously.]

The aging curve for players has been studied lots, and a good summary article is here, discussed in the context of comparing the curves for "phenoms" and "non-phenoms". Both wRC+ and WAR are used. Galvis is a person and not a curve of aggregated data, but the curve suggests that for wRC+ and WAR, that most MLB players peak at 26 or so. Galvis is 27.

My theory is that Galvis is what he is. If he is more, and that is not foreclosed by an aggregate age curve, maybe he could continue to develop his bat. It is not impossible. On the other hand, the saying goes, "The race goes not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet." I would not bet on Galvis continuing to flower significantly beyond this year. You can disagree and neither of us may be provably wrong for a few years and that's fine.

His fWAR is largely based on playing shortstop and playing it well, rather than hitting. He was a middling MLB shortstop last year, coming in at 15th on shortstop fWAR. He's cheap. He's a legitimate Major Leaguer, but not an All-Star. He's got value, largely from elite defense, but in my universe, he is not likely to get more valuable as he plateaus, declines, and earns more by being out of arbitration. And his offensive skills are undermined by being a blackhole of OBP.

Crawford, at 22, is likely to improve. He is a person, not a curve, however. Unless he is able to handle AAA pitching, which he hasn't done yet, he is not making it to the majors as a regular. That is still a possible Crawford outcome. That is, in fact, the whole reason this discussion is going on right now. Here are his numbers.

Crawford's struggles at AAA for part of 2016 and early 2017 have me concerned, but Crawford's 2016 wRC+ at Lehigh Valley was 90, which was better than the performance by Galvis at AAA in his first two stints there. The only time Galvis did better at AAA was in 2014 after he had 222 MLB plate appearances under his belt and when he was 24. But yes, the issue with Galvis was always whether he could hit. That was not supposed to be as much of a concern with Crawford.

Now for the hard question: What's up with Crawford at AAA?

As I wrote above, I am not qualified to diagnose Crawford's hitting struggles. I leave that as an exercise for the commentariat. One of the great strengths of this format is that you folks can, and will (vigorously) tell me what I get wrong or otherwise fill in the blanks of points missed. And the votes of recs make the supplemental material subject to an informal blog "peer review" process. Have at it because, hoo boy, I'm out of my depth.

The obvious stuff I see from the data include the elevated K% and the still-high BB%, but little power, and a BABIP that is underwater. I want to go put some eyes on the defense by actually watching Crawford, too. If Crawford fields and continues to walk without striking out excessively, he can probably make it. I'm not sure why the hitting isn't there, though. Breaking balls? Pitchers don't fear the hit tool because he can't make contact or hard enough contact? But how does he keep walking -- if they didn't fear the hit tool, they'd pound the strike zone. This is where I lose the plot.

At least Crawford has time to cook more. That is the luxury of Galvis. I personally hoped for Crawford coming up to stay this year, but that seems increasingly unlikely. That is also not the end of the world. The end of the world would be forcing Crawford out of need, having him fail, and breaking him.

Those things said, I will gloss over the "Will Crawford make it?" issue and assume hopefully that the answer is "Yes, but it will take longer than I hoped."

Given the offsets in their ages and the high degree of required athleticism, that pretty much ends the "Crawford versus Galvis in a steel cage death match" approach. It is tempting because we all see a decent player (Galvis) and an as-yet undefined one (Crawford) with loads of potential. The only way Crawford plays his way into MLB right now is to do a AAA U-turn and blow the doors off it to force the issue. That is kind of what the outfield situation is for the Phillies (and the first base situation and the catcher situation and, to a degree, the starting rotation). The bullpen is, well, let's just not talk about it. Overall, it is a good thing to have players at various stages of development pushing each other and competing. How refreshing!

I'd love to see that at shortstop -- Crawford blowing up (in a good way) and forcing his way onto the MLB roster. It isn't necessary to the team or the players for it to happen that way, though. And it increasingly looks like it isn't going to happen this year at shortstop, despite my preference for such a steel cage death match.

Another reason beyond Crawford's AAA struggles to discount the "either/or as future shortstop" approach is that when Crawford is 27, Galvis will be 32. Remember the age curves? Without suddenly developing on-base skills, Galvis likely will see a decline in his fielding by then, and a corresponding loss in effectiveness as a regular MLB shortstop. Crawford is not waiting until 27 to come to MLB, but if there is a choice because both are perceived to be plausible MLB players, the Phillies will chose Crawford for a million reasons - age, cost, potential ceiling, etc.

So ultimately we are presented with a situation that is less a battle for "shortstop of the future" than one of "How long is Galvis the shortstop before Crawford succeeds him?" Their tenures will experience some overlap in the Phillies' system, but unless Crawford completely pumpkinizes, Crawford is the shortstop of the future.

I guess we're back to "When is Crawford coming?" layered on top of the new, real issue, which is "Can Crawford hit AAA pitching?"