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Galvis vs Crawford is the wrong question for the Phillies

The right question is Galvis or Franco. The answer is less clear than you might think.

Franco and Galvis
All I want for Cliffmas is Machado
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies have two plausible, long-term defensive shortstops: J.P. Crawford and Freddy Galvis. The conventional wisdom, passed down to us through cultural devices such as Highlander, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and the Gladiator goes something like this: “There can only be one after two men enter and one man leaves with all of us being entertained!”

Galvis is 27. His defense has never been questioned, from Day One in the minors. We knew in 2006 that he would be a fabulous defensive shortstop in the major leagues. He is. I have only one permanently saved GIF of a defensive play by a Phillies player, and it is Galvis making a sliding stop and throw against the Braves. I love the guy’s glove and arm and he’s a joy to watch and cheer for.

The bat?’s gotten better?

J.P. Crawford is just 22 years old. He promises to play really, really good defense. I don’t think it will be as spectacular as Freddy in the SSS that I’ve seen, but nobody is seriously predicting Crawford to be anything other than really good, especially considering he has 5 years to mature into a Galvis-like defender.

Crawford has been hitting about as much as Galvis already, matching his average and actually exceeding Galvis in slugging in an extremely small sample size to date. His offensive differentiation from Galvis is that he walks. A lot. He always has. He will continue to do so. I touched on this recently in the On Base Machine post.

Shortstop is probably the second-most important defensive position after catcher, but an on-base percentage of .379 versus .314 can’t be ignored, especially at that spot on the field. Almost no amount of defense can overcome that advantage over a 162 game stretch when the MLB average shortstop has a wRC+ of just 88. And Crawford, honestly, won’t result in that much of a dropoff in defense from Galvis.

Add into this equation that Galvis is now on the wrong end of the aging (and cost) curve while Crawford is squarely on the correct side of it. Crawford is a flowering, growing asset. Galvis has likely peaked, or nearly so, and will not become more than he is today. After 633 games, or basically four full MLB years, he’s proven himself to be a 1 to 2 fWAR player, which is perfectly fine. He’s not a foundation piece, but teams that are really good have lots of good players providing positive WAR up and down the roster. Galvis may not be the long-term starting shortstop, but he can provide value to the team in other roles. He can also be a serviceable shortstop.

Many of us have our eyes on the possible prizes of the 2018 free agent class, among which is one Manny Machado. Machado turned around his 2017 after a bad first half, and he’s 25. Machado will be highly sought after, and there is no guarantee that the Phillies can reel him in, even if they go hard after him. Adding Machado at third is a delightful fantasy, but until a contract is signed, it is just a fantasy — it is not a plan.

The Phillies are not wanting at first, second, short, or the outfield. They are average at catcher and solidly below average at third base. The low-hanging fruit is at third.

At third base, the Phillies are in the uncharted waters of Captain and Commander: the lesser of two evils.

  1. Continue to play Maikel Franco and sit either Crawford or Galvis.
  2. Play Crawford or Galvis at third and sit Franco.

Third base is a position requiring some defense and above average offense. My OBM post chart is a useful reference, though I would have organized it differently with different data for this post. The wRC+ numbers for third and short jump out — 101 for third and 88 for shortstop versus a league average of 97.

Crawford can play a credible third at an above-average rate of production. Not by slugging, but by “not making outs”. That’s fine, but he’s got to go to shortstop for the long term. That is his destiny. He is the blue chip item that the Phillies currently possess and messing with his development for current convenience is the worst kind of short-termism. Today, displacing Crawford may make sense. It it almost certainly is not best from an observation point perched three years in the future and looking back retrospectively.

And...the Phillies are not going to the playoffs this year with Galvis at short instead of Crawford. Wins right now at the end of 2017 are fun, but they do not make a lick of difference. Next year may be different, but there are lots of moves to be made before that is a clearer picture.

So, I am dead set on “Crawford plays at short right now”. I stick with that next year, too, honestly. I just don’t see any reason that it makes sense to move Crawford.

The question of Galvis vs. Crawford then turns into one of “Galvis vs. Franco”.

We know what Galvis is. We have very good reason to suspect what Franco is, but is it possible that he’s not done cooking yet?

I’ve looked and looked and Franco and come to the Churchill conclusion: Franco is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. His last truly good split came in the first half of 2016 when he hit .269/.323./.491 for a wRC+ of 110. With average to slightly bleh (but not awful) defense, he was a solid third baseman.

Since then, he’s been awful. Here are the wRC+ numbers:

2016 2nd Half: 69

2017 1st Half: 68

2017 2nd Half: 81

Much has been made of Franco’s struggles against sliders. In the second half of 2017, however, his wSL per Fangraphs is -0.3, which is 80th out of 164 qualified hitters in MLB. That is quite an improvement over the -10.2 for the first half, though, which was 143 worst out of 149 qualified hitters.

A far bigger pitch-type problem for Franco is that he is terrible against fastballs. For all of 2017, his wFB is -9.8, which is 143/149 in MLB (Galvis is one slot better, fyi: 142/149). Since the 2017 ASB, Franco vs fastballs is at -6.3, which is 159/164 in MLB. That is a really big problem. At least he is doing better against sliders, though maybe in the absence of an ability to hit fastballs, pitchers are just ignoring the slider. Franco is seeing more first pitch strikes, which leads me to believe he’s not seeing as much breaking stuff early In any case, he has to fix his struggles against fastballs and put it all together at the same time. If he can’t hit a fastball, he is done as a Major League player.

Still, despite the serious troubles, there is an improved wRC+ in the second half. Is this a sign that things are getting better? I’m not sure, but there are good signs. His O-swing number is down this year. His Z-swing is up. His swinging strikes number is down. He’s walking about the same and striking out less. That all seems good. But then more negatives: even with the inflating offensive environment over the last few years, his HR/FB ratios are declining:

2015: 15.9%

2016: 14.7%

2017: 12.0%

The MLB average for third basemen in 2017 is 13.5%. In the second half of 2017, Franco’s HR/FB% is 9.0%.

The bottom line? I don’t have one. I have no idea. Franco is a mess. What he is not, however, is stable. He’s still moving things around and tinkering.

And right now, the Orioles aren’t sending Manny Machado to Philadelphia. Someone has to play third base. It shouldn’t be Crawford. My theory is that it should be Franco rather than Galvis.

Franco has been around long enough that it’s easy to forget that he was 24 just a month ago. He is not done cooking. He has hit before. He is hitting better since the All Star Break than he had in the second half of 2016 and the first half of 2017. His defense is not great, but it isn’t a black hole, either.

My worst possible outcome is that Franco is cast aside, the Phillies put Crawford at third, keep Galvis at short, and someone solves the Franco riddle and he hits. Machado and Josh Donaldson sign with someone other than the Phillies. There is no plausible third base prospect on the horizon. The answer has to come from what they have (Franco) or from the outside.

The likelihood that the Phillies win next year is moderate to low. They’ve been close to .500 since the All Star Break using the mish-mash of players at short and third. Maybe they add some pitching and break over .500. They’ve been doing it with Franco getting a lot of time at third, so maybe they can do it again. Galvis has one arbitration year left, and he won’t break the bank to keep him around. There is little harm in the status quo being maintained. Maybe they muddle through another off season and spring training and see what’s shaking at the deadline.

Until the picture is clearer, the answer I’d like to see is to install Crawford as the starter at short, play Franco at third, and move Galvis’ glove around as-needed as a super-utility player. If Franco breaks out, fabulous. If he fails, Galvis can play great defense at third until some other option reveals itself through free agency or a trade.

In the meantime, the most important part is to protect the development of the player here who is far and away the best one: Crawford. From there, Franco still has far greater upside (but less certainty) as compared to Galvis.

So stop asking “Galvis or Crawford” — it is really “Galvis or Franco”. And for now, for me, the answer to that question is still...ugh...Franco.


Third base: Franco, Galvis, or Crawford

This poll is closed

  • 49%
    (349 votes)
  • 25%
    (178 votes)
  • 25%
    You aren’t allowed to vote for Crawford for third
    (177 votes)
704 votes total Vote Now