A player’s statistics can bounce around a whole bunch early in a baseball season. It doesn’t take much for someone to go from one of the worst hitters in the league to a slugging behemoth in the span of just a few games. That is why the refrain “small sample size” is uttered just about anytime a player performs to an extreme in a short period of time.
Freddy Galvis signed with the Orioles in late January to be the team’s starting shortstop. It was a logical match for both sides. After all, Galvis had a decade-long track record of being a competent major leaguer at a position of need for the Birds, and there were few exciting internal options to fill the glaring José Iglesias-sized hole in the lineup.
Granted, it was not going to be the easiest job, at least in terms of pleasing the fans. Iglesias was a revelation during his one miniature season with the Orioles. Despite fighting a hamstring injury for much of the summer, he still posted a .956 OPS with 17 doubles and surprisingly became a fixture in the middle of the team’s order for much of the year.
It would be illogical to think Galvis could match those sorts of numbers. He’d never had an OPS above .743 in a single season. His $1.5 million salary was indicative of what most teams, including the Orioles, thought of him. He was a a stop gap, band-aid solution that will perform “good enough” to be playable, but you shouldn’t expect to be blown away. Galvis is the embodiment of a “replacement player,” which is completely fine so long as that shapes your expectations for him.
This is the type of player that the Orioles have often turned towards early in the Mike Elias era. Maikel Franco is another good example from this season. Iglesias himself was supposed to be this type of player, but with the added bonus of playing above-average defense. Instead, the Orioles got a hobbled version that could barely play the field but managed to constantly hit above his weight. Baseball is weird sometimes.
Not that it really matters—like, at all. But spring training only added salt to the wounded souls of Orioles fans. Galvis put together a very blah .244/.295/.366 batting line for the O’s while Iglesias seemed to make the highlight reel on a daily basis with diving stops and over-the-shoulder catches. The Orioles had downgraded at shortstop, and it felt like the difference was massive.
A week of regular season baseball didn’t do anything to alter those perceptions. Galvis owned a .343 OPS with four hits, 13 strikeouts, and two walks in the first eight games of the season. He was arguably the worst hitter in a lineup that, as a group, had limped out of the starting gate. Based on the posts of several Orioles-centric Twitter users, the masses were getting restless.
But much of that dissipated as Galvis improved to a .265/.333/.449 batting line on the season with a run of three games against the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers in which he went 7-for-10 with three doubles, a triple, and a home run. O’s manager Brandon Hyde even moved him up a few spots in the order. Suddenly, Galvis was one of the team’s better hitters and en route for an offensive breakout. Not to mention he made a nifty diving stop in the second game against Texas that started a double play and got Dean Kremer out of trouble.
Finally, the real Freddy Galvis had stood up, right?
Freddy Galvis has multiple extra-base hits in consecutive games for the 1st time in his career #orioles— Roch Kubatko (@masnRoch) April 18, 2021
The small sample size knife cuts both ways. Galvis isn’t as good as one hot weekend, nor is he at Chris Davis levels of bad just yet. As is often true, the reality is somewhere in between.
Throughout his career, Galvis has been rather consistent at the plate. His OPS+ has bounced between 79 and 91 since 2015 despite playing with three different teams in that time. Put simply, Galvis is a below-average hitter that can get by because he plays an important defensive position. You should expect him to continue to be a below-average hitter.
Speaking of defense, is Galvis a good defensive shortstop? Traditionally, yes.
Fielding metrics are wonky. They fluctuate a lot season-to-season, so we really cannot draw too many conclusions from two weeks of games. But we can say that from 2017 through 2019, the last three full seasons of baseball, he was pretty darn good.
Galvis registered defensive runs saved of 5, 2, and, 10, respectively, in those seasons. Unsurprisingly, he also ranked in the 92nd, 96th, and 96th percentile in outs above average in each of those seasons.
Those same metrics have Galvis with one defensive run saved and rank him in the 29th percentile of outs above average so far this season. Perhaps related to that, Galvis has seen his sprint speed dip for the sixth consecutive year; he now sits in the 20th percentile in that category. One does not need to be fast to be a good fielder, but an obvious trend like this could indicate declining athleticism or deterioration in other physical attributes that help to be a good fielder.
If someone had told the Orioles front office that this was the type of performance they would get out of Galvis in his first 16 games, they probably would have been pleased. They needed someone that could handle the role for the entire 2021 season, and Galvis is yet to indicate that he cannot be that player.
And for what it’s worth, Iglesias has not had the best start to life with the Angels. He ranks worse than Galvis in WAR, defensive runs saved, outs above average, and wRC+ to name a few. But again, small sample sizes, ya know?