Baseball-Reference updated its WAR calculations this week ahead of whatever becomes of the 2020 season, and while most players’ seasons didn’t meaningfully change much, a few players saw significant changes to how past seasons were evaluated. One such player was Cincinnati Reds shortstop Freddy Galvis, who went from producing 1.6 WAR in 2019 to producing 2.6 WAR, one of the largest bumps for any player throughout history.
The shift in Galvis’s value comes from the reconfigured method through which Baseball-Reference calculates the defensive component of its WAR formula. A significant part of that defensive component is DRS, or Defensive Runs Saved. That statistic, compiled by The Fielding Bible, was altered recently to better account for positioning. Previously, on plays during which the shift was deployed, outs gained or lost were attributed to the team as a whole, but couldn’t be assigned to any individual player. The improved DRS is able to account for shifting, crediting players for the outs they make based on where they are positioned instead of simply asking how many outs they made in total.
That change is a crucial one for evaluating defenders, considering the fact that teams are continuing to shift their defenders around at an ever-increasing rate. It wasn’t long ago that shifting was completely unheard of around most teams. In 2016, the first year for which Baseball Savant has shifting data, the league shifted fielders on just 13.6% of all plate appearances. By 2019, that number had nearly doubled, with MLB teams shifting on 25.6% of all plate appearances. That number can only be expected to rise, given that the teams using the shift most often are some of the best teams in baseball — OK, with the Orioles and Marlins lumped in as well. A statistic that is unreliable for one-fourth of all plate appearances is going to be limited in its usefulness, and this alteration helps to solve that problem.
If a story about a new defensive statistic showing love to Galvis is giving you deja vu, it’s because you read a similar story here just a couple of months ago. When Statcast unveiled its new Infielder Outs Above Average statistic, Galvis unexpectedly popped up as the 10th-best defensive infielder in all of baseball. That kind of evaluation was a major contrast with the old DRS calculation, which had him as only 41st among infielders. But like Fielding Bible’s newest updates, the Statcast model was able to incorporate positioning — along with more sophisticated technology like player tracking — into its numbers, and those more modern ideas shined a much more positive light on Galvis’ defense.
What makes Galvis such a major beneficiary of these new concepts? Well, for one thing, he played for two of the more shift-happy organizations in baseball. In 2019, the Toronto Blue Jays shifted on the 12th-most plate appearances in baseball, while the Reds were 13th in shifts deployed. Neither team was at the level of the Dodgers or Astros, but they moved fielders around enough that many of Galvis’ plays couldn’t be properly accounted for. If you look at his Baseball Savant positioning chart, you can see some of his red-shaded squares — spaces he defended the best — are up the middle of the field. That’s exactly where you’d expect him to line up in shifts against opposing left-handed batters.
Galvis isn’t the only familiar Reds face whose value changed notably in the eyes of Baseball-Reference’s WAR update. Longtime Reds infielder Lonny Frey had 5.2 WAR added to his career total, which now sits at 44.0, thanks to this latest update. Frey’s added value came from his baserunning, which the site was able to add more meaningful context to with expanded game logs it obtained from his career. Frey had the biggest jump in career WAR of any player throughout baseball history. Brandon Phillips, meanwhile, endured more than a one-win drop in value in his 2015 season, going from 3.4 to 2.3 WAR as added context dropped his defensive skills as a 34-year-old below replacement level.