2016 Hitter Reviews: Evan Longoria
What a difference a year makes. This time last year folks were wondering when the Rays would trade Longoria after the bat looked a little soft two years running. I saw that he wasn’t pulling fly balls as often as he had in the past, and when he did he wasn’t getting the production he used to. I thought he should make a concentrated effort to pull more fly balls even if it led to a corresponding decrease in contact on the outer third. It looks like that is exactly what he did to have one of the best offensive seasons of his career. Let’s dig in starting with his 2016 ranks compared to the 481 batters that got at least 60 plate appearances in 2016:
Longo is no longer a spring chicken as nearly three-quarters of the league is younger than him, but per usual he did play a ton of games with a subsequently high number of plate appearances. This leads to high totals in all of his counting stats including base hits of each variety, but you can see how elite he ranked in his extra base hits. His percent of hits going for extra bases was also really high. Longo didn’t hit a ton of singles relative to the league, but that isn’t why he’s in the middle of the order.
His new swing-happy ways led to a well below average walk rate that came with a league average strikeout rate. With fewer walks his OBP was exactly league average, but that came with a good average and elite slugging. His league average BABIP comes without the benefit of hitting a bunch of grounders as he had one of the lowest rates in the league for that trajectory. Instead, he hit a good number of liners and was elite in hitting fly balls. Unfortunately, all those balls in the air meant he left a good bit on the infield for easy outs.
Longo’s wOBA was pretty strong and once you adjust for park with wRC+ you can see that push into elite territory. Being a freer swinger meant that his chases out of the zone went up, as prophesied, but he in-zone swing rate was pretty ordinary. Both of his contact rates leave a lot to desire, but especially that well below average in-zone contact rate. Unsurprisingly, this led to a pretty high swing strike rate.
Longo represents yet another bad base-stealer that is actually a pretty good base-runner, and he avoided the double play exceedingly well by virtue of the dearth of worm burners. He’s pretty pull heavy, and unlike other guys, that did come at the expense of his balls to the right-side, but you can see he grades exceptionally well at hitting the ball hard, and a little less so at avoiding soft contact.
I broke down some of the things I think are important for each pitch type from each type of pitcher so that you could get a sense for how he performed against those offerings. I include this as more of a cheat sheet or reference for you, the reader, so please peruse at your own pleasure. If you’re looking for one all-encompassing number here I would focus on the Run Values per 100 pitches (RV/100) as that gives a great idea of his production against these pitches. Here you can see that his biggest difficulties were with the lefty breaking ball and the right-handed change up.
For each of these types of pitches I have pulled heat maps and ball distribution to get an idea of where he most and least often sees these pitches, how often he whiffs on them by location, and his wOBA for same. Let’s go in order from most commonly seen to least:
Righties try to stay middle/away for the most part as Evan can still blister an inner fastball. This shows up pretty well when looking at the wOBA where he shows great ability to hurt pitches throughout the zone, though there is some weakness up and out the outer edge. Unsurprisingly, this is also where he shows his worst whiff rates. It isn’t hard to see why this pitch had his best results.
Right-Handed Breaking Balls
Unlike with the fastball where he showed ability to spray all over, you can infer from his very pull-heavy output that the righty breaking ball usually leaves him out in front or early to the ball. The emphasis here is still heavy away, and even more so in comparison to the fastball. When it does leak inside he’s able to drive the ball, but you can see how open he is to the whiff below the zone on these offerings.
Against the lefty version of the heater he again shows the ability to use all fields though he is susceptible to the empty swing above the zone. He does his best work where they most frequently locate in the down/away zone.
Right-Handed Change Ups
Longo saw a fair amount of same-side change ups where he does manage to get the ball inside quite often. This should lead to fairly hard contact, but you can see that it was a pitch he struggled with. Below the zone is going to draw empty swings fairly regularly, but when it’s up over the middle his swing path still allowed some good production. It’s an uncommon pitch that he isn’t going to sit on often so again you can see where the aggressive approach might leave him a little off balance for certain pitches.
Left-Handed Breaking Balls
The dreaded lefty breaking ball is where he saw his worst production per pitch. There’s a ton of whiffs on back footers, and it looks like his only real production came on mistake pitches that he either recognized early or just kind of lucked into. The few number of balls in play tells us quite a bit here.
Left-Handed Change Ups
The lefty change is the pitch he saw the fewest number of times, but was something he actually hit pretty well. Almost all of them are down, away or some mix of the two as pitchers really like to test the boundaries of the zone. He’ll whiff a good bit off the plate and down, but when it’s in the zone at all he’s able to really hurt the pitch. Little surprise that he’s very pull heavy here as the decreased velocity should leave him out in front more often.
Seeing all these aggregate snapshots is fun and tells us an awful lot about how Evan is attacked and what he does about it, but as you know I also like to see how these things trend over the course of a long season. Pitchers have to constantly adjust how they want to attack a good hitter like Longo so let’s delve into how that evolved:
Starting with all of the pitches he saw you can see that his swing percentage was consistently lower for the first half of the season before he started to swing a little more often. This shows some ok mirroring with his zone rate as that also started low, but mostly ticked up over the course of the year. The swing plateaued around 50% even with that zone rate climbing higher and higher so this gives the notion that he had reached something that he felt was an optimum aggressiveness even though pitchers felt they could continue to come in the zone more and more as the year went along.
Switching over to just those pitches that he swung upon you can see how his early whiff rate fell off rather dramatically and stayed at a better place over the last two-thirds of the season. Inversely, you can see that his rate of balls in play continued to inch up as the season went along. This didn’t necessarily lead to better contact as his Run Values peaked in the middle of the season before falling off towards the end.
One reason was due to his declining batting average on contact (BACON) as the season rolled along. His best power production came in the beginning third of the season before a gradual fall off that included a couple of other very nice spikes. While perhaps unsustainable, you can see what a force Evan Longoria can be when the ball is falling in for hits. With his power profile the more balls falling in means an inordinate increase in his number of extra base hits thanks to his batted ball profile that shows so many fly balls.