Evan Longoria’s Blurred Lines | The Process Report

Evan Longoria’s Blurred Lines

Nearly one month ago, we highlighted Evan Longoria’s issues at the plate; most notably, his expanding strike zone. Those same issues are still haunting Longoria, who is hitting just .183/.282/.321 since the start of July, and has shown few signs of shaking out of his slump.

Longoria has rarely gone through slumps like the one he currently finds himself in. Recently, Rays’ hitting coach Derek Shelton summed up the slugger’s issues to Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune:

“I think he’s just going through the little lull that all hitters go through,” Shelton said. “He’s been good for so long. I think the one thing is he’s been out of the (strike) zone lately a little bit, which I think he’s done such a good job early on. It’s just been kind of magnified that he’s swinging at the bad pitches and taking the good ones.”

The differences in Longoria’s behaviors at the plate between in recent weeks compared to the first three months of the season are rather noticeable, as illustrated in the table below:

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Not only has Longoria been more aggressive at the plate, but he has seen diminishing returns from the change of approach. His swings have been frequently empty and pitchers are giving him more opportunities to chase. Meanwhile, the slump is not limited to just pitches out of the zone anymore.

Through the first three months of 2013, Longoria hit .314 with a .918 OPS on pitches in the strike zone while striking out 19 percent of the time. During this slump, Longoria is hitting just .222 on pitches in the strike zone with a .630 OPS and a 32 percent strikeout rate. Opposing pitchers have thrown him more curveballs and sliders in recent weeks as the numbers show Longoria is struggling mightily with breaking stuff. He has seen 97 breaking balls since July 1, hitting .158 against them with a .368 OPS. He has swung and missed on 35 percent of hacks against breaking balls.

Longoria is in the midst of a perfect storm at the plate. He is swinging at bad pitches, taking good pitches, and swinging through good pitches all at the same time. When someone with his kind of track record is doing poorly that many ways at the same time, it goes back to something Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn famously said, “Hitting is timing; pitching is upsetting timing.” Process Report contributor Joe Dillon agrees.

Dillon spent parts of four seasons in the major leagues, finishing his playing career with the Rays’ organization and offered this insight after reviewing data and watching some of Longoria’s plate appearances in recent weeks:

Why do hitters get into a funk, slump, cold streak, etc. There can be several different factors or a combination of several things but whatever the cause or causes, to me, it ultimately boils down to timing. When a hitters timing is off (late) they will tend to rush to the ball,  speed everything up, and it feels like they have no time to process pitch type, pitch speed, etc. and then take the swing. When things are going good and the hitter is locked in everything feels like its in slow motion and they have plenty of time to process everything.

Elite players (Longoria) are able to slow things down more consistently and for longer periods of time than the average player. So when the an elite player is in a prolonged funk it is payed more attention as now with Longo. Whether it starts with an injury, a streak of 0 for’s, bad luck, or a streak where hitters are facing several pitchers in succession who they do not see the ball well off of, there lies the start of the funk. The moment of self doubt when the decision to make an adjustment creeps into the hitters mind. Is it mechanical or the hitters approach that is causing his timing to go awry? I believe that a vast majority of mechanical breakdowns are caused by timing issues.

The battle within is a season long series of fights and adjustments. Does the hitter stay the course or does he make an adjustment? Hitters are constantly looking for the quick fix and instant results because they know it can take that one hit, that one AB that can turn everything around. A lot of time the mechanical adjustment provides the mental confidence to get back on track and back on time.

Longoria had the foot injury flare up in late June which neatly coincided with the beginning of his struggles but both the player and the manager have ruled that correlation out. He is well aware of his struggles at the plate and has put in the extra time before games with Derek Shelton and co-hitting coach Jamie Nelson. It is easy to see some of the self doubt Longoria has by his facial expressions at the plate, much like Luke Scott demonstrated during his trying times in June.

Dillon went on to say that he believes Longoria is attacking the baseball consistently too early or too late, which compounds the issue of swinging at balls and taking strikes that both Maddon and Shelton have mentioned:

When he is early he is attacking the ball too soon not allowing his normal pitch recognition phase to process, therefore causing more swings on pitches outside the zone and contact more consistently to his pull side. When he is taking strikes he may be getting ready too late not allowing him to get his swing off, and/or sitting on certain pitches (in this current streak the wrong ones) trying to help get him on time more consistently. When things are going well most hitters just react to what is thrown at them because they are on time consistently, allowing ample time for the pitch recognition phase to take place.

When things are going bad the hitter is fighting to get on time, and will start looking for pitches, usually the wrong pitches compounding the problem and extending the funk they are in. Keep in mind we are talking about what I believe is the hardest thing to do in all of sports. Hitting is where a hundredth of a second and a millimeter is the difference between hard contact and no contact, and a pop up or line drive. As bad as it may seem Longoria is not off by very much and he will get back on time and return to his form of one of the best hitters in the game..

Longoria’s hit chart during his slump backs up Dillon’s point about Longoria being too quick or too late. Earlier in the season, Longoria was collecting hits to all parts of the field but recently, his hits to the middle part of the field have become nearly extinct.

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Hitting a baseball is something that involves precise timing and execution to be successful at the plate. Any disruption to either process can send a player into a statistical tailspin where demons of self-doubt haunt you during every plate appearance. After Longoria returned from a broken hand in 2008, he hit .239 and struck out in 20 of his 73 plate appearances as he worked to get his timing back just in time to help the team push through the playoffs and into the World Series. On Sunday, he had two positive plate appearances that involved a well-struck base hit to the left side and a B-hack at a pitch on the outer half that went to the warning track in right field. Longoria getting his timing back now would align nicely with yet another August surge into a critical September of baseball.

Data courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info; thanks to Joe Dillon for his insight.



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