Evan Longoria is the face of the Tampa Bay Rays. For nearly a decade now, he’s given the Rays something that many teams would desire from the 3B position. Not only that, but he will be the first Ray to ever have their number retired. Hall of Fame credentials? Probably not. But he’s been the first true star presence for this team.
From 2008-2013 Longoria hit .275/.357/.512 with 162 HR. His ISO sat at .238, and the wRC+ averaged out 135 over those five years. Up until then, he was known for taking his walks, hitting dingers, and playing gold glove defense. However, in 2014 the power disappeared. He stopped taking walks, and he only mustered a .253 average. He managed to hit 43 homers combined in 14-15, and his ISO shot all the way down to .151 and .166 respectively. Well below the .238 he averaged from 08-13.
2016 happened. Longoria went right back to old powerful ways and mashed 36 out of the park. He slugged .521, almost called himself an All-Star, and he played 160+ games for the fourth consecutive season. What exactly happened here? There certainly wasn’t a nagging injury to worry about. The only thing that was worth keeping you up at night was the sudden possibility that Evan Longoria could be in the middle of a huge and unforgiving regression. No pressure.
The 2014 and 2015 seasons presented Rays fans with a very uncomfortable possibility. Was it real, or was it just an aberration? The loss of power was real. However, it was fair to question whether this was a legitimate regression in terms of talent. It’s tough to imagine that someone in their age-28 and 29 season would be going through such a power sapping point in their career. Weirder things have happened, but there were no signs to be seen before 2014 that might’ve pointed toward this, given the fact that Longoria averaged 27 homers per year up to that point and that’s including his injury shortened 2012.
Longoria just stopped making hard contact with the baseball. He averaged around 35.72% hard contact until the 2014 season. That mark dropped to 32.1% in 2014, and it bottomed out at 30.8% in 2015. His FB% also dropped to career lows in those 2 seasons. Again, there were zero warning signs in the previous years that might’ve given us a hint about a sudden regression. It became very easy to believe that these issues were mechanical, and mechanical only.
Whenever a guy adjusts at the plate and tries to become more of an aggressive hitter, a thing such as chasing bad pitches becomes very real and that will eventually hamper their numbers. He became more of a bad ball chaser in ‘14 and ‘15 than he had in his entire career. Looking at the graph below, you’ll note that his O-Swing% rocketed to 30.6% in 2014 and 2015. You can see the patience that he showed in earlier years, and it’s very clear that there was a philosophical shift in Longoria’s mind toward hitting. He was looking for something to hit, and he was transitioning away from his earlier mindset of taking walks if he was given the chance. He wanted to cause damage, and then again that’s what he’s getting paid to do. The Rays struggled offensively in ’14 and ’15 scoring 612 and 644 runs respectively. It would make sense if that lack of offense as a team prompted Longoria to try to become a hitter that he necessarily wasn’t.
His idea at the plate wasn’t matching with his mechanics. He was a different hitter in 2016 and it showed both at the plate, and in the box score.
Look at 2016 clearly. Notice the FB%? Yeah, it shot up to 46.8%. That is the thought process behind someone who knows that something hasn’t been working. There’s this fly ball revolution going on within the MLB. It’s this idea of getting the ball in the air, and good things will probably happen. It makes complete sense, though. Get the ball in the air, shoot it in the gaps, or if you’re lucky then maybe it ends up 5 rows up the LF stands. It’s certainly a better approach than hitting grounders to the left side that maybe won’t get through or give you a lucky bounce.
Even though Longoria became a tad bit more of a swing and miss guy, he lowered his aggressiveness on pitches outside of the strike zone. The search for loft is obvious is someone with a FB% over 46%, the swing and miss tendency is going to be there. Evan’s launch angle came in 25th across all qualified MLB hitters at 17º. That came in less than a degree behind recent fly ball extraordinaire Justin Turner.
The change in mechanics were also obvious. If you dig into film of Longoria’s 2014 and 2015 season, you’ll come across this:
That’s proof that at the plate, Longoria was too open, his hands were too high, and he wasn’t able to build in the loft that he wanted in his swing. Let alone make solid contact as his load up time was taking longer than it should’ve.
2016 Longoria was more compact. Lower hands, lower bat set up. He was more closed up at feet, and this finally gave him the ability to stay in on the ball which in turn gave him the ability to load up quickly. The ability to have that quick, and compact power stroke that Longoria used to have allowed him to get back to his old power ways.
There is no regression. It was just a matter of Longoria finding himself again as a hitter. He isn’t the same guy he was the first couple of years in his career. Odds are he probably won’t walk 85 times again. But he will hit 35+ HR again. Think of it as a revolutionized Evan Longoria. Someone who is adapting to the revamped world of MLB, and that won’t fall short of expectations for the foreseeable future.