About a month ago, Evan Longoria appeared on MLB Network Radio and was asked about his low walk total. His reply was less than encouraging.
Why is everybody making such a big deal about walks? Who cares about walks? Does anyone really care about walks except for the analytics people?
I guess we see where Evan Longoria stands in the Belt Wars. Who would have thought that one who stands with alongside the appendix-less Brandon would prove turncoat?
These comments are coming because Longoria has a career low walk rate. His 3.8% mark this year is nearly half of his previous career low of 6.1% in 2016. This is combined with his highest strike out rate since 2013 and career lows in OPS, wOBA, and wRC+. Considering he’s also two errors away from a career high despite being less than halfway through the season, it’s no surprise he’s on pace for his worst season fWAR.
We’re just 67 games into the season so it’s still a relatively small sample size. He’s had stretches like this before even in some of his best seasons. He could easily turn things around.
He hasn’t been bad per se, just slightly below average. However, when they got him, the Giants thought Longoria’s slightly below average full seasons were still a couple years away. They were hoping to get a couple more 3-4 win seasons out of the 32-year-old before time took its toll on him.
The walks, or lack thereof, are the things jumping out to me. One reason for the dip in walk rate is a change in approach coming from both Longoria and opposing pitchers. Longoria’s swing rate is much higher than it was when he was an MVP candidate, but if you ask him, it’s because pitchers are throwing him more strikes.
I’m getting a lot of strikes… I’ve tried multiple different angles going up there to draw a walk and it seems like every time I go up there, it’s ‘Strike one, strike two.’ I’m getting attacked and I’m getting pitches to hit. You know, probably in the beginning, I could have drawn a few more, I was chasing a bit more then trying to get it going. But now I’m getting a lot of strikes, there’s not a whole lot of at-bats where I go up there and the first three pitches are nowhere close
That’s not entirely true. He is seeing more first pitch strikes than ever before, but after that it’s been about the same. The percentage of pitches in the strike zone Longoria has seen hasn’t changed significantly. In fact, the 44.5 zone% against him is lower than his career average of 45.6%.
Sometime around 2014, Longoria started swinging more, at balls and strikes both. He went from having above average patience to below average patience. Around the same time, he became a worse hitter. After five seasons of posting wRC+ marks above 130, he increased his swing% by five points and he hasn’t reached the 130 mark since.
The spike in swing% also coincided with the drop in walk rate. The lack of walks is the biggest thing missing from his offensive value. His average and slugging are both down from career norms, but he’s hitting the ball as hard as he has in the past. His 46% hard hit rate is eleven points higher than his 35% career average. His .279 BABIP is a smidge low, and his xwOBA is above average at .341. His average exit velocity his 90.1 which is 69th in the majors. He’s hitting the ball just fine. I can see why he’d be encouraged to swing the bat more.
He is, however, hitting more ground balls compared to his career average, and this could be tied to his increased swing rate. His 43% ground ball rate is five points higher than his career average. One reason for this could be that he’s swinging at more pitches below the zone.
Here’s his swing percentage zone profile for his career:
Here it is for 2018:
The three boxes directly below the zone are the ones I’m looking at. In 2018, he’s put 32 balls thrown below the zone into play. 22 of them were ground balls. He’s hitting just .114 on balls he’s chased low.
Longoria could potentially fix his batted ball and walk problems by laying off pitches beneath the strike zone. Obviously, these pitches are balls and if he didn’t swing at them, he’d walk more and see better pitches to hit. Of course, that’s easier said than done. A majority of these are secondary pitches that look like they’re in the strike zone but dive down at the last second.
Specifically, pitchers are throwing more curveballs against him, a pitch he’s historically had troubles with. In his career he’s seen 10% curveballs, but that’s up to 15% this year. He’s slugging just .176 on curves and he’s hitting half of them on the ground.
If Longoria is going to be a valuable addition to the roster over the span of his contract, he’ll have to be more patient at the plate. What would that look like? He can’t just take a page from Pablo Sandoval’s book and take the first pitch no matter what because remember: he’s seeing more first pitch strikes than ever before. He can’t just decide to lay off curveballs. The whole point of a curveball is you don’t know it’s a curveball. One thing he can do is stop swinging at low pitches.
And maybe he should go get some coffee with Brandon Belt.