Evan Longoria is one of seemingly 25 Giants coming off a career-worst year. In 2018, Longoria posted career lows in home runs, walk rate, batting average, on-base percentage, wOBA, wRC+, and WAR. Which WAR you ask? Well, all of them. Baseball-Reference wasn’t too hard on Longoria, putting him at 1.9 bWAR, which is about average for an everyday starter, but both FanGraphs had him at just a half win above replacement and Baseball Prospectus had him at half a win below.
It was a less than encouraging start to Longoria’s Giants career is what I’m trying to say. Trading for Longoria was Bobby Evans’ last major move as the general manager of the Giants, and it certainly didn’t help him on his performance review.
Longoria’s season wasn’t without its bright spots though. Longoria may have committed a career-high in errors, but he still graded out well by DRS. His hard-hit and strikeout rates are still above major league average. His home run per plate appearances was consistent with his numbers in the last few seasons, so the drop in dingers less about his power being unplayable in San Francisco and more about him just missing a month with a broken hand.
Still, there are real concerns about Longoria’s offensive output, and they’re not ones that can be solved by waiting on his career-low BABIP to correct itself.
Diagnosing the problem is easy enough. Longoria doesn’t walk as much as he used to. For the first six years of his major league career, Longoria averaged a 10.9 walk percentage. Since then, he’s been down to 6.7 percent. It wasn’t just a sudden drop either. It’s a problem that’s been getting progressively worse for years.
Aside from 2017, his walk rate has decreased year after year since 2011. The simplest explanation for why is that Longoria has increasingly gone after pitches outside of the strike zone.
In the second half of Longo’s career, he has been much more aggressive toward pitches just below the strike zone. He was less aggressive this year than in the previous two, but still much more so than in the early part of his career. Below are heat maps of his swing rate prior to 2014 and after 2014. The difference should be obvious.
Chasing low pitches and pitches down and in have been a real problem for Longoria. Longoria has decent contact skills, but he tends to swing and miss at low pitches. When he does make contact on those pitches, he seldom does anything with it.
Longoria isn’t without hope, though. He can still clobber the ball, and while the poor batted-ball luck isn’t the biggest concern, he should still have some more hits fall in. He can still be a competent hitter. He doesn’t even have to walk like he did when he was an MVP candidate. He just needs to walk like he did two to three years ago, and he can be okay.
As much as I would love Longoria’s hot start to the spring mean that he’s in for bounceback, but I don’t think it’s for real. I would love to be wrong. Longoria having a mid-thirties Renaissance and ultimately going into Cooperstown wearing a Giants cap would be rad as hell. But all of my irrational hopes are tied up in Tyler Beede being the next Gerrit Cole. I think Longoria will hit dingers and play decent defense, and that will be about it.
If Mike Moustakas had to settle for another one-year deal, it’s going to be hard to find a suitor for Longoria unless the Giants pay down a larger chunk than what the Rays already have. I don’t imagine that Longoria will become the new Matt Kemp and have his salary dumped on a new team every two to three years. I’m going with no.