On Monday night, Evan Longoria was the hero. His bases-clearing double was all the Giants needed in a 3-2 win against the Dodgers. For one night, Longoria managed to worm his way into our hearts. It was his biggest moment in his short Giants, and maybe that’s because it was only big moment.
Longoria hasn’t been the player that Bobby Evans and the old regime thought they were getting. That’s not surprising. He hasn’t been that player for years. Thinking that Longoria could threaten 30 homers year in, year out while picking up down-ballot MVP votes is kind of like thinking that seeing Boyz II Men at the county fair is going to be the same as seeing them in ’92.
Longoria still has some power. He managed to match veritable slugger Gorkys Hernández for the team lead last year. But the bigger problem with Longoria is that his walk rate has fallen nearly every year since 2011.
Longoria ended last year with a career-low walk rate of 4.3 percent which ranked ninth-worst among qualified batters. Third-worst was Kevin Pillar! I didn’t think it could get worse than that.
It’s gotten worse than that.
He finished the Dodgers series with a walk rate of 3.6 percent. He’s only had 112 plate appearances, so it’s still a small sample. If he had drawn just one more walk, his walk rate would be on the rise if only be a few tenths of a point. But if we’re hoping that last year—the only year his OBP has fallen below .300—is an aberration and not a new normal this is a discouraging sign.
Last year, I wrote that Longoria’s declining walk rate was tied to his increased aggression at the plate. Since 2013, he’s been much more likely to swing. At the time, I didn’t find that pitchers were throwing him more strikes. But this year, they definitely are.
Baseball Savant’s zone percentage tracks how many pitches a batter sees inside the strike zone. An average hitter sees 48.6 percent strikes, but opposing pitchers are pounding the strike zone against Longoria. 57.6 percent of pitches against him have been in the strike zone this year. That’s the second highest zone rate of any batter who has seen 100 or more pitches. Only the recently DFA’d Travis d’Arnaud got attacked over the plate more often.
So far, Longoria hasn’t really given pitchers a reason not to challenge him. He’s hitting .206 and slugging .364. If he’s not punishing pitches, why not let him put the ball in play?
The good news is that Longoria has hit the ball hard this year, he just has nothing to show for it. His hard-hit rate is over 10 percentage points higher than league average. His average launch angle is a healthy 17 degrees, and his exit velocity is 90.7. All this adds up to an expected slugging of .453.
What the expected stats don’t account for is the direction the ball is hit, and that’s what’s holding Longoria back. He’s driven most of his fly balls out to right center, and as a righty who plays half his games at Oracle Park, that’s going to turn into more outs than hits.
It was encouraging to see Longoria turn on an inside fastball and pull it down the line. Hopefully, he can start doing that more often and give opposing pitchers less of a reason to just pound the strike zone against him. Who knows? Maybe that will help him not have his worst walk rate again.