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Evan Longoria is back in more ways than one

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2018 is looking more and more like a blip for an otherwise solid player.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Before Evan Longoria went on the injured list with plantar fasciitis, he was one of the hottest hitters in baseball. Much like the Giants themselves, Longoria got off to a painfully slow start, but when July rolled around, he kicked into a higher gear. It’s no coincidence that as soon as he went down, the offense quieted.

With the use of Baseball Savant’s new rolling leaderboard, we can see just how Longoria’s resurgence compares with other improvements around the league. Over his last 50 plate appearances, Longoria has posted an xwOBA of .507. His .180 point improvement over his previous 50 is the fifth-largest in baseball. If you’re thinking, “Okay, he was just a smidge above average and got hot for a few a weeks. Big whoop,” his improvement over the last 250 plate appearances is the fourth-largest in baseball. Over Longoria’s last 250 plate appearances, Longoria has an xwOBA of .383, a .094 point difference over his previous 250 plate appearances going back to last season.

This is the hottest that Evan Longoria has been since 2016 and that was his best year in the last six seasons. Longoria’s line on the year isn’t that impressive. Again, he got off to a terrible start, but he’s also hit into some bad luck. His .267 BABIP is the lowest it has ever been. That’s despite him hitting more line drives and posting a hard-hit rate 10 percentage points better than his career average. He’s underperformed his xwOBA by -.037 points, the fourth greatest difference among batters with 250 plate appearances.

It’s not just that he’s hitting the ball hard either. Longoria’s walk rate has been falling since 2013. After the first month of the season, it looked like it would fall again, but it’s since rebounded to its highest mark since it started dropping.

A lot of that is buoyed by when he did nothing but walk in May, but it’s hovered around league average since then. Last year, I wrote about how Longoria’s declining walk rate corresponded to his increase in swing rate. It would make me look real smart if he suddenly stopped swing so much and that’s where his walks were coming from. His swing rate has fallen. Technically. But a drop from 48 percent to 47 percent isn’t going to explain his walk rate nearly doubling.

Longoria isn’t swinging at fewer pitches across the board, but he is swinging at fewer pitches he’s less likely to do damage against. Longoria does most of his damage up and on the inner half of the plate. Unless it’s on the inside, Longoria struggles to do much more than put the ball on the ground if the pitch is in the lower third of the strike zone and especially if it’s below the knees.

Last year, pitchers could count on getting Longoria to chase below the strike zone. On those pitches, he’d either whiff or put the ball on the ground, not good outcomes for pitches he’d swing at nearly 60 percent of the time.

This year, he’s not chasing pitches below the strike zone. More specifically, he’s not swinging at as many breaking pitches that come in below the knees. He’s offsetting that by being more aggressive on pitches on the inner half.

What does Longoria do against pitches on the inner half?

Ooh.

Oooooohh.

Ohhhhh yeahhhhhh.

Here’s hoping that Longoria can pick up where he left off. He had a similar hot streak cut short by the Marlins Death Fog last season, and it took him a while to get things going again. For now, though, it looks like Longoria is being more conscientious about which pitches he swings at, and he’s better at recognizing junk. Couple that with excellent defense, and it looks like Longoria is back in more ways than one.