During the Hall of Fame voting process of the previous off-season, I started to look at some active players to see where their HOF cases stand. Evan Longoria was one of the more difficult players to conclude over at first glance. The former Tampa Bay Rays superstar took the league by storm during his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2008, where he and the Rays captured the first winning season, playoff appearance, and pennant in team history. From there, he kept up that high level of play through his youth, becoming just the 2nd player in the modern era to produce 7+ bWAR in three of his first four big-league seasons, joining Eddie Mathews. (Mike Trout has also since done this). Longoria also led the American League in fWAR from 2008-2012, so he was on a Hall of Fame trajectory early on. However, that was the end of his peak. Even if Longoria is widely known as the greatest Tampa Bay Ray of all time, he doesn’t exactly have a clear shot at Cooperstown.
After evaluation, I determined that Evan Longoria isn’t a Hall of Famer as of right now, but he is 1-2 solid seasons away from being there, or at least in the conversation. With the way the Rays operate, it seems like Longoria might be their only hope in the long-term future of getting someone into the Hall of Fame with a Rays cap, being that they rarely have players with long tenures with the club. Longoria has a plaque on the line, and he has risen to the occasion in the early goings of this season.
Sure, we’re only a few weeks into the season and Longoria has only appeared in 18 games, but this is very encouraging and exciting to see from the 35-year-old. Longoria has shown to be one of the best hitters in baseball this year by Statcast data, and his .291/.391/.582/.972 slash line to go with a 160 wRC+ also helps his case. Even more impressive is with these big numbers, Longoria’s expected statistics show that he’s actually been unlucky. His xBA is .326, a 35 point difference from his actual batting average. His xSLG is .709, a whopping 127 points off his real-life slugging. Lastly, his xwOBA is .458, 51 points removed from his .407 wOBA. As of Monday, Longoria is also in the top 12 in year-to-year changes in both average exit velocity, and hard-hit percentage, where his values for the season are shown above.
In the age of debating whether or not the shift should be allowed, Evan Longoria seems to be enjoying its presence, which isn’t something many hitters can say. Although he is only shifted against in 29% of his PAs, Longoria has an impressive .496 wOBA against a shifted defense, opposed to his .370 wOBA without the second baseman playing up the middle. That .496 wOBA with the shift ranks 6th among players who are shifted against in at least 25% of his PAs. The shift against Longoria creates a hole where the second baseman is standing in a traditional defensive alignment, and Longoria has been using that to his advantage. Longoria has gone the opposite way in 29.3% of his batted balls this season. This is a career-high for him and a 7.6% difference from 2020.
The caveat here is that Longoria has five hits the opposite way this year, and three of them are homers, where no shift can stop them. But nonetheless, he’s been making an effort to combat the shift and it’s been working for him.
All this is cool, but nothing is more impressive than the unearthly things Evan Longoria has been doing to left-handed pitching in 2021. Longoria has always handled southpaws very well, with a .874 career OPS against them, but he has taken that to another level this year. Longoria has registered 24 plate appearances and 16 at-bats against lefties so far, and all he’s done is slash .500/.667/1.313/1.979 with a .741 wOBA and 374 wRC+. His 33% walk rate against them is also tied for 2nd in the majors. Even with the small sample size, these numbers hold a lot of value. Longoria also has nine batted balls against lefties that had a launch angle between 0-45 degrees. All of them reached the 95 mph threshold to register as a hard-hit ball. Needless to say, Longoria has crushed lefties better than ever.
One last note is that Evan Longoria has reinvented his discipline at the plate this year. With pitchers throwing harder than ever, Longoria fell victim to many balls outside the strike zone in 2020, chasing at 27.8% of pitches away, putting him in the 47th percentile in chase rate for the season. So far in 2021, he’s been able to fix the habit of chasing.
The top image shown is Evan Longoria’s swing percentage broken down by zone in the 2020 season. On the bottom is the same thing but for the 2021 season. Notice the difference in the bottom two zones in the two images. The 27% difference in the bottom left and 16% difference in the bottom right has contributed to lowering Evan Longoria’s chase rate to 16.3%, boosting him to the 95th percentile.
With a great eye like that comes a lot of walks, and Longoria has enjoyed his fair share of those as well. His nine walks in 18 games thus far are two away from tying the 11 he had in 53 games during the 2020 season. His walk rate is currently in the 84th percentile, which is a large improvement from the 13th percentile that he found himself in last year, and even the 6th percentile he wallowed in through the 2018 season. Longoria’s walk rate currently sits at 14.1%, which would be his career-high for a season. Of course, it’s only 18 games and these numbers will fall back to earth, but it’s exciting to see from a guy who seems to still have something left in the tank.
Evan Longoria is currently listed as day-to-day due to a sore left hamstring. But once he’s back, he’ll continue to put on the burners in a mission to finish his career out on a high note and increase his chances of becoming the first Hall of Famer to wear a Tampa Bay Rays cap. He is also just 4 doubles shy of 400 for his career, as he will become the 80th player with 300+ home runs and 400+ doubles, so be on the lookout for that in the next few weeks.
Featured photo via @sfgiants twitter