Should We Worry About Evan Longoria’s Power?

There are elements of baseball that the casual fan pays attention to and there’s the Tampa Bay Rays. The lack of notoriety that the Rays experience, as an organization, likely resulted in a lack of attention toward what was actually a stellar year for third baseman Evan Longoria, in terms of the power game. While he experienced some regression from the previous couple of years in certain aspects, his ability to make impact contact ranked among the game’s elite at the position. The concern moving forward, in addition to the regression he experienced in those certain areas, is whether we should expect the power to remain intact.

In terms of ownership, there were some drawbacks to Longoria’s game in 2016, something that was an obvious result of a change in approach. His walk rate dipped for the fourth consecutive year, falling to 6.1%, the lowest of his Major League career, as his 48.8% swing rate was the highest mark of his career. His Contact% fell to 75.4, his lowest mark since 2009. Subsequently, his on-base percentage dropped to the lowest in his career as well, at just .318. His strikeout rate wasn’t an overwhelming concern, though, as at 21.0%, it came in less than a full percentage point above his career average, even with that newfound aggressiveness at the plate.

At the same time, the more aggressive approach from Longoria isn’t terribly surprising. The Rays finished fourth in the American League in home runs in 2016 (216) and second in team isolated power (.182), so Longoria’s increased aggressiveness, and resulting increase in power, is likely coming as a result of a team trend in selling out for power. So we’ll have to see if he can showcase just a bit more patience and get back to some of those higher OBP seasons in the upcoming year. But that’s not necessarily our concern here.

The question is whether we should expect that power to remain on the up and up after a couple of lackluster seasons in that regard. Longoria finished the 2016 season with a .248 ISO, a figure which trailed only Nolan Arenado, Josh Donaldson, Kris Bryant, and my man¬†Jake Lamb at the position. That’s three of the league’s elite power hitters and another emerging one in Lamb. Not bad company. His slugging percentage, at .521, ranked sixth among qualifying third sackers, while his 36 home runs ranked sixth as well. The names in each of those five or six hitters fluctuated slightly, but there wasn’t any question about the names involved overall; Longoria was in the mix with some of the best hitters the third base position has to offer.

But while the power is certainly an encouraging aspect of his game, we’re talking about a player who finished the 2014 and 2015 seasons with home run totals of 22 and 21, respectively. In fact, here are some of Longoria’s numbers across the power game since 2012:

2012 312 17 .527 .238 146
2013 693 32 .498 .230 132
2014 700 22 .404 .151 105
2015 670 21 .435 .166 109
2016 685 36 .521 .248 123

It’s not as if 2016 represented a deviation from his typical approach from 2014 and 2015, either. His Swing% in 2016, that 48.8% mark, was barely a one percent increase from the previous two seasons. His Contact% was just a touch higher, which likely aided him in the OBP game, but that increased aggressiveness at the plate isn’t something that developed out of nowhere last season. Yet, he was able to make significantly harder contact, with a Hard% of 36.3% that represented a six percent increase from 2015 and a four percent increase from 2014.

So, then to what do we attribute the increase in power? His swing percentage didn’t change significantly, and Brooks doesn’t have him swinging at a different variation of pitches, as he obviously increased across the board. There could be one slightly noticeable change from the previous two seasons that we saw in 2016, though, allowing for that increased power:

The visual is somewhat self-explanatory, but indicates that Longoria was swinging at a lot of inside pitches over the course of the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The 2016 heatmap indicates something just a little bit different:

There’s definitely something of a migration from those inner parts of the plate to the outer parts where Longoria can barrel up the ball with more regularity. Given Longoria’s high rate of swinging, there are, of course, several areas where the swing rates are heavy, but the deep red clearly shifted from those two seasons to 2016. Is it a complete explanation for Longoria’s rise in power from those lackluster seasons to the last? Not necessarily, but it’s an explanation nonetheless.

And if we continue to see similar trends from Evan Longoria moving forward, then there isn’t necessarily a reason to think that he can’t continue to establish the big power numbers. He’s clearly stepping into the box with a mindset toward selling out for power, and the result has been just that: powerful. It’ll be interesting to see if the increased power continues to come at the expense of elements such as on-base percentage, but with home run, slugging, and ISO figures that rank up near the top of the position, it’s worth sacrificing in some spots.

(Especially because Longoria seems particularly undervalued in drafts to date.)

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5 years ago

He turned some ground balls into fly balls. 46.8% FB rate in 2016 after 40.4% and 40.6% the previous two seasons. By walking less a higher percentage of his PAs ended with a ball in play. His HR/FB rate saw a rebound to 15.5% from 10.3% and 10.8% in 2014 and 2015.

Total flyballs hit:
2016: 227
2015: 186
2014: 195

He also pulled more fly balls (28.0%) than he has in any season since his rookie year.