Familiarity Breeds Contempt: A Look at Evan Longoria

Tampa Bay Rays LogoThird base is a position that is exciting to talk about because of the names at the top of the positional rankings. Machado! Bryant! Arenado! Donaldson! Tremendous numbers from all of them. There will be much discussion on who should be taken first out of those guys, which will resemble a debate about the best flavor of ice cream. You could go with chocolate, you could go with vanilla, or maybe you like strawberry. Whatever you choose, you will be happy.

But we don’t get to eat ice cream every day. Some days we swallow hard and eat our sprouts. Just like in 2016, some of us will swallow hard at the draft table and say “Evan Longoria, third base.”

Longoria’s production has slipped in recent seasons, and his fantasy baseball reputation has suffered even more drastically. What happened?

Longoria was a first or second round staple from the time he came into the league, but he never had that transcendent season to justify his price tag. He’s cleared 30 home runs a couple of times, but Josh Donaldson’s 2015 season is what we thought we’d be getting from Longoria on a regular basis. Sometimes health was an excuse; other times there were stretches of brilliance that made us think he was about to put it together.

After a step backward in 2014, it seemed owners had enough. He could be had in the fourth or fifth round of most drafts; that felt like a value, at least he did to me. Even in an off-year he hit 22 home runs with 83 RBIs and 91 runs. His batting average was .253, but his BABIP wasn’t great so we could look for a modest bounceback there. His track record suggested this season was an outlier, and a return to 30 home run form was certainly possible. There was even talk about mechanical tweaks.

But 2015 was an even worse overall season. The power was similar (21 home runs), but the counting stats fell off. There was that modest bounceback in average, but all in all a disappointing season.

What’s worse, the underlying numbers suggest that there is not much hope for improvement going forward.

  • His HR/FB% fell hard from 15.7% in 2013 to 10.8% in 2014. I expected this to rebound, but instead we had a repeat of 10.8% in 2015.
  • After having ISO power in the .230-.260 range for every year in his career, it dropped to .151 in 2014. This did not continue to decline in 2015, but the .166 he put up could hardly be called encouraging.
  • His batted ball distance was 280.55 feet (148th) in 2015 and 279.55 (135th) in 2014. He was typically 12-15 feet longer and almost 100 spots higher in previous seasons.
  • About that batting average bounceback: His BABIP went up from .285 to .309. A .309 BABIP is sustainable, but his hard contact% actually dropped to 30.6%. When Longoria had BABIPs in the .309 range he was making hard contact at an above average rate.
  • The BB% percentage has dropped for 5 consecutive seasons to last year’s career low of 7.6%. He did not have a career high K%, but don’t worry, his BB/K of .39 was also a career worst.
  • Longoria’s popup percentage jumped up to 8.4% in 2014. Of the heels of two years when his number was 4.6% and 4.4% this seemed to be a blip, right? Wrong. This number creeped in the wrong direction too, up to 10.8% in 2015.

Sooo . . . no one is talking about 30 home run form this year. At 30 years old, it’s probable Longoria is what he has shown us over the past two years. You really can’t expect improvement.

The good news is I don’t expect things to fall off any further. 2014 and 2015 are very similar seasons, so 20 home runs seems assured. Plus, Longoria has been healthy for three seasons running. His defense plus his reputation as the franchise player in Tampa make him tough to pull out of the middle of the lineup; the number of plate appearances alone promises at least decent counting stats.

I don’t want to overstate his floor. The declining plate discipline suggests a batting average of .250 is also in play, but I feel ok projecting 20/80/80. That is good (but not elite) production out of third base.

Now after all this mostly negative talk, I’m going to tell you why you should consider drafting him.

For the first time ever, it looks like Longoria is being valued properly. He is still a top 10 or so third baseman and currently ranked 116 overall in NFBC drafts — in a third base clump with Adrian Beltre and Maikel Franco. Now I prefer Beltre because his thumb injury is an excuse for some of his struggles, and he did get stronger as the season went on. And Franco is young, has good pop, is in a hitter’s park, and doesn’t strike out much so I kind of love him. But Longoria’s numbers are a fine consolation in this company. This is the soft spot where I’d be looking to shop if I missed out on the big four in the first round.

You’ll notice Longoria’s performance does not suffer greatly compared to the third basemen being drafted ahead of him. Yet the gap where they are being taken is pretty significant. Does Longoria really deserve to be taken 50 picks after Matt Carpenter or Kyle Seager? I know Carpenter is a Cardinal and everything works out in St. Louis, but people are acting like last year’s power is a given and I’m not sold. He is more of a complementary player than a cornerstone in my eyes. As for Seager: he is consistent but the numbers he puts up are really not that different from Longoria. They are a little better, but not 50 slots better.

On the other hand, the players being taken immediately after Longoria are worrisome. Mike Moustakas’ ceiling is close to what Longoria is doing now, but before 2015 he was a poor fantasy player. Matt Duffy and Jung-Ho Kang have produced nicely so far but are tough to project. After that we are looking at David Wright, Pablo Sandoval, and the like. Longoria’s relative reliability looks great here, especially in a deeper league.

Look, I’ve given you the drawbacks;  I’m not going to be sending Evan Longoria any valentines. I didn’t even mention the year I took him ahead of Carlos Gonzalez and he got hurt. But I will say this: If you have waited on third base and his name is at the top of your cheat sheet, resist the emotional response telling you “this guy sucks.” He’ll never be the best third baseman in baseball and he’s not even the player that he was in his prime, but Longoria may be your last chance for solid numbers at third base.

 

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Michael Zakhar

Michael Zakhar

Michael lives in New Jersey with his beautiful wife Virginia and his adorable son Johnny. We enjoy going to see the Lakewood BlueClaws, who play 20 minutes from home. In addition to baseball, Mike loves reading, music and professional wrestling.