Surprising Things: Evan Longoria's "Off Year" Isn't So Bad

KANSAS CITY, MO - JULY 22: Evan Longoria #3 of the Tampa Bay Rays reacts after narrowly missing being hit by a pitch during the 1st inning of the game against the Kansas City Royals on July 22, 2011 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

I can't believe I feel the need to write this, but no, there is nothing that wrong with Evan Longoria. There is no way the Rays are trading him. And there's absolutely no reason for them to even consider the possibility of trading him or starting someone else at third base right now. Let me explain.

I think we can all agree that Evan Longoria is having an off year. He's looked downright bad at the plate at times, and it recently feels like he simply isn't driving in runners. Considering that the Rays' offense has struggled as a whole this season, Longoria's slump stands out as a lightning rod for criticism. If only he was producing, then maybe the Rays would have a decent offense!

And there is some truth to that: Longoria hasn't been as productive this season at the plate as he normally is, and a raking Longo would help the middle of the Rays' order considerably. But if look at his stats, it becomes clear that he hasn't been as bad as many of us think. Consider:

BA

OBP

SLG

wOBA

2010

0.294

0.372

0.507

0.376

2011

0.237

0.341

0.451

0.347

That may look bad on the surface, but remember that a low batting average will drive down a player's on-base percentage and slugging, while a high batting average will inflate them. Longoria has actually shown the best plate discipline of his career this season, walking in 12% of his plate appearances (10.6% career) and only striking out in 16% of his plate appearances (20% career). He's on pace to hit as many homerun as he did last season (22), despite also being on pace to accrue ~130 fewer plate appearances (that early injury stunk). And if his current batting average was the same as it had been last season, his slugging would be exactly the same as last year too.

So that's what Longoria's slump comes down to: a low batting average. For whatever reason -- whether his timing is off, he needs to adjustments at the plate, or he's simply hit a stretch of rough luck -- Longoria currently has a .245 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), while his career average is closer to .310. History tells us that players with abnormal BABIPs will regress toward their career averages over time, so going forward, there is little reason to be concerned about Longoria. At some point, whether it be the tail end of this season or next year, hits will fall in for him, his batting average will rebound, and he'll again become one of the premier hitters in the majors.

The question is: why is Longo's BABIP so low right now? Does he need to make an adjustment? Is his swing slightly off? I can't answer these questions at the moment (although I will ponder them), so have fun debating among yourselves. No matter the reason, Longo will regress; it's simple a matter of how soon.

Oh, and one last thing. For all the flak surrounding Longoria's disappointing season, he's still been 21% better than league average at the plate. He's a handy scapegoat for the Rays' offensive woes, but don't go too overboard in your denouncements of him. He's still been a valuable and productive hitter...just not as productive as we expected.

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