Understanding the Evan Longoria slump

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

What went wrong in July?

Evan Longoria is a great baseball player. He can and will be counted on as a mainstay in the Rays lineup for years to come. Nevertheless, in the month of July, he was pretty bad. He posted a meager 74 wRC+, compared to his season 132 wRC+ or career 135 wRC+. What was going on?

Here, using Jeff Zimmerman's swing/take tool at Baseball Heat Maps, is a graph of how likely he was to swing at a pitch in July, compared to how likely he was to swing at it this season as a whole. A hot color means he swung at it more often in July, a cool color means he swung at it less often. These are from the catcher's perspective.

Against left handed pitchers:

Lm0oupf90591pkvn3cunp91t75446334lwm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

Against right handed pitchers:

Lm0oupf90591pkvn3cunp91t75446334rwm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

Honestly, I don't see a lot here. Against lefties, he swung at a few more pitches down and down/away, as well as a few more pitches up and in the outside half of the plate, while taking a few more on the inside edge. Against righties he swung at more pitches in the zone overall. That seems like a good approach. Let's break it down by type of pitch.

Fastballs from left handed pitchers:

Lm0oupf90591pkvn3cunp91t75446334lwm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

Fastballs from right handed pitchers:

Lm0oupf90591pkvn3cunp91t75446334rwm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

Well, other than offering at tough fastballs on the outside bottom corner from lefties a bit more, there's nothing even close to wrong here (and almost nothing different).

Changeups and splitters from left handed pitchers:

Lm0oupf90591pkvn3cunp91t75446334lwm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

Changeups and splitters from right handed pitchers:

Lm0oupf90591pkvn3cunp91t75446334rwm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

No change whatsoever against lefties, but he took more changeups than usual over the plate and inside from righties. Take this with a grain of salt, though. Very few pitchers not on the Rays actually throw inside changeups to same-handed hitters, so the sample size we're dealing with is very small (even though Zimmerman's regression helps).

Curves and sliders from left handed pitchers:

Lm0oupf90591pkvn3cunp91t75446334lwm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

Curves and sliders from right handed pitchers:

Lm0oupf90591pkvn3cunp91t75446334rwm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

Ding ding ding. There it is. Or at least as much as there really is anything to see in any of this. During his bad month, Longoria swung at more breaking balls over the plate.

So to round up what he did differently in July:

  1. Swing at more fastballs from lefties on the bottom outside corner.
  2. Take more changeups from righties on the inner third.
  3. Swing at more breaking balls from all pitchers over the heart of the plate.
Both numbers one and three on that list are likely low percentage pitches to hit, but they're also pitches apt to be called for a strike. So the question for Longoria is whether or not it's better to take a tough strike and wait for a better pitch to hit or to cover the plate fully and swing at what's given. Of course, anything can happen over a month, so the solution may have just been to keep swinging at strikes but to hit them better. I'm not comfortable using results-based statistics like a wOBAcon heat map in such a small span, so I'm not going to even look.

A hard conclusion would be foolish, but if the July slump was due to a change in Longoria's strike zone approach, then the fix was and is to be more selective within the zone.

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