Evan Longoria is not your typical young hitter, that goes with out much explaining. Playing through the 2011 season at the age of 25 he has already amassed 113 career homeruns and 147 career doubles. He is one of only 33 players to hit at least 110 homeruns and 145 doubles through their age 25 season.
In each of his first three seasons he amassed 60 extra-base hits or more. He had exactly 60 in 2008, 77 in 2009, and 73 in 2010. 2011 was the first season he fell below that mark with 58 extra-base hits.
We know that Longoria was a bit unlucky in 2011 by looking at the .239 BABIP he posted despite a career mark of .321 prior to the 2011 season. In 2011 his walk rate rose for the 4th consecutive season and his strikeout rate decreased for the 4th straight season. If a player can claim to have done both of those for four consecutive seasons it usually comes with a jump in his BABIP which in turn causes a jump in most, if not all, of his triple-slash categories.
Longoria, though, cannot make that claim. One would think that a player with a career high walk rate and career low strikeout rate wouldn't have posted career lows in batting average and slugging percentage but Longoria did thanks in large part to that horrid .239 BABIP led largely in part to an unsuccessful season of taking the ball to the opposite field.
Longoria has always liked to use the entire field. From 2008-2010 he did so with ease, hitting .319 and slugging .547 in that time frame. Take a look at his numbers going the other way in each of his four Major League seasons:
From 2008-2010 Longoria collected over 20% of his extra-base hits by going to the opposite field. In 2011 he collected just over 10% of his extra-base hits by going the other way, leading the way to his first season of sub-.500 SLG and sub-60 extra-base hits. His .196 batting average the other way ranked 115th out of 125 players with at least 90 plate appearances. Take a look at his spray chart from last season:
To make matters even worse is that, according to Baseball-Reference, he hit only .129 (8/62) going the complete opposite way. Lucky for him, and Rays' fans, is that this can likely be chalked up to bad luck. Take a look at his spray chart from 2008 to 2010:
Longoria's approach in hitting has not changed. Did defenses know where play him in case he went opposite field? I truly doubt it. Hitters like Longoria simply do not post a wRC+ of 32 without bad luck playing a major role. Longoria posted a wRC+ of 111 going up the middle and a 241 wRC+ when he pulls the ball in 2011. One of these things just doesn't belong.
We know Longoria had some bad luck last season but I honestly did not know the luck dragon came heavuly into play in the opposite field. I find it evident from looking at the charts and at the number of balls he puts in play the other way each season that 2011 was a fluke and I cannot wait to see what a fully healthy and regressed 26 year old Longoria will look like in 2012.