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Will Evan Longoria have a Hall of Fame case?

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What will it take for the Rays to get a cap in Cooperstown?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The day after the 2015 Hall-of-Fame class was announced to little controversy or public outcry, SportsOnEarth's Will Leitch wrote an article about the six teams who do not currently have a player in the Baseball Hall-of-Fame. In the piece, he looked at each team to see if a current of former player had a true shot at being elected to Cooperstown. Tampa was one such team.

When discussing the Rays, Leitch wrote "Evan Longoria is the only one you can even squint and make a case for, but he's 29 years old and doesn't even have 1,000 hits yet. So no." He took his prediction a step further when he concluded, "I bet the Rays will end up the last team standing without a Hall of Famer."

Leitch's piece was designed to be a brief, surface-level look at potential candidates. Obviously, hits are not the sole or best measure of a player's potential HOF candidacy.The article, though, did raise a larger question: Will Evan Longoria have a solid HOF case? More to the point, what will he have to do to get to Cooperstown?

Author Jon Krakaeur once wrote, "predicting the future is a fool's errand." For a recent example of this, just see my 1998 proclamation, "We haven't heard the last from Chumbawamba" (see also: Lou Bega, 2000).

My awesome musical tastes aside, we cannot allow the risk of looking foolish to spoil our fun. Predicting the future is the right, nay duty, of unhealthily obsessed baseball fans everywhere. In fact, we would be doing ourselves a disservice, and quite possible humanity, if we did not invest 2,000 words to explore the case of a seven-year veteran who is not yet even 30.

Is that too hyperbolic? You know what, I don't think it's hyperbolic enough.

A few caveats:

  • We are projecting Longoria's career through 2022, when his current Rays deal expires. I am assuming his $13 million team option for 2023 will not be picked up. His statistics as the DH for the Montreal A's in 2023 and 2024 will not be included.

  • Obviously, some creative liberties must be taken when projecting career totals. Let's have some fun.

Longoria's Current Standing

Entering his age-29 season in 2015, Jay Jaffe's JAWS ranks Longoria as the 30th best third baseman of all time. Of the 29 players ahead of him, 10 are in Cooperstown, two others appear to be locks (Adrian Beltre and Chipper Jones), two have a legitimate case (Scott Rolen and Edgar Martinez), and two are still active (David Wright and Miguel Cabrera). Overall, 13 third baseman are enshrined in Cooperstown.

Longoria will begin 2015 with the following career totals:

  • 184 home runs

  • 226 doubles

  • 975 hits

  • Two Gold Gloves

  • Three All-Star game appearances

  • 40.0 bWAR (39.5 fWAR)

  • 40.0 WAR 7*

*WAR 7 is the total of a player's seven best seasons of bWAR. It is designed  to measure a player's career peak.

For nearly a decade, he has been the best third baseman in the American League, if not all of baseball. In fact, since the 2008 season, Longoria's numbers (40.0 bWAR (39.5 fWAR), 131 OPS+, 422 extra-base hits) compare quite favorably to his National League counterpart, David Wright (30.4 bWAR, 131 OPS+, 385 extra-base hits).

So, what does Longoria need to do to reach the level of  the current HOF third basemen? The average bWAR for the 13 third baseman in the HOF is 64.7. If he plays eight more seasons, Longoria will need to average just under 3.1 wins per year to reach that level.

For some perspective, in his rookie year of 2008, Longoria was worth 4.8 wins (5.5 fWAR), with a 128 wRC+. His dWAR was 1.2. He hit 31 doubles and 27 home runs, had 85 RBI, and a batting line of .272/.343/.531/127 OPS+.

His subpar 2014, as you will read below, was worth 3.4 wins. He posted a 107 wRC+ and -0.1 WAR. He hit 26 doubles and 22 home runs, knocked in 91 runs, and posted a batting line of .253/.320/.404/107 OPS+.

Photo credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

2014

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's first look back at the season just concluded. That is to say, what direction is Longoria's trending?

Longoria's long-term HOF case looks a little murkier today than it did a year ago. Despite playing in 162 games for the first time ever, Longoria posted career worst marks in doubles, home runs, extra-base hits, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, walk-percentage, OPS, OPS+, wRC+, and WAR. Was 2014 the beginning of a decline, or an aberration due in part to some bad luck ?

The numbers, infuriatingly, provide a mixed answer.

Of all the decreased numbers, the most worrisome might be his 10.8% home run to fly ball ratio, the worst of his career. That was was down from 15.7% in 2013, which was down from 19.5% in 2012. Longoria's 2014 decline came despite hitting almost exactly the same number of fly balls last year (203) as in 2013 (204). When that occurs, as Fangraphs notes,  "This could imply that the player lost a touch off their power, which could be a result of an injury or the tell-tale sign of an aging slugger."

So, Longoria is declining as a power hitter, right? The numbers seem to indicate it is an open and shut case. That would make things way too convenient, and thus, far less fun.

First, even with the decline, a 10.6% home run to fly ball ratio is still above league average (Fangraphs considers 9.5% average), meaning even during his worst season, Longoria's power is still better than average.

Second, while his home run to fly ball ratio was down, his line-drive percentage  in 2014 (20.4%) was up from 2013 (18.6%). It was also above his career percentage of 19.6. Longoria increased his total number of line drives hit to a career-high 102, up from 85 in 2013.

Despite this increase in line drives, though, Longoria's BABIP fell from .312 in 2013 to .286, the second lowest mark of his career. It was also well below his career average of .301. Without looking at each individual batted ball, the numbers indicate there is reason to believe Longoria was the victim of some bad luck in 2014. A rebound closer to his career levels is well within reason.

Similarly, last season, Longoria posted the worst ISO of his career at .151. However, it came on the heels of six straight seasons of at least a .213 ISO, with a .five of those seasons being at .230 and above. Longoria's career ISO is .223, indicating he is a player who still hits for tremendous power, even when his average is down.

Like I promised, it is a mixed damned bag. The declining ISO and fly ball to home run ratio cannot be ignored. When you add his career-worst walk-ratio (8.1%), Longoria at least takes the appearance of a slugger with decreased power and patience. However, his increased line drive demonstrate he is still hitting the ball hard. 2014 was a red flag, but we should not overreact. 2015 could provide some crucial, long-term answers.

For the record, FanGraphs's Steamer projections forecast significant improvements for Longoria in 2015: 146 games, 30 doubles, 25 home runs, .256/.334/.446, 124 wRC+, .190 ISO, and 5.4 fWAR.

Photo credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Longoria's Peak and Why the Voter Factor Could Matter

Those numbers are fun to project and dissect, but what could be the most important aspect of Longoria's HOF case?

I believe the individuals who will be voting for the Hall-of-Fame when Longoria becomes eligible is of greater significance potentially. If Longoria retires after the 2023 season, he will be first appear on the ballot in 2028. A decade and a half might allow for the thinning of the Murray Chass-type herd. By the time Longoria is eligible, voters might place heavier value on numbers of which past and present voters ignored, rejected, and were flat-out unaware.

For example, Longoria's WAR 7, as detailed at the top of the piece, is 40.0, currently 20th all-time among third basemen, and one spot behind Wright and one ahead of first-balloter Paul Molitor.

This is because, as we have discussed, Longoria has only played seven seasons, making the 40.0 his total career WAR. As a result, his WAR 7 includes his injury-plagued 2012 (2.5 WAR) and subpar 2014 (3.4).

Another season at his remarkable 2010 value (8.1) or two more seasons as 5-6 win player (like his 2008 detailed above), vaults him to 44-46 WAR 7, the same range as Rolen, Dick Allen, and Hall-of-Famer Brooks Robinson. Presently, the average WAR 7 for the 13 Hall-of-Fame third baseman is 42.7.

With two more 2008-level seasons, Longoria's peak would place him in the following spot on the WAR 7 list. As a reminder, his 2008 numbers included a 1.2 dWAR. He hit 31 doubles and 27 home runs, had 85 RBI, and a batting line of .272/.343/.531/127 OPS+. Cabrera, 32, and Beltre, 36, could still move up the list.

Player

WAR 7

Mike Schmidt

58.5

Wade Boggs

56.2

Eddie Mathews

54.3

Ron Santo

53.8

George Brett

53.2

Adrian Beltre

48.4

Home Run Baker

46.8

Chipper Jones

46.6

Ken Boyer

46.3

Brooks Robinson

45.8

Dick Allen

45.8

Miguel Cabrera

44.6

Sal Bando

44.3

Evan Longoria

43.7

Edgar Martinez

43.6

A top 10-15 all-time peak, and one that is above the average for those elected from the position, might be Longoria's best case.

David Wright's 40.0 WAR 7 currently ranks 19th on the list, one spot ahead of Longoria. Entering his age-32 season, Wright would need to have better than 3.2 bWAR to improve his WAR 7. Wright has had 3.2 bWAR or below in four of the last six seasons, including a 2.6 bWAR in 2014.

For voters in the late 2020's, metrics like WAR 7, just to use one example, could be a sizeable factor. Lower totals in the big, shiny categories that in the past have kept out Darrell Evans (two All-Star games), Dick Allen (1,848 hits), and for too long Ron Santo (sub-3,000 hits and sub-400 home runs, if I had to guess), might not be as damaging in 15 years.

This would be to Longoria's benefit, as some traditional benchmarks seem unlikely (400 home runs, 7 All-Star Games, the fewest for any third baseman in Cooperstown ), or just about impossible (3,000 hits).

Photo credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Projection Through Comparison

But the 2015 season is more than two months away, and its conclusion is eight-to-nine months from now. Must we wait for that long to project?

When projecting a great player's future, there is an understandable tendency to want to use the all-time greats as the basis for comparison. For Longoria, this would mean looking at the age 29-36 seasons of the likes of Schmidt, Brett, and Boggs. For Longoria to replicate those seasons of Schmidt (38 home runs per season), or Brett (144 OPS+), or Boggs (two batting titles and a .418 on-base percentage), he would have to consistently put up numbers he never has in his career.

Instead, let's discuss future Longoria by comparing him to past Longoria.

For example, if Longoria has, or averages, three more seasons at his 2008-level (31 doubles, 27 home runs, .272/.343/.531, 128 wRC+, 4.8 bWAR, 5.5 fWAR), two at his 2014-level (26 doubles, 22 home runs, .253/.320/.404, 107 wRC+, 3.3 bWAR, and 3.4 fWAR), , and three at his injury-shortened 2012-level (74 games, 14 doubles, 17 home runs, .289/.369/.527, 2.5 bWAR, 2.5 fWAR), he will accumulate a 29.3 bWAR (31.5 fWAR), giving him a career total of 69.3 bWAR (71.2 fWAR). Those numbers would place him favorably among the all-time greats.

Player

bWAR

Mike Schmidt

106.5

Eddie Mathews

96.4

Wade Boggs

91.1

George Brett

88.4

Chipper Jones

85.0

Brooks Robinson

78.3

Adrian Beltre

77.8

Paul Molitor

75.4

Ron Santo

70.4

Scott Rolen

70.0

Evan Longoria

69.3

Edgar Martinez

68.3

Graig Nettles

68.0

Average of 13 HOF Third Baseman

67.4

Longoria's career total would be above the average of the current 13 third baseman in Cooperstown. It would require him to to post above league-average production for the next eight seasons.

The Golden Age of Third Basemen

If this category was being labeled by the older members of the BBWAA, it would likely be given the title "Intangibles." That is, it is more subjective than quantifiable.

After this offseason, we appear to now be in the AL East's golden age of third baseman. Perennial MVP-candidates Longoria, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, and Pablo Sandoval now all play within the same division. A half-decade of them and their teams battling for the division in high-profile national games could enhance Longoria's profile. Will the rising tide lift Longoria's boat?

Longoria, as most know, has been pretty good in key moments. He owns a career .900 OPS in September, and there is the matter of this home run. If you remove the World Series his rookie season, he has a career postseason OPS of .860 with nine home runs in 25 games.

With David Price gone, Longoria is the face of the Rays franchise. A few indelible moments in primetime games could having a long-lasting effect.

Photo credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The Verdict

Will Evan Longoria be Tampa Bay's first Hall-of-Fame cap? Using our basic math and hoping for good health, Longoria could end up with a resume that looks roughly similar to below, with potential increases in All-Star games and Gold Gloves:

  • 325-360 home runs

  • 2,000 hits

  • 425-475 doubles

  • 800+ extra-base hits

  • Two Gold-Gloves

  • Two All-Star Games

  • 2008 AL Rookie-of-the-Year

These are the potential totals. It then becomes how voters want to cherry pick the numbers. He could end up with a better peak than Wright, Robinson and Molitor, more doubles than Schmidt and Santo, and more home runs than Brett, Boggs, Santo, and Robinson.

In my opinion, it will take at least three more seasons at his 2008 level, followed by a few seasons at his 2014 production. At that point, his peak and overall totals are entering the territory of the all-time greats.

However, if 2014 is Longoria's new level or the beginning of a decline, the Hall-of-Fame appears to be a long-shot. If that is the case, Longoria could be remembered like a Nomar Garciaparra: A player with a brilliant peak (43.0 WAR 7, 13th all-time for shortstops) whose drop-off was quick and steep (Garciaparra's career was 44.2 bWAR, 33rd all-time).

Longoria, to boil down 2,500 word, has some work to do to become Tampa's first player to be enshrined in Cooperstown.

Predicting the baseball future might be a fool's errand, but it is pretty damn fun.