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The Curious Case of Evan Longoria

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O Captain! My Captain!

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Evan Longoria turned 30-years old this past October, and has just begun start his 9th MLB season with the Rays.

Before he hit the big 3-0, there have been multiple articles about his declining power, all expressing doubt he could return to All Star status. In retrospect, that narrative didn't tell the full story of his season.

Longo actually posted a .161 ISO  in 2015, which is a tick higher than his .151 ISO rate posted in 2014, and continued to be an incredibly productive player for the Rays.

A finalist for the gold glove, his 4.2 fWAR trailed only Kevin Kiermaier's 5.5 mark on the team, although much of that is supported by his defense.

Can we tell whether Longoria's bat is actually in decline? How bad was his 2015 season?

The world on his shoulders

In order to start our look at his offense, here's what DRaysBay alum Bradley Woodrum had to say about Longoria's 2015 on Fangraphs:

Longoria, once reliable for excellent seasons with both the bat and the glove, has now posted two seasons well beneath that level in both facets of the game.

Trading a seven win Longo for a four win Longo is a tough exchange, but now -- entering his age-30 season -- could very well be the harbinger of his steady decline in the years to come. His isolated slugging percentage and (likely as a result) his walk rate have been creeping downward since their peaks in 2011. And until his can hit the ball with authority again, pitchers will not be giving him as many walks.

That being said, a four-win Longo is still the envy of a many a team. His contract won't hit $15 million until 2020, and his two-year lull in offense may be attributable to lingering injury issues. And while the metrics may not have glistened for Longo, results from Tom Tango's Fan Scouting Report (67 overall rating) suggest Longoria is still one of the best defenders at his position.

The change in walk rate mentioned above is concerning, but going into 2016,Longo is hopeful that he won't have to do as much, hoping that this year's line up will be better able to generate offense.

Let's take a look at Longoria's previous three seasons.

Year PA BB% K% ISO BABIP wOBA wRC+ DRS UZR/150 fWAR
2013 693 10.1% 23.4% .230 .312 .360 132 12 16.2 6.5
2014 700 8.1% 19.0% .151 .285 .316 105 -5 0.6 3.4
2015 670 7.6% 19.7% .161 .309 .327 110 -1 12.3 4.2

It looks as if 2015 was almost a bounce back year for Longoria, posting improved ISO, wOBA and wRC+ in fewer plate appearances.

On the flip side, he did post a slightly higher K% and continued his downward trend of walking at a career low rate, which could be attributed to his trying to do too much at the plate. Let's take a closer look:

Year Z-Swing% Z-Contact% O-Swing% O-Contact% SwStr% GB% LD% FB%
2013 61.8% 83.4% 25.0% 62.2% 9.6% 36.8% 18.6% 36.9%
2014 68.4% 84.7% 31.6% 63.8% 10.7% 39.0% 20.4% 40.6%
2015 67.8% 84.9% 31.1% 66.8% 10.1% 39.0% 20.6% 40.4%

Longo swung at fewer pitches in and outside of the zone in 2015, as compared to the previous two years, and made contact on more of those pitches as well.

The biggest increase came on pitches outside the zone. Longo also swung at significantly fewer pitches in 2013 compared to last season. The increased swinging percentage explains the decrease in walks. It also supports the reports that he felt like he needed to do more.

Attacking Longoria

Now that we have an idea of some of the trends to look for, lets see how MLB pitchers attacked Longoria in 2015, and how he responded.

Against RHP

This is a bizarre zone map. Longo saw an absurd number of pitches down and away from him in hard to reach places. The strategy seems to be working, as we've seen previously in his increase in O-Contact%. Lets see how Longo fared against RHP.

Well we can see why pitchers attacked Longo in the bottom outside corner. Longoria saw 568 pitches in that bottom outside quadrant, and he swung on 175 of them. That's good for 30.8%, which is a tick below his 2015 O-Contact%. Longo's K% in that corner is a staggering 34.8%.

What is alarming is the high whiff per swing percentage at the top of the zone, especially when pitchers weren't targeting that location. There is some cause for concern that RHP will start targeting that area, but a hopeful silver lining is that Longo doesn't miss at the top of the strike zone. So if/when a pitcher misses, Longo can make some loud contact.

Against LHP

We see similar strategies when it comes to LHP, but but even more pronounced. Lefties pounded outside the zone, keeping the ball away on the left side and bottom portion.

Quite a difference than versus RHP. We can again see the reasoning behind the LHP plan of attack, with Longoria missing on 40.2% (33/82) of those 186 pitches at the bottom part of the zone. We also have a little bit of concern as Longo is also missing on pitching up in the zone, but not as much as with RHP. As expected, Longoria is hitting well with pitches in the strike zone against LHP

Seeing the number of whiffs/swings against both LHP and RHP is concerning, but it does fall in line with the theory that Longoria felt as if he had to do too much. He is not missing pitching inside the zone.  Hitting with Pearce or Dickerson behind him, this year he can afford to take more of those outside pitches.

Looking forward

Projection PA BB% K% ISO BABIP wOBA wRC+ AVG OBP SLG OPS fWAR
Steamer 650 8.4% 20.3% .178 .291 .325 109 .256 .323 .434 .757 4.1
ZiPS 628 8.3% 20.5% .176 .296 .324 108 .260 .325 .436 .761 3.3
Projection PA R HR RBI SB AVG OBP SLG OPS fWAR
PECOTA 645 77 26 87 3 .259 .344 .449 .793 4.2

Good news everyone! ZiPS and Steamer both have a higher ISO rate for Longoria than 2014 and 2015!

Even PECOTA is projecting more power at a .449 SLG compared to .404 in 2014 and 435 in 2015. PECOTA does take in a three year history into his projection systems, which would include Longoria's fantastic 2013, but it is encouraging that ZiPS and Steamer are projecting the same thing.

Both PECOTA and Steamer are more optimistic that Longoria will perform closer to his 2015 than 2016, and staying a top 10 3B in the MLB. PECOTA is more optimistic than Steamer, saying that Longoria will post clost to .800 OPS for the year, with a decent spike in OBP and SLG.

All three projections systems are projecting higher walks for Longoria, with Steamer and ZiPS posting BB% numbers closer to his 2014 rate of 8.1%. PECOTA is more bullish on Longo's walks with a .344 OBP which is right in line with his .348 career mark.

Conclusion

There has always been talks about Longoria's declining power, and how the Rays should consider trading Longoria this year.

I'm here to tell you that it is far too early to call it quits with Longo.

This off-season saw the addition of Dickerson, Pearce, Miller, and Morrison, all who will provide protection to Longoria. Taking the pressure of of Longo will allow him to take more walks and not feel like he has to make something happen every time at the plate.

All of this isn't even considering his defensive contributions. According to Fangraphs, Longoria posted a 7.1 UZR, 12.3 UZR/150, and a 9.3 Def rating, which is good for top 10 in MLB across the board. If you include every season from 2010, Longoria ranks no lower than 2nd defensively in the league in those same categories.

Will we get the "old" Longoria? Maybe! But most likely not, and that's okay.

We still have a franchise player, under a team friendly contract who is defensively still elite. With a little help, I think we will see new light from our superstar.