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Starting IX book excerpt: Evan Longoria is the Rays all-time captain

The third baseman was the easiest selection for the Rays all-time roster

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MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As the DRB community learned yesterday, I spent parts of the past five years putting together my debut book. It is a blend of a baseball history/baseball statistics/baseball randomness that is now available on Amazon (and is a mighty good holiday gift idea if you are still trying to think of a gift for the baseball fan in your life, or if you just have a bit of extra holiday cash for yourself).

In case you didn’t read Elizabeth’s excellent review of the book on the site yesterday, the set-up of the book is quite straight-forward: the best player at each position in each franchise’s history. Each modern franchise gets a chapter, and each chapter consists of the best catcher, first baseman, starting pitchers, etc. in the franchise’s history.

Here’s an example of the set-up of the book. The best third baseman in Rays franchise history (and all-time team captain) Evan Longoria, of course!

3B Evan Longoria (2008-pres.)

In the fall of 2013, I wrote an article for The Baseball Research Journal that focused on the future of baseball contracts, and Evan Longoria was one of my case studies (along with Elvis Andrus). Baseball (along with every other sport, it seems) has prospered in recent years from a generous windfall from massive TV contracts being signed by both individual teams, and the league as a whole. Major League Baseball has seen a lot of teams, even in smaller markets, look to lock up their young superstars earlier and earlier. It has taken a bite out of free agency, and in theory, it levels the playing field, since big market teams can’t just scoop up the best young talent on the market every offseason. However, if one of these contracts goes awry, and a player either severely underperforms for the length of the contract or can’t stay healthy, this can be a far bigger blow to a small market team.

The premise of my study was to find a historical comparison to Longoria, and use this player to attempt to predict Longoria’s future with the Rays. Using Baseball-Reference’s most similar player score, the best model for Longoria after his 2013 season was Scott Rolen. (Alan Trammell was the best fit for Elvis Andrus.) Then, using the current market value of a win (per WAR), which was about $5.5 million dollars at the time, I overlaid Rolen’s season-by-season WAR (having retired in 2012, Rolen had already played those “future seasons” that were upcoming for Longoria, having retired in 2012) with the entirety of Longoria’s contract.

Evan Longoria as Scott Rolen

Year rWAR Salary (Millions) $/WAR spent by Rays Projected Lg. Avg. $/WAR (Millions) Verdict
Year rWAR Salary (Millions) $/WAR spent by Rays Projected Lg. Avg. $/WAR (Millions) Verdict
2013 6.2 6 967.741 5.2 Big Bargain
2014 4.4 7.5 1,704,545 5.4 Definite Bargain
2015 8.9 11 1,235,955 5.5 Big Bargain
2016 1.5 11.5 7,666,666 5.7 Overpaid
2017 5.6 13 2,321,428 5.9 Definite Bargain
2018 1.6 13.5 8,437,500 6.1 Overpaid
2019 3.2 14.5 4,531,250 6.2 Underpaid
2020 3.7 15 4,045,045 6.4 Underpaid
2021 1.2 18.5 15,416,666 6.6 Hugely Overpaid
2022 3.9 19.5 5,000,000 6.8 Underpaid
2023 1.5 13 8,666,666 7 Slightly Overpaid
Total 41.7 143 3,429,256 6.1 Definite Bargain

*Note that Baseball-Reference has updated their WAR formula since this chart was made, so some of the WAR totals aren’t the same on Rolen’s player card now.

Longoria’s contract runs until 2022 with a team option and buyout clause for 2023, so using Scott Rolen’s corresponding seasons, this above chart helped to see what the Rays might expect from Longoria. It is not at all surprising that the contract is best for the Rays at the beginning of the deal and fades towards the end. That is the typical nature of these long-term deals, and it’s part of the risk.

But now that it has been five seasons since I wrote that piece, it’s interesting to compare the route Longoria’s career arc was “supposed” to take versus what he has actually done. For the Scott Rolen model, Longoria tallied 26.6 WAR in those five seasons, with two “Big Bargain” seasons, two “Definite Bargain” seasons and one “Overpaid” season.

In reality, Longoria tallied a total of 20.2 WAR, but was more consistent than Rolen, with his past four seasons all falling between 3.2 and 3.9 WAR – a solid, above-average starter and well worth his price tag. The deal has most certainly been a boon for the Rays, as Longoria was worth more than $160 million dollars from 2013-2017 alone, according to FanGraphswin values tool. Over those four seasons, the Rays actually paid Longoria $49.6 million. “I call that a bargain, the best I evahhhh had.”

Roger Daltry in Hamburg, Germany
Wikimedia Commons

Back to Longoria: interestingly enough, it wasn’t the Rays contract extension that made news as much as Longoria’s first contract. Longoria was inked to a long-term deal just six games into his major league career, one of the many cost-cutting attempts (most of them successful) by Andrew Friedman and the Rays front office. As Jonah Keri points out in The Extra 2%, Longoria was the “single most valuable commodity in the game in each of his first three seasons,” according to Dave Cameron’s “MLB Trade Value” Column for FanGraphs. As shown above, Longoria has slowed down a bit, but he is still posting seasons like he did in 2016 in which he hit .273 with 36 home runs, which the Rays will undoubtedly take from their 32-year-old defender of the hot corner.

Here’s the link to Starting IX: A Franchise-by-Franchise Breakdown of Baseball’s Best Players by DRB writer, Jim Turvey, once again, in case you are interested.