Earlier this week, former Rays and current Giants third baseman Evan Longoria vocalized some concerns about the state of free agency via his Instagram account.
In the post, Longoria sounded off against the current state of analytics-driven player contracts, going as far as to accuse organizations of using data to devalue players, and taking a stand for his fellow athletes.
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We are less then a month from the start of spring and once again some of our games biggest starts remain unsigned. Such a shame. It’s seems every day now someone is making up a new analytical tool to devalue players, especially free agents. As fans, why should “value” for your team even be a consideration? It’s not your money, it’s money that players have worked their whole lives to get to that level and be deserving of. Bottom line, fans should want the best players and product on the field for their team. And as players we need to stand strong for what we believe we are worth and continue to fight for the rights we have fought for time and time again.
And he’s defending his perspective as well. Like this interaction with a Red Sox fan:
Nobody takes your salary when you’re in a “measurable” decline do they? You probably get paid and raised based on previous performance, like we all hope to do. https://t.co/dhfWJHbIk2— Evan Longoria (@Evan3Longoria) January 27, 2019
Why should fans be listening to Longoria, a player who has yet to experience free agency in his major league career?
Because he is a player who signed one of those analytics-driven contracts, and who is being well compensated not just among his peers, but as a Hall of Fame caliber player — and not just in the Harold Baines sense. Yes, I know, you haven’t taken in enough Hall of Fame content lately, stick with me.
In a twist of fate, those very same analytics Longoria belies, which fueled his two contract extensions, may also back him for enshrinement. So, as Brian Kenny would say, ‘Let’s give Evan Longoria some Cooperstown Justice.’
Longoria was a star from the second he put on a Rays uniform.
In his 2008 Rookie of the Year campaign, Longoria showed that he could hit, slashing .272/.343/.530 — good for a 128 wRC+. Despite playing only 122 games with the big league club, he still managed to tally 27 home runs. He also played superb defense, leading big league third basemen in Defensive Runs Above Average (17.9).
The Rays knew what they had in Longoria, and locked him up in April of 2008 to a contract extension few saw coming. And as for the results? In his debut season, the analytics work in his favor.
After Longo’s rookie season, he went off, putting up three consecutive 6 fWAR seasons from 2009-11. That’s three consecutive MVP caliber years. During this time, he also put up a robust 136 wRC+, second among third basemen (hello Kevin Youkilis). His glove started to get some recognition, netting him two of his three Gold Gloves in ‘09 and ‘10. But that doesn’t matter, we’re talking analytics here! In terms of fWAR, nobody, I repeat, NOBODY, was more valuable than Evan Longoria, and it wasn’t all that close.
Overall, filtering all players since 1980 who played in the majors prior to age 26, Longoria has the 15th highest WAR, tied with Tim Raines.
In 2012, Longo started to decline, if only slightly. Injuries plagued what looked to be his best offensive season, one which he produced a career high 146 wRC+ in 74 games. But for the first time in his career, his glove trended negatively. A healthy Longoria bounced back in 2013, however, as he enjoyed his final year among the game’s elite, giving the Rays 5.5 fWAR.
Over his full 6 year peak, Longoria bested all players who played the majority of their games at the hot corner in both wRC+ (135) and Defensive Runs Above Average (73.3). His 34.0 fWAR was second only to two time MVP and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera’s 35.9, this even with Cabrera playing 143 more games than Longoria in this stretch. Cabrera needed an entire season’s worth games to be 1.9 fWAR more valuable.
Still, the analytics work in his favor.
His career (so far)
But as we’ve seen with some recent players such as Johan Santana and Nomar Garciaparra (both of whom fell of the ballot quickly), a great peak alone isn’t always enough to get a player in the hall (unless of course, your name is Sandy Koufax).
So how does Longoria’s career stack up?
Outside of his peak, he’s been good, if even underrated. Since ‘13, he’s been mostly a league average hitter, outside of his 36 homer outburst in 2016. His 109 wRC+ is far from what it was, but it’s still respectable, and his glove has still been good, but not great (2017 gold glove notwithstanding). In terms of overall value, he’s averaged nearly 3.0 fWAR per season. Again, not great, but safely above average.
Despite the clear decline, It’s safe to say that from the day he entered the show until now, Longoria has been a top 5, even top 3 third baseman. He really was that good. Since his rookie season, only 5 players have been more valuable than him in terms of fWAR — his 48.7 mark is only outranked by Mike Trout (64.7), Joey Votto (56.0), Miguel Cabrera (51.1), Robinson Cano (49.0) and Adrian Beltre (48.7). And those five are solid Hall of Famers. Among third basemen, that’s good for 32nd all time right now.
Still, I’d say, the analytics work in his favor.
If you prefer Baseball-Reference WAR and the JAWS standard, Longoria so far has slashed — if you will — 51.9/40.9/46.4 in terms of bWAR/WAR7/JAWS in his career. If he were to retire today, he would rank 24th, 17th and 21st all time among third baseman in those respective categories.
Among average hall of famers at the position, his peak rates well, but he has some work to do as far as his longevity is concerned.
Evan Longoria vs HOF third basemen
|Avg HOF 3B||68.4||43.0||55.7|
Assuming Longoria plays out what’s left of his contract (5 more years) and continues to be at least a league average player (2.0 WAR/year), that gives him a career line of 61.9/40.9/51.4.
That’s still below the standard, but much more palatable for the new wave of voters, which are only increasing — after all, he won’t appear on the ballot until at least 2029.
To make the hall, it will take something more than two wins per season. A 51.4 total JAWS projection would put him in the same breath as guys like Frank ‘Home Run’ Baker (who is a hall of famer), Greg Nettles, Buddy Bell and Ken Boyer (near misses who are worth second looks), but that may not be too great a concern.
Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA system gives Evan Longoria a similarity score of 95 to Adrian Beltre, and as Longoria approaches his age-33 season, it’s interesting to note that Beltre has averaged well over four wins per season since turning 33.
Looking back on Longoria’s career, it’s easy to forget how great he really was.
His peak, certainly hall of fame worthy, was short. And his career, at least to this point, leaves you wondering what could’ve been. But with a deeper look and a little help from some analytics, we can paint a much clearer picture of how he compares to the best of the best.
While he still has some work to do to make a hall of fame career (even a debatable one), I think we can all agree is not debatable is that he’s had no shortage of hall of fame moments. The moments, after all, are what put players over the top.
Moments. Like. This.
Whether Longoria likes the analytics or not, they’re here to stay. They’ve given him a career, the chance to play for a winning team during his peak, and, when it’s all said and done, will give him, at the very least, a conversation, when it’s his turn to be considered for enshrinement in Cooperstown.
After all, they do work in his favor.