I Believe in Evan Longoria

There's still time left for the Giants third baseman.

When we go back to think about some of the best third basemen since the century began, there will be many people who forget just how good Evan Longoria was. He has compiled a near 57 rWAR in his career and had plenty of memorable moments in his career. At 35, Longoria’s career could be close to the beginning of the end. If so, it’s been a marvelous career that will get him some Cooperstown consideration. However, I believe that he has a little bit left in the tank and could help him lead the way to a career-defining year. I believe in Evan Longoria, and you should believe in him too. 

 

Not Enough Luck

Longoria spent years in Tampa Bay as a middle-of-the-order bat that provided a lot of protection to other key bats in their lineup. He was also the unusual case of being there for a long time until he met the fate that every famed member of that organization meets; being traded.

Since then, he has spent three seasons in San Francisco where he has struggled to produce. It doesn’t make much sense for me to tell you to buy into a guy who has produced a 100 wRC+ just one time over the last four years, but there’s something about his batted ball profile that makes him intriguing. 

Longoria doesn’t walk a lot anymore, so he relies pretty heavily on the quality of contact he produces and BABIP luck. He hasn’t posted a BABIP over .300 since 2015; but he posted a hard-hit rate over 40 each of the last two seasons, including a career-best 45.2% in 2020. That alone caught my eye. Then I saw that Longoria has underperformed his xwOBA by almost 40 points over the last two years. In 2020, he underperformed by 46 points which was the 13th highest mark in baseball last year.

A big reason for that is Longoria put the ball on the ground at the highest mark of his career. His average launch angle was the lowest of his career, which reflects that high groundball mark. That’s the key for him moving forward. Longoria can reach a potential 20 home run mark with 70-80 RBI in San Francisco if he just puts the ball in the air more. Like he does here. 

He had an 11.5 Barrel% in 2020, the highest mark since 2016. The cause for concern is the declining walk rate. While he’s still capable of good contact, Longoria doesn’t control the strike zone at an elite rate. However, Longoria was making more contact with pitches in the zone than he had been in the past. That led to more balls in play, but he still wasn’t picking up a lot of hits on those balls in play. How sustainable that approach is is a very good question; one that could determine how much you put into a potential comeback effort from him. 

One of the biggest skills in long-term success is the ability to control the strike zone. Longoria doesn’t have that, but as long as the quality of contact is good then it makes up for it. Longoria doesn’t have bad plate discipline either. While his low walk rate in 2020 looks worrisome, he’s around average in O-Swing% and was swinging less in 2020. It would be nice to see him work back towards his approach early in his career, but he’s so far removed from that I doubt it’s possible. Here is a list of names who had a lower xwOBA than Longoria in 2020. 

Longoria xwOBA Comparison Table

 

Two of those players finished in the top three in their respective leagues in the MVP race. The other, Brandon Nimmo is a top ten CF in baseball and underrated. It’s not fool-proof, as Longoria’s speed has taken a hit too. If he can’t get the ball in the air, he’s not going to beating out a lot of baseballs. He’s had a hot start to spring training and I hope that success will translate into the season. There’s still enough there though to believe that Longoria can still be a quality hitter, especially at third base.

 

The Defense Remains

While most mid 30’s players have to be moved off their position at some point, Longoria looks like he could be positioned at third for the near future. I mentioned that he has lost some speed on the basepaths, but Longoria remains as sharp as ever defensively.

He’s compiled 9 DRS and 15 OAA over the past two seasons. Longoria excels at moving to his right and could help any shortstop that moves over to San Francisco to replace Brandon Crawford if that happens this year. Mauricio Dubon has taken some action at the position and having an anchor defender at third base could help ease some concerns for any young shortstop.

We’ve seen shortstops whose defensive metrics might have been helped by some steady play from third baseman in the past. Matt Chapman’s range might have helped Marcus Semien’s improved defensive metrics during their time together in Oakland. In Elvis Andrus’s first year without Adrian Beltre, he struggled in the field. Adrian Beltre is exactly who I want to talk about here when we discuss Longoria.

Longoria is nowhere near the defender Beltre was at their respective peaks, but Beltre aged gracefully as a defender even when he couldn’t move around as well. If we assume Longoria is still an above-average defender, teams will want to keep him at third base for the time being. That’s good for him because it helps keep his options open while he gets older and doesn’t make his career come to a close quicker. Here’s a look at Beltre’s final three seasons in the field.

Adrian Beltre defensive Metrics

 

Beltre was 39 in his final season, four years older than Longoria is today. If Longoria can put up close to Beltre’s 2017-2018 defensive numbers he will remain at third base. The longer he can remain there, the longer he will play as I said. The longer he plays means the less likely he stays in San Francisco, which is probably the best option for him. 

 

On the Move

I am from Northern California; I’ve been to the Giants’ home field many times throughout my life. Barry Bonds making that park look like a little league park will forever blow my mind. People in the area have often described the Giants park as “where hitters go to die”.

Longoria is no stranger to that description. His best wRC+ as a Giant is 100. He’s had an OBP below .300 twice in his three years in the bay. The issue that the stadium presents is high fences and large gaps. Longoria doesn’t have the power to turn and burn on a pitcher 360 feet 20-25 times a year. San Francisco is unforgiving in its design and climate, so where could Longoria end up if he were traded? 

Longoria has two years left on his contract, and with seven million of the remaining roughly 38 million dollars on his contract being paid by the Tampa Bay Rays, there is some incentive for the Giants to trade him as well for a team to take him. He does have a third-year team option for 13 million dollars and a five-million-dollar buyout remaining.

The Giants are in an intriguing spot as a team. They are not good enough to compete with the Dodgers and Padres, and thus this season will likely fall short of a playoff spot as they have to play those teams 38 times. However, if expanded playoffs soon become the norm, the Giants are a team that could greatly benefit.

The team has the 15th best farm system according to Baseball America. That ranking is nearly 15 spots better than their ranking not even two years ago. The team is in a good position to make a move like trading Longoria to help bolster that system as they prepare to compete with the Dodgers and Padres. 

That idea hinges on a Longoria bounce back. If Longoria is failing, they will have to continue to eat the contract or trade him for less than what he could be worth. Either way, it might be better for him to get out of that park anyway. While I believe he can succeed there, it’s much more likely to happen if he gets traded. With a star-studded free-agent class coming, the Giants may look to offload big contracts at the deadline. Where could Longoria end up?

First, we should evaluate which teams could use a third baseman. Colorado is the obvious one but given the fact that they were adamant to not trade Arenado to a team in the division, not sure how likely they’d be to work with the Giants on a trade. Milwaukee doesn’t have a farm system that could be worth trading from right now unless the Giants look for a pure salary dump — which, under the assumption that Longoria is playing well, might not be the smartest move in the world. Teams are more frugal in their spending right now as complications from covid continue to be apparent. That could impact the market that Longoria has. 

I still believe in Evan Longoria and think he can make an impact in San Francisco. I do believe he’s more likely to see success once he leaves that park, however, and would be curious to see if the Giants do look to move on from him. It’s a big year in 2021 for the borderline Hall of Famer. Let’s see if he can rewrite his narrative. 

Photo by Justin Fine/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)

 

Max Greenfield

Former Intern for the Washington Nationals, now a Going Deep Writer analyzing the next possible breakout pitcher.

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