Evan Longoria is Missing the Best Part of His Game

Mike Trout has been baseball’s best and most dominant player since 2012, so a little earlier this year, when he encountered something of a slump, it was a newsworthy event. Trout seemed almost perfect in all things, so it raised more than a few eyebrows when he started striking out fairly often. Before Trout, there was no Trout, but between 2009 – 2011, no one accumulated more WAR than Evan Longoria. He was perhaps baseball’s best young player, and it’s not like he fell off a cliff after that; Trout was just better. But Longoria was an awesome young superstar, and he, too, seemed impervious to trouble. It would’ve been hard to imagine Longoria going through hard times.

Yet here we are now, and Longoria’s hit some hard times. Fortunately or unfortunately for him, it’s been partially masked by the whole Rays team dropping out of the race, and it’s not like Longoria’s been bad, but something’s been missing, something of great importance. He’s still just 28, so it’s probably too soon to talk about a decline, but to this point Longoria’s been without his greatest strength. And it’s a mystery as to why that is.

The defense is still there. Longoria’s always been awesome on defense. He’s not having unusual trouble making contact. He’s not chasing unusually often out of the zone. In terms of his skillset, Longoria doesn’t seem like a different player, but now check out some heat maps. On the left, we’ve got Longoria, from 2011 – 2013. On the right, we’ve got Longoria, this year. These are run-value heat maps by pitch location, where positive numbers are good and negative numbers are bad. I don’t need to call your attention to anything; your attention will be called.


All the samples, of course, are limited. We’ll never be able to get around that. But look at pitches inside. Used to be, Longoria punished those pitches. This year, he’s not just punishing them less — he’s not punishing them one bit. Against inside pitches, Evan Longoria in 2014 has been a disaster.

Let’s deal with all of Longoria’s batted balls, broken down by pitch location. In one category, we’ll look at pitches over the inner third, or beyond. In the other category, we’ll look at the remaining pitches. Basically, let’s split Longoria’s batted balls by inside pitches and non-inside pitches. The following graph will include both batted-ball batting average and batted-ball isolated slugging. This graph, to me, is an absolute shock.


This year, Longoria’s performance against inside pitches has plummeted. His batting average has tanked, and his power has also tanked. Against all the other pitches, Longoria has been more or less fine — his power’s been down a bit, but his average has been up a bit. Always, Evan Longoria has controlled the inner third. This season, Longoria’s greatest strength has been his greatest weakness.

Among right-handed batters, between 2011 – 2013, Longoria ranked 19th in batting average on inside pitches, at .378. Last season, he ranked 23rd. This season, he’s second-worst. He’s batted .204 on inside pitches, against last year’s .398.

And, among right-handed batters, between 2011 – 2013, Longoria ranked fourth in isolated slugging on inside pitches, at .428. Last season, he ranked seventh. This season, he’s second-worst. He’s at .056, against last year’s .406. Put another way, a year ago, Longoria’s slugging percentage on inside pitches was north of .800. This year he’s shy of .260, on more than 50 balls in play.

It’s been a catastrophe. Longoria has hit one inside pitch for a home run, but that’s it as far as power is concerned, and there also haven’t been enough singles. Of some note: Longoria’s groundball rate on inside pitches is the highest it’s ever been. And also, you figure inside pitches should get pulled, deep. Here are Longoria’s rates of balls hit in the air to left on pitches in:

2008: 34% balls in play hit in air to left
2009: 30%
2010: 30%
2011: 30%
2012: 28%
2013: 30%
2014: 15%

Before, Longoria was extremely consistent. Of all the balls he hit fair on inside pitches, he hit about 30% of them in the air toward left. That’s where power would come from. This season, that rate has been halved, and here’s some visual help, from Baseball Savant. First, Longoria against inside pitches from 2011 – 2013. Then, Longoria against inside pitches in 2014.



There’s just nothing to left, and nothing to left-center. It would be one thing if Longoria had always been like this, but he’s actually been the opposite. These are the pitches Longoria should’ve been driving. He’s driven almost none of them, in particular to the pull side, and it’s curious. It makes you wonder about his mechanics, his approach, and his health. There’s nothing that’s immediately apparent, but the numbers themselves all but beg for further investigation. You start with the data, and you look for an explanation, until you’re satisfied that an explanation exists, even if you have to settle on bad luck. For some reason, Longoria hasn’t been turning on pitches in, and that used to be something he did better than almost anyone else.

I’ll say this — that one home run came a week ago, against 93 mile-per-hour heat. Longoria yanked it on a line, and then on Tuesday, Longoria pulled another inside pitch for a liner, this time one that found a glove. These could be signs that Longoria is getting things straightened out. You’d expect him to do that, if there isn’t anything deeply wrong; with a guy that young and that good, it takes a lot of evidence to believe a strength has become a vulnerability. Our assumptions should always start with, good young players remain good young players.

So it could just be an ugly-looking slump, a slump that happens to be ending. In which case, nothing to really worry about. But the numbers are still striking, and so Longoria isn’t out of the woods. He needs to punish those inside pitches consistently, again, or else he’s not going to be the same player. And the Rays are really fond of the awesome version of Evan Longoria. If this is the start of something, it’s hard to imagine how Longoria could turn out better for it. When one strength disappears, it’s tough to find a new one.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

20 Responses to “Evan Longoria is Missing the Best Part of His Game”

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  1. tz says:

    Has he been doing something like Matt Adams trying to avoid any shift?

    Haven’t seen the Rays much this year, but if Longoria’s trying to inside-out the inside pitches he’s correcting something that doesn’t appear to need correcting, based upon that pre-2014 spray chart.

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  2. Andy says:

    Aren’t the inside nine boxes the strike zone? In which case, this year and 11-13 he has actually been much more effective vs. pitches outside the zone, in and out, which doesn’t make sense.

    Also, if he has been so effective on inside pitches in the past, how did pitches discover his new weakness so soon and feed him so many pitches there? I would have thought they would have avoided that area as much as possible.

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    • Andy says:

      “how did pitchers discover…”

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    • CJ says:

      The heat maps, I believe, include results broken down by pitch, not by contact. If so, most batters will have positive value on pitches outside the zone; those pitches are usually balls and good for the batter.

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    • what...? says:

      My understanding is that these maps measure run-value, which includes balls/strikes/walks, not just balls in play.

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    • Anon21 says:

      Is he being compared to league average? If so, he might be “bad” on pitches outside the zone, but good relative to other hitters.

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      • BJ Birdie says:

        I believe the Heat map shows run value on pitch in square “A” vs average run value of all pitches (both in and out of zone).

        Pitches outside the zone are balls usually so that is good for the batter, pitches in the zone are usually strikes and usually good for the pitcher.

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  3. Felix Escalona says:

    Great article on Longo. But perhaps more concerning as a Rays fan is the organization’s inability to develop young hitters from within. Other than Longo and Jennings, this is a team assembled from trades and FA signings. A small market team with poor record of positional player development is problematic.

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    • mailman says:

      “A small market team with poor record of positional player development is problematic.”

      Retort: Oakland. They’ve drafted/developed position players just as poorly.

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  4. obvious says:

    Without CC Sabathia to prey on is it any wonder his numbers aren’t doing as well?

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  5. Tom Cranker says:

    Alternative explanation: Longo has been possessed by the ghost of A-Rod wandering aimlessly around Florida.

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  6. hscer says:

    It’s the good part, right? He’s leaving out the good part of his game.

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  7. Tom B says:

    Great post. Something is definitely wrong with Longo so far this season. He seems to be trying to go the other way more than ever before. He was never one to use the whole field all that much. Maybe Maddon, master of the shifts, is trying to get him to beat them? Anyway, he just does not look like the same hitter at all this. Defense is shakier as well.

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    • pft says:

      He has no contracts left to play for, his last extension was the last one he ever does and its all guaranteed. Never really developed as expected after the first awful extension, but now maybe he declines. Teams should consider the consequences of rip-off deals with greedy agents who represent young players who don’t know better. Longo might have been a better player without it, at least until he got to free agency.

      Never really was a huge HR hitter although he hit a few. With 2 strikes he goes the other way to beat the shift, which makes sense

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  8. pft says:

    Its seems to me that when players sign extensions at a young age, or even a bit older with free agent deals, their development and/or production take a hit, at least for a year or two, and sometimes longer. Not always, but often enough that teams perhaps should take this under consideration.

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    • Bearman says:

      I cant think of anyone proving the “walk year” theory correct. So I doubt players stop trying when they are under a contract.

      Old free agents take a hit because they get older, and an overwhelming amount of young players under contract work out.

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  9. J Dub says:

    If you want to see something else that is striking, look at his groundball %’s. He is hitting twice as many grounders and half as many flies as last season. Which explains why his slugging avg has dropped 150 points and he has become a singles hitter. I suspect it may be something physical because this just dosen’t happen to players in their age 28 season.

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  10. JKB says:

    Would cataracts do this?

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  11. BB says:

    Does anyone know where to find the raw batted ball data by pitch location? I know it’s available on brooksbaseball in heatmap format, but is it available in a table anywhere? Thank you! This is an excellent article.

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