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The Giants’ Not-So-Shiny New Toy

The Giants made a big splash by acquiring Evan Longoria, owner of three All-Star nominations, three Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger, and the 2008 AL Rookie of Year. I will come right out and admit that I have hardly spent any time thinking about Longoria at all through his 10-year career. As a fan of an NL West team, the Rays are about as far away from my realm of focus as you can get. Throw in the fact that they are a small-market team dwarfed by the Yankees and Red Sox, and Longoria simply hasn’t made a huge impression on me.

After reacquainting myself with his player page, I realized how much I have been missing. Longoria has amassed almost 50 WAR in his career so far, placing him on the bubble of many Hall of Fame stats despite being only 32 years old. He has avoided any disastrous seasons, as his lowest WAR total was 2.2, and that came in a 2012 season when he only played in 74 games. Almost as impressive as his WAR totals – that 2012 season has been the only season in 10 years that he missed significant time due to injury. In the past five years, he has played in more games (798) than anyone in the MLB. He has been the epitome of health and consistency for a decade.

Longoria has earned his value by being very well-rounded. He provides significant value with his bat, as his career wRC+ mark of 123 matches up with the likes of Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Altuve, and Mookie Betts, all extremely accomplished hitters that have yet to enter their late-career decline phases. As the three Gold Gloves imply, Longoria is also an impressive fielder, with career marks of 75 DRS and 89.1 UZR. While not a massive base-stealing threat, he has shown enough speed and baserunning intelligence to provide slightly above-average baserunning value. Simply put: the dude is good at playing baseball, and he’s been proving it for an entire decade now.

As impressive as that resume is, the Giants don’t get to enjoy any of his past accomplishments. They didn’t trade for 2008-2017 Evan Longoria, they traded for 2018-2022 Evan Longoria. So now the question becomes: Is Evan Longoria still good? Jeff briefly touched on this immediately after the trade, but I wanted to take a deeper look.

At 32 years old, he is past the typical peak years for most baseball players, and in Longoria’s case, he already sustained a pretty clear peak over his first six seasons (ages 22-27). As Jeff noted, he put up a wRC+ of 135 during this time; compare that to his four seasons since then (ages 28-31), when his wRC+ has dropped to 108. Don’t get me wrong – 108 is still good! It’s just not the elite All-Star player we saw at the front of his career. His defense has followed the same trajectory, as he put up +79 DRS and +78.4 UZR over his first six seasons, then dropped to -4 DRS and +10.7 UZR over his last four seasons.

This is a familiar story: good baseball player gets older, becomes worse baseball player. But it’s so familiar that it can also be a trap – Longoria might end up following the Adrian Beltre career path, who posted a 6-WAR season at 37 years old. Looking at the numbers, though, I just can’t make myself believe that Longoria is anything more than a useful starter right now, and one that will shortly become a below-average player.

Longoria’s strikeout rate immediately jumped out to me, as he only struck out 16.1% of the time last year, setting a new career low, almost 4% below his career average. This is promising! In an era of increasing strikeouts, Longoria is figuring out how to put more balls in play, giving him more chances of getting on base. Of course, this line of thinking requires that he is trading strikeouts for quality batted balls, and considering his ISO last year sat 50 points below his career average, it didn’t look like this was the case. After digging deeper into some plate discipline numbers, it became very obvious to me what was happening.

2013 was Longoria’s last star-caliber season. The following year, his wRC+ dropped from 132 to 105, with a corresponding spike in Swing%. All of a sudden, Longoria was much more aggressive, swinging at more pitches both inside and outside of the zone. And especially in 2017, he seemed to be focusing intently on putting the ball in play, with a large spike in Contact% despite seeing the 2nd lowest Zone% in his career. Some people are able to cut strikeouts by controlling the strike zone better, but it looks like Longoria was cutting strikeouts by swinging more often and making poor contact on bad pitches. Consider his batted-ball distribution:

The first big red flag here is the red line along the bottom. Once again, starting in 2014, we start seeing a worrisome trend as he began hitting more and more infield flies. All his improvements in strikeout rate are erased here, as infield flies are essentially automatic outs and are just as bad. The other interesting tidbit in this graphic is the interplay between his GB% and FB% the past two years. Longoria had a mini-offensive resurgence in 2016, and it looks like that can be attributed to him lifting the ball more often. In 2017, he lost all of his FB% gains and then some, driving more balls into the ground than ever before.

Jeff also touched on the relevant Statcast data. Longoria’s exit velocity dropped significantly last year, as did his rate of barrels and xwOBA. There was nothing fluky going on for Longo in 2017 – he was swinging more often but making worse contact, and more of his batted balls were either going into the ground or popped up in the infield.

Is a turnaround completely out of the question? Of course not, nothing is out of the question. Perhaps a change of scenery will provide a spark for the 32-year-old. Perhaps he will be motivated to prove to the baseball world that the Giants made a good trade, and he will work harder than ever to make it back to All-Star levels. Even if he simply sustains his current production, he is still a 2-3 win player right now. But the Giants need more than that, and we’re already four years into a significant decline for Longoria. Both his bat and his glove are on the wrong side of the age curve, and it looks like the Giants just added another expensive, aging veteran to throw onto the pile.