Man on Fire: Tampa Bay Rays 3B Evan Longoria
Doesn't it ever get old after a while? All of the talk about third basemen, especially in the American League, is Miguel Cabrera this and Miguel Cabrera that. I mean, the dude may have an OBP in the Andromeda Galaxy and his homerun and line drive rates would make Roy Hobbs blush. I get it.
But he can't be the entirety of the conversation, right? As a result, the man who has fallen under the radar (especially with the Rays' third-worst average attendance in the majors) is third baseman Evan Longoria. If I called him the AL East's biggest superstar, you might roll your eyes.
There's a reason he's currently the No. 6 overall player on the numberFire Player Power Rankings though. And even more scary: it sure looks like these numbers are here to stay.
At first, Longoria's career-high .397 OBP may look a tiny bit confusing. His 20.1 percent strikeout rate is his highest since 2009. His 9.3 percent walk rate is his lowest since 2008. His 4.6 percent homerun rate is his lowest since 2010. Every single stats molecule in my brain wants to scream, "Run away!" (You should have spent more time in biology instead of math courses if you don't think stats molecules are a thing.)
Then take a closer look at Longoria's line drive rate. Longoria's best years seem to coincide with his highest percentage of balls in play going for line drives. 2011, the year he decided to stop hitting line drives and swung for the fences? He indeed had 31 homeruns, but his 16 percent line drive rate also contributed to career-lows in batting average (.244), batting average on balls in play (.239), and slugging percentage (.495).
Longoria, though, has come a long way since then. 23 percent of his balls in play this season have been hit for line drives, the highest such total since Longoria's rookie 2008 season. When coupled with making more contact than ever before - only 21 percent of his swings have been misses, the lowest percentage of his career - the ramifications have been huge for his statistics.
It makes sense that when you hit line drives, those line drives are often going to find the gap. In Longoria's case, that means a career-high 12.4 percent of his plate appearances have resulted in an extra-base hit, or roughly one every eight at-bats. That's the fifth-highest percentage in the majors; only Chris Davis, Mike Napoli, Mitch Moreland, and that Cabrera guy are better among players with enough appearances to qualify for a batting title.
That also means that when Longoria does hit balls into play, they're sticking. His .386 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) this season isn't only way above his .308 career average, it's also ninth among qualified major league players. The Rays as a team are slightly below the league average BABIP at .294.
Into the Future
Longoria's stats will likely dip some due to that high BABIP, but we still see him as one of the top fantasy options moving forward. Over the rest of this season, we see him with a Fantasy Score of 7.19, making him the 13th most valuable fantasy player the rest of the way.
Projected Rest of Season Stats
Given these stats, we expect Longoria's homerun rate to actually shoot up a tiny bit, closer to his 5.4 percent average from the past two seasons. With that in mind, Longoria's projected total output on the season is 34 total homeruns, good for the fifth-highest projection in the entire major leagues.
Even if his on-base percentage does falter a tiny bit, that power is more than enough to make up for it. And that 7.19 fantasy score? It places him as the third-most valuable third baseman the rest of the way, behind only Cabrera and a projected resurgence from Adrian Beltre.
At this point, Longoria's going to be hard to buy with his high production. But if you have him, I wouldn't sell, either. Barring injury, Longoria's production should continue, making him one of the most valuable fantasy options the rest of this season.