Evan Longoria Is Sacrificing Contact for Power -- and It's Working
Give and take.
It's a common theme in life, and it's based on the idea that improving one area often comes at the expense of another.
Relating this to the baseball world, we have to look no further than to Tampa Bay Rays' third baseman Evan Longoria.
Over the first six seasons of his career, Longoria was the type of "do-it-all" hitters that managers love. His .238 ISO showed his ability to drive the ball, and his .357 on-base percentage proved he was more than just a power hitter.
Then the 2014 and 2015 seasons rolled around.
Longoria's ISO in 2014 was .151, and it was just slightly better (.166) in 2015. These were the first two times his ISO ever fell below .200 for a season.
His wOBA and wRC+ -- two stats aimed at evaluating a hitter's overall offensive contribution -- suffered as a result. Longoria posted a .316 wOBA and 105 wRC+ in 2014 and followed with a .327 wOBA and 110 wRC+ in 2015, both which set new career-worst marks each season.
Longoria's power drought was hurting his overall game, and based on what he's done so far this season, it appears as though he's actively tried to bring his power back -- and it's working.
Return of the Pop
Longoria owns a .237 ISO in 2016, which ranks 30th among qualified hitters. Considering he only has 5 extra-base hits and no home runs over his last 66 plate appearances, his ISO is even more impressive.
Before his recent power slump, Longoria had a .274 ISO, which -- if he were able to maintain -- would be the 11th-best ISO in baseball this season. Oh, and he still has 18 home runs on the year, which is 4 less than he hit in all of 2014 and 3 less than his total last season.
Here's his most recent tater:
.@Evan3Longoria's 9 HR in June rank 1st in the AL and tie for @MLB lead. #LongoingBack2Cali https://t.co/xd21pMdb0Fhttps://t.co/vW9y3GWsew
— #VoteLongo (@RaysBaseball) June 21, 2016
So how is he managing to hit for so much more power this season. Well, to put it simply: it looks like he's trying to hit for more power this season.
Longoria, a righty, entered the 2016 season with a 43.9 pull rate (Pull%), which means exactly what it sounds like -- the amount of balls he puts in play that are pulled to the left side. That number has jumped to 45.2% this season, but what's more telling is the amount of balls he's hit to the opposite field (Oppo%).
Longoria's Oppo% has fallen exactly 4.0% this season from what his career average was entering the year, and his 19.2 Oppo% is the 15th-lowest clip among all hitters. It seems as though he's made an effort to stop going the other way as much, but it's just one part of the power equation.
You have to hit the ball in the air to hit a home run, and fly balls go for home runs much more often than line drives do. It's science.
Well, Longoria seems to have figured this out. His fly-ball rate (FB%) is up to 47.2%, the fifth-highest mark in baseball. Longoria is also squaring up more balls, posting a 38.8% hard-hit rate, which ranks 26th among qualified hitters.
Pulling the ball more, hitting more fly balls and hitting them harder has, predictably, led to an increase his power numbers. Unfortunately, Longoria's resurgent season hasn't been enough to help Tampa Bay win more games.
Most homers hit in team losses:
Nelson Cruz 10
Adam Duvall 10
Jake Lamb 10
Byung-ho Park 9
David Ortiz 9
Marcus Semien 9
Evan Longoria 9
— High Heat Stats MLB (@HighHeatStats) July 6, 2016
While the Rays find themselves with the fourth-fewest wins in baseball this season, Longoria has returned to his productive ways. His .356 wOBA and 125 wRC+ are right in line with his impressive career totals (.357 wOBA and 127 wRC+).
Longoria's power is back, but at what expense?
Less Contact, More Swings and Misses
As the header indicates, Longoria has seen the percentage of pitches he makes contact with drop significantly. His current mark of contact rate of 73.8% is well below his career average and is the 30th-lowest clip in baseball this season.
The lack of contact can be partially attributed to his swinging-strike rate, the percentage of strikes he swings at and misses. Longoria entered 2016 with a 9.8% swinging-strike rate, and it's jumped to 12.7% this year, which is just outside the top 30. Surprisingly, this increase hasn't had a significant effect on his strikeout rate, as it's climbed just 1.8%.
The give and take of more power for less contact has created positive results for Longoria. We already touched on the improvement of his wOBA and wRC+, but his slash line has also seen a positive change. Longoria is slashing .283/.333/.520 this season compared to .261/.324/.419 combined over the past two campaigns.
His on-base percentage hasn't seen as significant of a jump because his 7.1% walk rate this season is a career low, but I'm guessing Longoria is happy to sacrifice more walks for more power, just as he has been willing to sacrifice contact.
Longoria is on pace for a 5.7 fWAR -- something only 13 batters reached or surpassed in 2015 -- and it would be his highest total since 2013. Part of this is due to him still playing defense at a high level.
Longoria's 13.2 UZR/150 is fifth best among third baseman this season. Going by our rest-of-season projections, he might need to keep relying on that defense to amass value, because we expect his offensive output to slow down.
Our projections forecast Longoria to post a .449 slugging percentage over the remaining course of the season while hitting 11 more home runs. This would give him 29 home runs and a .449 slugging percentage for the year. It would be his most long balls since 2013, but the slugging percentage would check in well below his career mark of .488.
He's already shown the ability to reinvent his swing, so if more trouble arises, don't be surprised to see if Longoria has more tricks up his sleeve -- like the one he showed us during Wednesday's game against the Los Angeles Angels.
Made you miss. #FinalVote pic.twitter.com/CbeECSXinU
— MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) July 7, 2016