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Longoria’s down year isn’t as surprising as it might seem

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The Giants acquired Evan Longoria in large part with their eyes on his power and defense. But less than a season into his career in Orange and Black, neither are quite as advertised.

This shouldn’t be much of a surprise.

As a team with an elite infield missing just one piece to make a Yahtzee!, who ranked last in the majors in home runs (128) in 2017, Longoria seemed a perfect fit for San Francisco last winter.

So perfect, in fact, that the Giants were willing to pay $73.5 million of the remaining $88 million on his contract with Tampa Bay for the former Rookie of the Year’s mid-30s, and give up No. 1 prospect and potential third baseman of the future, Christian Arroyo, in their single-mindedness to win at least one more time with the band still together — guys like Buster Posey, TheBrandons and Madison Bumgarner — in the tail end of their primes. The trade offered the additional upside of an $11 million dump of Denard Span’s salary.

Maybe the Giants brain trust saw a guy who hit 20 homers and won a Gold Glove last year and said, ‘Bingo!’

But it’s been anything but. 

The pitcher-friendly confines of AT&T Park and its thick marine layer can only factor so much into Longoria’s decrease in power. He’s hit just 13 home runs in his inaugural season in a Giants uniform, and six came in April. Since then, he’s plateaued.

Even with that spring power, he slashed just .255/.284/.520 in March/April. His high-water mark for the season came in May, when he hit for a slightly improved .268/.297./464 with four homers.

Overall, he’s hit .245 on the season, and he’s not getting on base either. His walk percentage is down from 6.8 to 4.0 while his strikeout percentage has jumped from 16.1 to 19.9.

And yeah, he missed about six weeks when Marlins righty Dan Straily sent him to the shelf with an 89-mph fastball that fractured his left fifth metacarpal June 14. But as noted, he wasn’t setting the world on fire before he got plunked  — .246/.278/.434 — and since returning in late July, his performance is a pretty much identical .247/.291/372.

But 2018 shouldn’t be a major shock. If you discount his fluke 2016, Longoria’s offense has been on a generally downward trend for five years.

In 2016 Longo hit .273, swatted 36 homers and had a .127 OPS+, and a 123 wRC+, which was good timing for a guy with the lofty and equally nebulous title of ‘Face of the Rays Franchise’ on his 30th revolution around the sun, as it supplied the additional leverage he would need to sign a six-year, $100 million extension in the offseason.  

Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, his burst of power took an immediate nosedive. He proceeded to hit 16 fewer homers and five fewer doubles in 2017. On the surface, it didn’t appear catastrophic, though, in some ways it was a return to his normal. He normally hit around 20 homers in the years before.

But a closer look confirmed that 2017 wasn’t the fluke, 2016 was, and otherwise his production had been steadily dropping off for a while:

oWAR* wRC+ ISO wOBA  OPS+
2014    3.8     105 .151    .316     107
2015    3.5     109 .166    .327     112
2016    4.8     123 .248    .350     127
2017    2.5     96 .163    .312     100
2018    0.7     89 .171    .299     88

*offensive wins above replacement

So, the decreased production with the Giants isn’t a factor of getting AT&T’d or the change of scenery. Things were already trending in this direction for ‘Longo.’

But hey, what about those three shiny Gold Gloves of his? He packed those in a U-Haul when he switched to the Pacific Time Zone, right? Well, like his six homers in the first month of the 2018 season, he racked up six errors in that time. He has 14 on the season, matching his career-high, last achieved in 2011. 

To be fair, the ‘error’ can be a subjective stat of questionable value, but he did win his third Gold Glove last year, so what gives? Well, he had 3.3 defensive wins above replacement and a 2.7 UZR last year, while the last time he won a Gold Glove in 2010 he had 14.4 defensive wins above replacement and a 12.1 UZR. So it’s a fair bet that the Gold Glove award is equally (if not more) subjective than the official scorekeeper’s “error.” Coaches and managers are responsible for the majority of the vote, while SABR Defensive Index accounts for just 25 percent.

Putting aside metrics reliant on humans, his defensive wins above replacement this season is -4.7 and his UZR is -6.0. I think it’s safe to say, and to the Giants’ credit, a cliff-drop of this magnitude would have been harder to predict than his 2018 offensive drop-off.

One explanation could be the fact that with the Rays he got to rest his legs more consistently. What looked like a guy who played nearly every day for Tampa Bay was in fact a guy who played 11 of his 160 games in 2015 at DH, 8 of 160 at DH in 2016, and 14 of 156 at DH last year.

Now at age 32, the Giants were looking for him to be their everyday third baseman. Certainly they had plenty of guys on the bench who could (and did) offer days off, and he involuntarily took six weeks of paid time off in June and July, but nevertheless this could be a contributing factor.

There’s no indication Longoria has been dealing with any nagging injury that might have hampered his performance this season, and last year the only issues of note were some plantar fasciitis, and getting hit on the left hand with a line drive (seems to be a theme for him), which didn’t even put him on the DL. 

The plantar fasciitis is something he worked through in 2013 with seemingly no affect on his performance, and it didn’t seem to be a major issue. It also would’ve been something the Giants looked closely at before acquiring him.

So, in short, unless the Giants are keeping something on the down low (see: Posey’s hip, which has definitely been more serious than anyone wanted to let on until recently), this simply continues a downward trend that may have been partially masked by an inexplicably strong showing in 2016. 

Basically, Longoria appears to be an advertisement for the risk factor associated with acquiring a guy who’s already celebrated his 30th birthday. But, hey, maybe lighting will strike twice, and he can recreate his 2016 season in 2019, at the age of 33.


Julie Parker is SFBay’s San Francisco Giants beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @insidethepark3r on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Giants baseball.

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