In a tremendous read yesterday at DraysBay author Kevin Antonevich detailed some serious chops for why Rays fans should be somewhat nervous about Evan Longoria’s ability to climb back into the ranks of being one of the 25 or so best players in the game. This stance echoes my own sentiments from July. Evan should be a good player going forward, but he’s going to become drastically more expensive and is no longer a sure-thing tremendous performer.
Today I want to take a look at Kevin’s first point in his article dealing with Evan’s increased propensity to swing last year leading to more 0-2 counts than he has been accustomed to. Here’s an excellent chart that Kevin showed:
I want to focus explicitly on how he arrived at those 0-2 counts. The average AL batter in 2014 put up a scorching .172/.200/.252 line after getting into an 0-2 count. To put this another way, batters turn into 2014 Jose Molina if the first two pitches end up as strikes. That’s not good. Longoria saw a close to career high rate of 0-2 counts in 2014:
He actually hit a little better than he had in the last few years, but that’s like trying to be happy about finding the least moldy peach. In his career he has put up a .170/.208/.280 line which is a little above the norm, but not pretty.
As you can imagine there are only a couple of ways to get yourself into one of these counts. Obviously, you must go strike-strike to begin the plate appearances, but you can get there by either getting a called strike, a foul ball, or a swinging strike. These are what we’ll focus on throughout the rest of this piece. I’m only looking at counts that started strike-strike so let’s start with how he has gotten the first strike in those counts over his career:
Here are the rates of how he got to strike one in what became an 0-2 count. The solid lines are 100-PA moving averages of called strikes, foul balls, and swinging strikes and the dashed lines show his career average. The vertical lines split up each of his seasons, but keep in mind that each point on the line is an average of the preceding 100 PA so it’s not quite that clean.
More often than not (70%) his first strikes is of the called variety with another 20% for foul balls and around 10% for swinging strikes. We can see that 2014 shows a pretty substantial dip in his called strike rate basically plummeting to his early career depths. In the place of fewer called strikes were more swinging strikes and foul balls with each mostly increasing over the course of the season. Clealy, Kevin was on to something that Evan was taking a more aggressive approach. Let’s move on to 0-1 strikes:
Same stuff here, but you should note that the scale on the y-axis has changed. We now see that the foul ball is the most common way that he goes from 0-1 to 0-2 accounting for around 42% of his strikes. Swinging strikes come in at 30% and called strikes are the least around 28%. And you can see that his called second strikes dropped off DRASTICALLY over the course of 2014 getting replaced by a ton of foul balls and quite a bundle of swinging strikes. Again, we see confirmation that he was more aggressive and that it wasn’t working out all that well for him. Sidenote: look at that hump in called strikes during 2013. That is fascinating to me. I wonder what changed that he decided to just start taking a ton of 0-1 strikes.
I’ve said before that I think protection exists, but the impact is over-stated because you should see transference from one player to another or a proportionate swing between OBP and SLG. If Evan Longoria lacked protection last year then he should have drawn a ton more walks, but he didn’t. His walk rate dropped roughly 20%. By becoming much more aggressive he didn’t allow himself the chance to have some of his SLG translated to OBP. I think this is one area where we could see a fair amount of normalization in the batter. If Kevin is correct, and I think he is, in showing that Evan is becoming less powerful and that his bat speed is slowing down (both of these could use the world “slightly” in front of them) then he will absolutely need to become a more selective hitter. This is an area where he has been very, very good before and if/when it comes back it’s going to go a long way to offset some of the other stuff, but we need to see it before we believe it. Here’s hoping Evan comes into 2015 in shape with his mind focused on baseball and improving his approach in the upcoming season.