More Than a Feeling

You don’t have to tell me, nor your higher power that Evan Longoria’s bat seems slower than it used to be. If you’re looking for some peace of mind, however, don’t look back. Cool your engines until you’re feelin’ satisfied and then have yourself a party. Forget the foreplay with Amanda because she’s into more than just a rock and roll band. You might even start smokin’, but a man you’ll never be. Boston Sucks.

The thing about greatest hits from the greatest bands named after and from the greatest cities is that these are snapshots in time. You’ll hear a song come on the radio and you’ll be teleported to some memory where that song played in the background. Something similar happened for me last night. I saw Evan Longoria sitting on a 3-1 pitch. Something he had done a thousand times before. I have vivid memories of the dozens or hundreds of times that situation yielded a hit, or even better, a home run. Last night he swung through the pitch and fouled it off.

It was less an exclamation point and more of the last wheeze from an exhausted balloon that had become undone. It looked sad and helpless and this is a guy who’s $100 million contract doesn’t even kick in for another two seasons. In the moment it’s easy to lash out and say things that we don’t mean. We’re not looking for facts, but just to unleash the bile that is clogging our airways in order to get back to breathing that sweet, sweet oxygen. Only after these outbursts can we light up, take a deep breath, and begin to pick up the pieces on what is real and what is mirage. To that end I’d like to take a look at Evan Longoria’s career using data from Baseball Savant.

I’m going to focus solely on pitches that came in faster than 93 MPH. If the bat has slowed then this is where we would see it. I’ll be using run values that adjust for normal production based on the count so know that a home run on an 0-2 pitch is much more valuable than one on a 3-0 pitch because in the former most batters go on to make an out and in the latter they often go on to do something good. Let’s start with all of the close to 3,000 pitches that Evan has seen since he broke into the league in 2008 that traveled faster than 93 MPH:

All Pitches

The left axis corresponds to our run values (wOBA) in black and I’ve also graphed Evan’s swing rate and Zone% which correspond with the right-hand axis. These are 500 pitch trends and the most obvious blip is the huge drop off between 2,000 and 2,500 pitches. It’s difficult to peg exact dates because every dash or dot on the line is an average of the 500 preceding pitches. I can tell you that the 2,000th pitch was from April 17, 2013. The 2,500th basically a year later at April 13, 2014. So you’re looking at the decline period basically starting near the beginning of 2013 and carrying forward.

The human brain always wants to ascribe reason to effect so the natural inclination is to look at how Evan started seeing more pitches in the strike zone and he was swinging much less. This started to revert towards the end of the sample with a commensurate pick up in wOBA so maybe there’s something to this. Pitchers can tell you an awful lot about how much the fear a hitter by how often they throw strikes. Well pitchers didn’t seem very afraid of Evan and he responded by showing never-before-seen passivity. Unfortunately, the correlations are basically all noise here as I get a value of -0.073 between wOBA and Swing Rate and -0.060 for wOBA and Zone Percentage. Very weak stuff even if the eye test above looks strong. The big takeaway here, though, is that it’s readily evident just how much worse Evan has gotten compared to his past. Let’s get more granular.

SwingsAgain, I want to re-emphasize that I’m only looking at pitches that came in faster than 93 MPH. Let’s focus on just the swings. It might be valuable information to know how he has fared on pitches that were taken over time, but if we think that Evan’s bat has slowed then let’s put just the swings under the microscope. We see our wOBA line again corresponding with the left-hand axis while everything else is on the right. You’ve probably got some takeaways here, but I want to simplify this a bit, and wanted you to have this as a baseline for how we get to the next graph:

NFFoul balls can be rather arbitrary. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re bad. So I considered all foul balls with less than two strikes as a whiff and threw out all of the two-strike fouls. The zone and wOBA lines are fairly similar, but we can see how the whiffs have absorbed the fouls. The huge takeaway here should be the middle sections of the red and blue lines. For a very long stretch Evan was incredibly good at turning swings into contact. Yeah, some of the time he would foul one off or swing through a pitch, but there was a large gap between the two. That has closed up over the last few years and even crossed over into the darkness for a brief stretch before re-emerging in the most recent data.

We see some wOBA seeming to track with contact rate somewhat and that’s backed up by the correlations of +- 0.191 for contact and whiff rates with wOBA. These rates are complementary so we should not be surprised by the similar yet differently signed correlations. We’re seeing a stronger relationship here than previously, and that makes some sense. Nothing good comes from a whiff, while at least you give yourself a chance by putting in play. We’ve seen all pitches, and just swings, and we are starting to see that, yeah, shit was bad for a while there, but maybe it’s getting better. Let’s bring our friends BAcon and SLGcon into the equation to get an idea of how he’s performing on balls in play:

BIPSo we’re just looking at wOBA, batting average, and slugging percentage on balls in play. The trades are unfavorable to say the least. Fewer of his balls in play are falling in as that rate has been down around .300 for a while now after being much higher in his career. The encouraging thing is that he has been this low before over a prolonged period of time before seeming to dig out so hopefully he can make the adjustment to get that going again.

The SLGcon shows much more volatility. Again we see that he has been here before and then got it going and it does look like he’s on the upswing. The other encouraging thing is that you can see just how ridiculously productive he is when it’s going well. Have hope because if he is able to give us any of that then a more ok than good lineup starts to get into that good to great range.

Evan has definitely gone through a prolonged slump against good fastballs compared to his incredible past seasons, but this looks like something that he has battled before. Perhaps his hands are slowing down, I can’t help, but wonder if he never came all the way back from the hamstring. It was a serious injury that was made severe by trying to come back too soon. Power comes from your legs so it’s possible that a reluctance to really push it could leave him holding back, but I think the more likely reason is due to incomplete rehabilitation leaving muscles weaker than previously. If Evan can get his legs right I think there’s still a good chance for him to get back to that MVP candidate that we enjoyed so much coming up.

About Jason Hanselman

Rays fan.
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