A Collision Has Derailed Evan Longoria’s Resurgence

Evan Longoria has been as critical to the Giants’ success this season as any of their grizzled veterans, but the NL West leaders (!) could be without the 35-year-old third baseman until after the All-Star break. Longoria suffered a sternoclavicular dislocation of his left shoulder in a collision on Saturday, and landed on the 10-day Injured List. Ouch!

The injury occurred during the top of the ninth inning of the Giants’ game against the Cubs. Shifted towards second base with lefty Anthony Rizzo at the plate, Longoria ranged to his left to field a soft chopper, where he ran into shortstop Brandon Crawford and got the worst of it, and not only because Rizzo was safe at first as Kris Bryant scored. Longoria remained on the ground for several minutes and left the field accompanied by the team’s head athletic trainer, Anthony Reyes:

Crawford was uninjured, but Longoria was placed on the IL on Sunday with what was initially termed a left shoulder sprain, and initial indications that he would miss four to six weeks. Sunday brought a bit more specificity, via The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly:

Sternoclavicular joint dislocations aren’t often seen in baseball; they’re more often associated with motor vehicle accidents or collision sports such as football and rugby. Anterior dislocations such as the one Longoria apparently suffered, are one matter, but posterior dislocations can be life-threatening, as they can affect a person’s esophagus, airway, or vital arteries.

Via Derek Rhodes’ Hitter Injury Dashboard 1.0 (and its companion Pitcher Injury Dashboard 1.0), only one major leaguer has suffered an SC Joint dislocation since the start of the 2009 season: Kevin Pillar. On July 14, 2018 while playing for the Blue Jays, Pillar made a diving catch and landed awkwardly on his right shoulder. He was diagnosed with a Grade 1-2 sprain, and initial indications were that he’d miss four to six weeks, though he was able to return after just 19 days on the IL due to the comparatively modest severity of the sprain. For Longoria, an MRI could help to clarify the amount of ligament damage and the timeline for his return, but given the lack of recent precedents within baseball, he may be in wait-and-see territory.

At this point, we know that the injury will significantly interrupt what has been the best of Longoria’s four seasons as a Giant. He’s hitting .280/.376/.516, including .400/.481/.800 over his past 13 games. His overall on-base percentage represents a career high, while his batting average and 146 wRC+ are his highest marks since 2012 in those categories, and his slugging percentage his highest since ’16.

If anything, Longoria’s slash line understates the fact that he’s been punishing the ball. His 61.3% hard-hit rate leads the majors, while his 95.9 mph average exit velocity ranks second, his .415 xwOBA puts hims in the 97th percentile, and his 15.1% barrel rate in the 91st percentile. All of those are his highest rates and rankings of the Statcast era. As was the case in each of his previous two seasons, he’s fallen well short of his expected slugging percentage:

Evan Longoria via Statcast
Season GB/FB GB% EV Barrel% HardHit% AVG xBA SLG xSLG wOBA xwOBA
2018 1.09 42.4% 88.5 7.0% 37.0% .244 .243 .413 .414 .295 .300
2019 1.10 41.0% 89.7 6.4% 40.2% .254 .268 .437 .489 .322 .350
2020 1.56 49.7% 91.7 11.5% 45.2% .254 .280 .425 .522 .308 .362
2021 1.00 37.8% 95.9 15.1% 61.3% .280 .300 .516 .600 .382 .415

Longoria’s 84-point gap between his actual and expected SLG is the majors’ 14th-largest. It’s not just a byproduct of Oracle Park, which has become more hitter-friendly with the change in dimensions that took place before the 2020 season:

Evan Longoria Home/Road Expected Slugging
Season H SLG H xSLG H Dif R SLG R xSLG R Dif
2018 .336 .406 -.070 .474 .445 .029
2019 .372 .437 -.065 .507 .549 -.042
2020 .500 .599 -.099 .347 .441 -.094
2021 .500 .594 -.094 .523 .602 -.079
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

If Longoria’s been short of expectations based on his batted ball events, he’s surpassed those based on his meager performances over the past four seasons, including last year’s .254/.297/.425 (93 wRC+) line. In our preseason Positional Power Rankings, he and his anticipated platoon-mate (Tommy La Stella) and assorted backups (primarily Wilmer Flores) placed 27th.

Longoria has surpassed those expectations by adjusting his mechanics and adopting a more disciplined approach at the plate. He’s swung at just 41.7% of all pitches, down from a high of 49.8% in 2017, his final year in Tampa Bay, and from 45% last year, and has cut his chase rate to 22.5%, down from a high of 34.9.% in ’17, and from 29.7% last year. With that, he’s walking at a 13.4% clip, up from last year’s 5.3% and his first time in double digits since 2010.

In late April, Baggarly wrote about the changes that Longoria had made, and their impact:

Longoria credits the mechanical work he’s done with the Giants hitting coaches who helped him raise his launch angle to 16.7 [degrees], the highest it’s been since 2016. And his increased bat speed might have something to do with his decision to change to a 33-inch, 31-ounce model, shaving off a half-inch and a half-ounce. It’s a change he was too stubborn to make earlier in his career when switching to a lighter bat might have felt like a concession to his ego.

“I guess this is a good teaching moment for kids out there,” Longoria said. “My goal was always bat speed. I never really cared about using this big, heavy bat. This year I’m seeing the results of that thought process — find the barrel and create bat speed and not feel like I have to generate extra with a lighter, smaller bat.

…Because he’s in such a good mechanical groove, he said he doesn’t feel like he has to cheat on certain pitches.

When you’re cheating to pitches, you end up chasing them. So Longoria’s improved chase rate is likely a byproduct of every other improvement he’s made in the batter’s box.

Hopefully, Longoira can get back into that groove quickly once his injury heals. Along with Crawford, Buster Posey, and the currently injured Brandon Belt and Darin Ruf, he’s been part of an old guard that has driven an offense that ranks fourth in the NL in scoring at 4.81 runs per game:

Ye Olde Giants
Buster Posey 34 159 10 .321 .403 .571 166 2.2
Evan Longoria 35 186 9 .280 .376 .516 146 1.7
Brandon Crawford 34 188 12 .262 .351 .537 141 2.1
Darin Ruf 34 100 6 .244 .370 .512 140 0.9
Brandon Belt 33 137 8 .228 .350 .474 130 0.6
Donovan Solano 33 107 2 .271 .308 .385 92 0.3
All statistics through June 5.

I’ve already written about Posey’s improved health and subsequent renaissance, and just today, Luke Hooper covered Crawford’s new swing for us. All told, through Saturday the Giants had gotten 7.8 WAR from position players in their age-33 seasons or older, by far the most in the majors and a share that amounts to nearly three-quarters of their position player WAR:

Ye Olde Position Player WAR
Team WAR 33+ WAR Total % 33+
SFG 7.8 10.5 74.3%
SEA 1.2 2.8 42.9%
WSN 2.2 6.0 36.7%
KCR 1.6 4.7 34.0%
ARI 2.2 6.8 32.4%
STL 1.7 6.5 26.2%
HOU 3.0 12.0 25.0%
MIN 2.4 9.9 24.2%
BOS 1.9 9.4 20.2%
MIL 0.9 5.3 17.0%
COL 0.8 5.0 16.0%
LAD 1.7 11.6 14.7%
CHW 1.3 11.8 11.0%
OAK 0.9 9.5 9.5%
SDP 0.5 7.1 7.0%
PHI 0.4 6.6 6.1%
ATL 0.1 7.1 1.4%
BAL 0.0 5.2 0.0%
CLE 0.0 3.2 0.0%
MIA 0.0 5.4 0.0%
TBR 0.0 8.9 0.0%
TOR 0.0 9.8 0.0%
CHC -0.1 8.1 n/a
CIN -0.2 8.4 n/a
TEX -0.1 3.8 n/a
NYM -0.4 4.8 n/a
NYY -0.5 4.8 n/a
PIT -0.4 3.1 n/a
LAA -1.2 5.2 n/a
DET -1.0 1.0 n/a
WAR 33+ = WAR from position players in age-33 seasons or older. All statistics through June 5.

While it’s fair to suspect some regression ahead, the Giants, at 37-22, lead the Padres by two games and the Dodgers by three. Driven by series wins over the Dodgers in Los Angeles and the Cubs at home, their Playoff Odds surpassed 50% for the first time this past week. Those odds (currently 54.8%) do not yet reflect Longoria’s absence, but they come at a time when the lineup is already stretched thin by injuries. Belt is expected to return from an oblique strain this week, but La Stella isn’t eligible to return from a left hamstring strain that landed him on the 60-day IL until July 2. Additionally, Ruf is out until late June with a right hamstring strain and Mike Yastrzemski went down last week with a sprained right thumb.

The Giants replaced Longoria on the roster with Thairo Estrada, a 25-year-old utilityman who has hit just .212/.264/.345 in 122 PA in the majors, all but one PA of which came with the Yankees in 2019-20. He could figure in the third base mix, as could Mauricio Dubón, though the likelihood is that manager Gabe Kapler will favor using Flores — the strongest hitter of the bunch — there, as he did on Sunday.

As for Longoria, there’s a fair bit at stake when it comes to his resurgence, not only with the Giants’ playoff hopes but his own long-term outlook. Thanks to his strong start with the Rays and his above-average defense even as his bat has declined, he has 57.5 career WAR according to Baseball-Reference’s version, as well as 41.9 peak WAR and 49.7 JAWS, the last of which ranks 18th at the position. All of those numbers that stand to increase if he can build on this year’s 1.7 WAR; he’d need more than 4.4 to start raising his peak score towards the third base Hall standard of 43.0, and accelerate the increase of his JAWS towards the position standard of 55.7. The Hall’s waiting list at the hot corner is a long one — the cases of Scott Rolen, Graig Nettles, Ken Boyer, Buddy Bell, Sal Bando, and Dick Allen, who rank 10th through 17th in JAWS but are all outside the Hall, are currently stronger — but if this resurgence is for real, Longoria could have some productive years ahead of him once he heals.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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2 years ago

I’m sorry you’re on the depressing injury beat these past few weeks.