Diamondbacks Get a Little Better by Signing Evan Longoria

Evan Longoria
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The hot corner got a little hotter in the Valley of the Sun last Friday, as the Diamondbacks topped off a busy holiday season with the acquisition of a new third baseman. Evan Longoria is heading to Arizona on a one-year, $4 million contract with an additional $1 million in incentives. He figures to play most of his games at third base, with opportunities to DH as well.

These two sides are a good fit for several reasons, chief among them that Longoria simply wanted to play in Arizona. Heading into the offseason, he stated that he would only consider offers from the Giants, Rays or Diamondbacks (in other words, places he already had homes). It’s likely he lost some leverage by showing his hand so early — $4 million is a tad low for a player who posted 3.0 WAR over the last two seasons — but it’s hard to imagine Longoria is losing any sleep. He gets to play close to home (one of them, anyway) for a team that will give him a real opportunity to prolong his career. The D-backs aren’t true contenders, but if Longoria plays well enough, he’ll find himself in a new uniform by the trade deadline anyway.

Arizona, meanwhile, will be stronger with the right-handed Longoria in the fold. Nearly all of its top producers last season were lefties (Daulton Varsho, Josh Rojas, Jake McCarthy, Corbin Carroll, and David Peralta), and almost two-thirds of the team’s plate appearances went to left-handed hitters:

Most PA by Left-Handed Hitters
Team PA by LHH
ARI 63.7%
PIT 59.5%
NYM 52.0%
TEX 49.5%
SEA 49.2%
DET 47.7%

Unsurprisingly, the D-backs were dreadful against southpaws, finishing 28th in baseball with an 83 wRC+. By adding Longoria (and swapping Varsho for Lourdes Gurriel Jr.), they have begun to balance out their lineup. Acquiring Longoria also gives the Diamondbacks a true third baseman, a luxury they lacked throughout the 2022 season. Super-utility man Rojas got the bulk of the playing time at third, appearing in 89 games; for his troubles, Statcast awarded him -6 OAA. He’s better suited for second base or the outfield. On the flip side, Emmanuel Rivera played much better defense, posting 7 OAA in just 29 games, but failed to show the necessary offensive abilities for a starting role. Longoria represents an upgrade as a qualified candidate on both sides of the ball. Even in his mid-thirties, he’s been a competent third baseman, putting up 1 OAA in 1,123 innings since 2021. Compared to Rojas, he’ll be a much steadier presence on the left side of the infield.

As for his bat, Longoria still has plenty left to offer at 37 years old. The veteran has experienced a career renaissance over the past two seasons, crushing 27 home runs with a 118 wRC+ in 589 PA. It all started with a revamped swing and refined approach at the plate in 2021, which helped him get off to his best start in eight years. He described his swing adjustments to The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly that April, explaining how the Giants’ coaching staff helped him make some key mechanical changes. He increased his bat speed by swinging a lighter stick and found a way to raise his launch angle by several degrees. Thanks to these adjustments, he felt more confident, and that, in turn, helped improve his plate discipline.

Longoria demolished the baseball over the first two months of the 2021 season. He posted the highest hard-hit rate in the majors, among other similarly impressive numbers. My colleague Jay Jaffe summed it up well:

[Longoria’s] 61.3% hard-hit rate leads the majors, while his 95.9 mph average exit velocity ranks second, his .415 xwOBA puts him 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…

Longoria has surpassed [all] 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.

Unfortunately, a sternoclavicular dislocation in early June stopped Longoria in his tracks, and he sat on the injured list for the next two months. Although the injury was to his non-dominant shoulder, it seemed to have a severe impact on his swing; when Longoria returned in August, his exit velocity and hard-hit rate dropped significantly, and his offensive production plummeted in accordance:

Evan Longoria’s 2021
Timeframe PA wRC+ HardHit% Barrel% Avg. EV
Apr-Jun 186 139 61.3% 15.1% 95.9
Aug-Oct 105 91 42.6% 10.3% 91.1

Although that drop in wRC+ looks scary, the truth is that Longoria was still hitting the ball well from August to October — just not quite as well as before. His second-half hard-hit rate would have ranked in the 62nd percentile for the 2021 season, his barrel rate would have ranked in the 67th, and his average exit velocity the 82nd. What’s more, he continued to improve his quality of contact throughout the 2022 season; had he qualified, he would have ranked in the 84th percentile or above in all three of those metrics. He may never recapture his success from early 2021, but even so, he looks like a far better hitter than he was during his first three years in San Francisco:

Evan Longoria’s Giants Career
Timeframe PA wRC+ HardHit% Barrel% Avg. EV
2018-2020 1229 93 39.9% 7.7% 89.6
Apr-Jun 2021 186 139 61.3% 15.1% 95.9
Aug. 2021 Onwards 403 109 45.7% 11.8% 91.1

Since returning from his shoulder injury, Longoria has the hard-hit rate of Pete Alonso, the barrel rate of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and the average exit velocity of Paul Goldschmidt. If you gave me those three comps and nothing else to go on, I’d have to presume you were talking about one of the best hitters in the game. Indeed, out of 274 hitters with at least 400 PA in that time, only 23 had a higher barrel rate, hard-hit rate, and average exit velocity than Longoria. Crushing the ball isn’t everything, but it means a lot; hard-hit balls had a .607 wOBA in 2022, and barrels had a 1.289 wOBA. As for batted balls that were neither hard-hit nor barrelled? They had a meager wOBA of .208.

No one expects Longoria to perform at the same level as Alonso, Guerrero, or Goldschmidt in 2023. As impressive as his batted ball stats are, he still has some major limitations. For one thing, his strikeout rate skyrocketed in 2022, and the self-control he once displayed has largely disappeared. In 2021, excellent plate discipline was essential to Longoria’s turnaround; he was more selective with his swings and chased far less at pitches outside the zone. Consequently, his walk rate rose to its highest point in years. He maintained that same approach in August when he returned from the IL, and although he wasn’t drawing quite as many free passes, his walk rate remained higher than it had been in years:

Evan Longoria Plate Discipline
Timeframe Chase Rate Swing Rate Walk Rate Strikeout Rate
2018-2020 32.3% 47.2% 6.2% 20.5%
Apr-Jun 22.5% 41.7% 13.4% 22.6%
Aug-Oct 22.4% 43.6% 9.5% 24.8%

In 2022, however, Longoria’s bad swing decisions came back in full force, as he swung at nearly 30% of pitches outside the zone. To be fair, that’s still better than average, but not by much, and it represented a big step backward for the veteran. He finished the 2022 season with the highest strikeout rate of his career:

Evan Longoria Plate Discipline 2022
Timeframe Chase Rate Swing Rate Walk Rate Strikeout Rate
2022 29.5% 44.4% 9.1% 27.9%

Thankfully for Longoria, the strikeouts weren’t fatal. Sure, he would have been a better player with a more disciplined approach, but he still hit well and kept his walk rate up. The strikeouts were just part of the package. That being said, if his plate discipline continues to worsen, he’s in for a rude awakening. It’s possible to be a productive hitter with a strikeout rate north of 28%, but it isn’t easy. Out of 130 qualified hitters in 2022, only five had a strikeout rate that high and a wRC+ above 100.

Another thing to keep an eye on is Longoria’s production against right-handed pitching. He’s always been better against southpaws, but in his prime, he was highly effective against all pitchers. As a Ray, he posted a 134 wRC+ against lefties and a 119 wRC+ against righties. After he joined the Giants, however, his platoon splits started to become more of a problem. From 2018 to ’20, he posted an 84 wRC+ versus righties and developed a reputation as the weak side of a platoon. Even during his hot streak in early 2021, he was hardly better than average against right-handers.

All that being said, I think it’s too early to write Longoria off as a contributor against same-handed pitching. Since he returned from his long IL stint, his batted ball stats against righties are nearly as impressive as they are against southpaws:

Evan Longoria Splits (since Aug. 2021)
Pitcher PA wRC+ HardHit% Barrel% Avg. EV
RHP 247 101 43.3% 11.3% 90.8
LHP 156 120 49.0% 12.5% 91.6

In 149 PA against RHP in 2022, Longoria hit for a 107 wRC+ despite a .266 BABIP. Eight of his 14 home runs came without the platoon advantage, and his 10.1% walk rate against righties was outstanding. He even had a 90 wRC+ against same-handed pitching after getting behind in the count (league average for all players was 74). It’s true that Gabe Kapler limited Longoria’s playing time against right-handers, but he was excellent in the opportunities he got. He may need to sit against tougher righties, especially those with nasty sliders, but it would be a mistake for Torey Lovullo to start him only against southpaws.

And speaking of sitting, the final area for concern with Longoria is his injury risk. He spent time on the IL last season with injuries to his hand, oblique, hamstring, and thumb, and he also missed time due to pain in both shoulders. None of these ailments were particularly serious, but it’s clear his body is feeling the effects of a career in professional sports. At this point, it seems unlikely he can stay on the field for an entire season, and even if he remains healthy, he’ll need plenty of rest days to maintain his strength. Longoria will be the eldest regular third baseman in 2023, and in the last five years, only one player has fielded more than 70 games at the hot corner in his age-37 (or older) season: Adrián Beltré. In other words, if Longoria plays even half a season in the field, he should consider the year a success. Rojas and Rivera can handle the rest.

Longoria rose from the ashes in 2021, re-establishing himself as a legitimate offensive threat. It makes perfect sense, then, that he’s coming to Phoenix. As an injury-prone, aging player looking to prolong his career, where better to go than a city named for an immortal creature that symbolizes rebirth? The Diamondbacks, for their part, are looking to reemerge as well. It remains to be seen if Longoria will still be around when they return to contention, but if nothing else, his signing is a step in the right direction.

Leo is a writer for FanGraphs and MLB Trade Rumors as well as an editor for Just Baseball. His work has also been featured at Baseball Prospectus, Pitcher List, and SB Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @morgensternmlb.

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1 year ago

I know it may not be super likely, but I am hoping Longoria can have at least a 1.9 WAR season and get up to 60 bWAR for his career and hopefully receive some Hall of Fame consideration in a few years.

Although considering how Graig Nettles, Buddy Bell, Sal Bando, Ken Boyer, and Darrell Evans have fared, 60 WAR for a 3B somehow seems to be viewed as somewhat less impressive than it is for other positions.