Mailing List

Sign up for email updates from Hot Corner Harbor any time there's a new post!

    Friday, May 28, 2021

    Appreciating Evan Longoria

    I have wanted to write something longer about Evan Longoria for a while, but I could never find an excuse enough to make myself do it. Since his trade to the Giants four years ago (jeez, has it really been that long?), he’s been... fine, but really just fine. Not great or anything. And he makes yearly appearances in my “Future Hall of Fame” articles, but those are usually pretty long, and I don’t want to delay those by going super in-depth for every single player mentioned; they’d turn into novels pretty quickly

    But Longo is off to a great start in 2021, his best in years, in fact, so I wanted to take advantage of that to finally write about how good his career has been. When I look at his stats every year for the Future Hall pieces, I’m always struck by how good he has been over his career, particularly relative to the accolades that he’s received in that time.

    For instance, did you know that he’s only made the All-Star team three times? But in his case, that’s more of a way to illustrate why using them as a career overview can be dumb and misleading. Which makes sense, in a way. After all, we hear hours of griping every year about how the rosters are bad; Longoria has just been on the losing end of that equation a lot. For example, he didn’t make the team in 2011 or 2013, despite finishing in the top ten in MVP voting both seasons. Those are the most obvious whiffs, but you can do that for a number of his other seasons as well if you’re willing to drill down a little more.*

    *For instance, take 2016. Evan lost out on a spot via the Final Vote to Michael Saunders, of all people. And there were plenty of other worse players taking up spots, too; sure, Eduardo Nuñez and Eric Hosmer were locked into spots via the one-per-team and fan-vote rules, but there was also Mark Trumbo, Ian Desmond, tons of relievers, etc.

    But all of that isn’t going to come across when he retires (and, let’s be real, when he hits the Hall of Fame ballot, where it will especially matter). I’m hoping he can ride this hot start to a spot this year to maybe make up a little bit for those snubs, but it’s still just one season. And on a larger scale, I can already see plenty of other ways that voters are going to unfairly come up short in evaluating his career, for similar, less-than-thought-out reasons, and I would like to go against those narratives now, hopefully before they’re fully settled.*

    *Ideally, Longoria would just have a few more good years in his 30s to really shut down the doubters, like, say, Zack Greinke or Adrian Beltre or Carlos Beltran did. He is under contract through at least next year, with a team option for 2023, so it’s not unthinkable and we don’t need to wonder if he’ll go unsigned or anything. But even in those best cases, we’re still a few years away from seeing if that happens. And a side note, I remember now about how he originally signed his current 6-year, $100 million extension back when he was on the Rays in 2012; it’s wild to think about how only one of those six years actually came in Tampa.

    For instance, Longoria is just a little short of 1800 career hits at the moment, with 1788. 3000 hits definitely isn’t going to happen, but in this case, 2000 is actually more important. To quote preeminent Hall of Fame expert Jay Jaffe: “Neither the BBWAA nor the various small committees has elected a position player with fewer than 2,000 hits whose career crossed into the post-1960 expansion era, no matter their merits.” Not Bobby Grich, not Minnie Miñoso, not Jim Edmonds, not Gil Hodges, nobody. Maybe Dick Allen or Andruw Jones or Chase Utley will change that* by the time Longoria hits the ballot, but for now, we should probably treat it as a must-have for Hall consideration.

    *Although this fact would actually be grimly reinforced if Miñoso is elected now, since the recent re-classification of the Negro Leagues as Major Leagues now gives him over 2000 career hits.

    Getting over 2000 isn’t unthinkable for him at this stage; with a good rest-of-2021, he can get within range of passing the mark in 2022 and not have to worry about team option years or free agency in his late 30s. But it’s also not close enough yet that I feel comfortable assuming it will definitely happen, and the games lost to the pandemic last year cost him a lot of the time that could have been used building up a buffer in case of injury or something.

    And that failure to hit the big milestone carries through to other areas, in a way that’s likely to obscure just how good he is at the plate. He’s likely to reach 2000 hits before he’s done, he already has over 300 homers (310) and 1000 RBI (1064), he just reached 400 doubles earlier this year, he should reach 700 walks later this season, and so on. All of that translates to a 120 OPS+ in over 7500 plate appearances, which is nothing to sneeze at!

    And all of that praise is doubled by him being a third baseman. Let’s look at all of those stats, but in the context of his position and where he ranks among players with 50% of their games at third:

    Doubles: 15th
    Homers: 16th
    OPS+ (min. 6000 PA): 14th
    RBI: 26th
    Hits: 43rd (although he should move up quite a few spaces in the near future; he can slip into the top 25 with just over 2000, if he makes it)
    Walks: 41st (but also likely to move up quite a few slots in the next few years)

    So by the time he finishes, it probably won’t be unthinkable to call Longoria one of the twenty or so best hitters in history at the hot corner. And that would all be just fine, if not for the fact that he’s also a very good fielder! He’s won three Gold Glove awards, so it’s not exactly controversial to say that, but again, even that might be underselling his talents (or at least, as much as having more Gold Gloves than all but a baker’s dozen of players at his position can undersell him).

    Most of the advanced stats rate him among the best in history. Total Zone Runs places him tenth all-time, with 113 runs saved. The fielding component of Baseball-Reference’s WAR credits him with 97, still good for fifteenth in history. Even Fangraphs’ equivalent, which rates him lower than the others, still puts him 28th at the position with over 81 runs saved.

    So all together, we’re looking at a player who will likely finish as one of the twenty best hitters and fielders at his position, something that generally means a player is much better than just twentieth best due to the rarity of excelling at both. As you may recall, though, we have stats to help with understanding those combinations!

    Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR credits Longoria with 57.0 WAR right now, a solid total that places him nineteenth all-time. It would be nice if he could move up a few slots before he hangs it up, but even as-is, nineteenth isn’t bad considering B-R lists fifteen Hall of Famers at the position, and three more of them are likely to go in before Evan reaches the ballot, namely Scott Rolen, Adrian Beltre, and Dick Allen.

    It’s probably also worth noting there’s some positional weirdness in these rankings; Allen spent more time at first base but is listed here because more of his WAR came at third, and Edgar Martinez and Paul Molitor are clear Designated Hitters who haven’t been moved off the page due to the position not having many representatives in Cooperstown. Fangraphs has Longoria a little lower, with 52.8 WAR putting him twenty-sixth on their positional leaderboard, but also uses even looser positional guidelines (Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera, Tony Perez, and Harmon Killebrew are all also included ahead of him in this version, since they have a lower cutoff and don’t mind double-counting players across positions). Considering all that, Longoria already appears to be even with the Hall’s borderline for his position.

    And of course, we also have a variety of value stats that can capture a player’s peak, since that’s always an important component of a Hall of Fame case. For example, Jay Jaffe’s JAWS, which combines 7-year peak value with career value, put Longoria 18th all time with a 49.5 rating. I’m also a fan of Adam Darowski’s Hall of Stats project, which uses his similar Hall Rating stat. It works like OPS+ or wRC+, setting 100 equal to the Hall’s borderline and making every point about that equal to 1% better than that minimum. Longoria is already at a 107 rating, good sixteenth at the position all-time, and that one is only updated between seasons, so a strong 2021 alone could see him jumping up a few sports on that leaderboard.

    Basically, the consensus of all of these seems to be “Longoria is somewhere in the 15 to 20 range in the all-time ranking for his position already”, which seems to line up pretty well for him considering most positions have around 20 representatives in Cooperstown. Of course, given the troubles Hall voters have had lately in understanding players who aren’t first-ballot favorites, combined with the historical trouble voters have had with third base (again, reflect on how many of those elected third basemen in our total weren’t really third basemen), and it’s also not hard to see how he still might get passed over when the time comes and he finally makes the ballot. And given how much help he’s going to need to overcome those biases, the fact that he’s missed on so many “extra credit” points that he probably shouldn’t have, like All-Star selections, becomes even more frustrating.

    In a lot of ways, the case for Longoria looks a lot like the case for Scott Rolen, something that I’ve covered here many times. Right now, Longoria looks like he’s maybe 90% as good as Rolen, which I think is pretty solid! Like I’ve said in the past, Rolen is clearly one of the ten best players at his position in history, which should be the type of thing that merits strong first-ballot consideration, if not a clear first-ballot election. And I’m not sure what 90% of a first-ballot Hall of Famer equates to, but it feels like it should be a second- or third-year candidate, and no worse than like a fourth- or fifth-ballot inductee, right?

    Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, these two play the Hall’s Most Ignored Position, third base*. So it’s also likely that voters, who have already overlooked Rolen hard, won’t see that as a compelling pitch. Maybe that will change in a year or two when Scott finally gets elected, but even then, I still wouldn’t expect an instant turn around in voter opinion, if it changes their opinion on any other players at all. Hopefully they’ll at least see some similarities, though.

    *I would also hear an argument for catcher deserving that title, but that’s the only real competition.

    Between the end-of-career hypotheticals and the Hall of Fame voting hypotheticals, there’s still way too much up in the air to know how it will all affect Evan Longoria down the road. Hopefully, he has a few more good years to seal the deal in that regard, but even if he doesn’t, it’s worth appreciating.

    1 comment: