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Evan Longoria is absolutely crushing baseballs

The Giants third baseman has recaptured his youth with some good numbers so far in 2021. Is it small sample size theater, or indicative of a longer trend?

San Francisco Giants v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

It’s pretty hard for me to put into words how much joy Evan Longoria has brought me during his baseball career. As a Rays fan since the start of its existence, I have watched nearly all of the team’s major moments, even being in attendance for a few of them. While the organization’s return to prominence has been sans Longoria, the vast majority of it’s success is still tied to his ability to be a great baseball player.

But for all of the joy that he has brought me as a fan, it has been equally saddening to see his mortality since getting traded to the Giants prior to the 2018 season. To be fair, Longoria was already well on the other side of being an elite player at the time of the trade, but I am not sure anyone (especially the Giants) expected him to be a below average to average major leaguer.

Since settling out west, Longoria has put up wRC+ marks of 86 in ‘18, an even 100 in 2019 and 93 in the pandemic shortened 2020. To start 2021 however, Longoria is hitting better than he ever has, boasting an asinine 177 wRC+ in his first 19 games. Granted, league wide hitting is way down so far this season so that number may be a little inflated, but a slash line of .316/.418/.614 and a .431 wOBA is nothing to sneeze at no matter what year it is.

It may be easy to hand wave it off to small sample size, or point to his unsustainable .359 BABIP, but there is also the possibility that, while yes, Longoria probably won’t put maintain what would be a career best offensive production in his age 35 season, there is some reason to think that this breakout has been in the making for some time. Further, his .478 xwOBA so far not only suggests he is earning his results, he may even be leaving some production on the table.

2016 was the last season that Longoria was decidedly an above average offensive performer. He was already two years removed from his last five win season, coming into the year following campaigns with wRC+ marks of 105 and 109, respectively. He was still an above average defensive player, but the bat was gone, and so were the winning ways of the Rays, posting two consecutive losing campaigns after its spectacular six year run. It was in this year that Longoria looked to have had a renaissance at the plate, exploding with a career high 36 home runs and a 123 wRC+. Even if Longoria was no longer the best player on the Rays, it at least looked like he could be very good again.

But in 2017, it was like the adjustments he made to hit for more power virtually vanished, outputting production eerily similar to the two years before, but this time it netted him just a 97 wRC+. The Rays, looking to pivot, traded its franchise player a team looking to give things one last shot.

Unfortunately, both the Giants and their new third baseman failed to live up to expectations. Longoria’s plate discipline evaporated, putting up an unsightly 4.3% walk rate. To make matters worse, neither his batted balls nor his glove could make up for lack of getting on base, and his wRC+ plummeted to just 86, netting just a 0.4 fWAR. By the end of the season, he was losing plating time to Pablo Sandoval, who was picked up the year before after a horrid stint with the Red Sox.

Something started to change in 2019, however. Looking at the surface level results, it appeared to be more of the same, but Longoria was making much better contact, and the output he was getting did not match the output he deserved:

Evan Longoria Statcast Data

Year wOBA xWOBA (PCTL) EV (PCTL) HardHit% (PCTL) Barrel% PCTL)
Year wOBA xWOBA (PCTL) EV (PCTL) HardHit% (PCTL) Barrel% PCTL)
2016 .352 .359 (86th) 90.8 (81st) 41.8% (74th) 12.1% (90th)
2017 .312 .310 (33rd) 86.7 (27th) 32.4% (32nd) 5.2% (37th)
2018 .295 .310 (35th) 88.5 (42nd) 36.7% (44th) 7.5% (57th)
2019 .322 .351 (76th) 89.7 (61st) 40.8% (60th) 7.8% (47th)
2020 .308 .362 (80th) 91.7 (87th) 45.2% (80th) 11.5% (77th)
2021 .428 .477 (97th) 96.6 (98th) 69.8% (100th) 20.9% (96th)

(2021 metrics taken before start of play on 4/27)

Since the ‘17 season, Longoria has steadily increased his his quality of contact metrics year over year. While his actual wOBA marks of .322 and .308 were roughly league average in ‘19 and ‘20, his xwOBA marks of .351 and .362 are well above average. Over those seasons, Longoria has ranked 11th and 7th in wOBA - xwOBA, respectively. By xwOBA, he was as good as Marcus Semien in ‘19 and as good as DJ LeMahieu in ‘20.

Of course Longoria will not sustain a 177 wRC+, even if he has deserved it with his .478 xwOBA so far this season (which is currently good for 8th best in baseball as I write this article). This is most likely an overcorrection for a prolonged period of bad luck on batted balls. But because this is now about a season and a half of a sample spanning across three separate years, it’s safe to say that a world where Evan Longoria is once again a well above average hitter is a real one.

As a fan of Longoria’s as well as someone who finds the Giants to be pretty interesting fringe contender, I hope that Giants fans get to enjoy Longoria in a way that I once was able to as a Rays fan.

Brian Menéndez is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score, as well as a senior writer for DRaysBay. Additionally, he has been featured in The Hardball Times. You can find Brian on Twitter at @briantalksbsb.