This season for the Tampa Bay Rays has been mired with disappointment, and if they want to get back into contention then someone needs to step up. Could Evan Longoria be that person and turn things around after his disappointing first half?
Out of all the disappointments this season, Longoria might be the biggest one. The key cog of the Rays lineup ever since breaking into the league in 2008, Longoria has hit just .257/.333/.386 (103 wRC+) this season, a far cry from his career .273/.355/.498 line (132 wRC+). Most shocking is the free fall that his power has taken, as his ISO has gone from a career .226 mark to just .129 this season. Usually a threat to hit 25-35 homers a year, Longo has just 11 homers through 97 games this year. What has caused these problems?
The simple explanation is that Longoria is simply not hitting the ball with the same authority as he has in the past. His approach isn’t the problem- his strikeout and walk rates are around his career norms, and his contact rates have also held steady. But this year, Longoria’s ground ball- flyball ratio is 1.14 against a career .90 mark. Longoria is hitting the ball on the ground more often rather than creating lift with his swing, and that has been a big reason for his lack of power. His 41.5% groundball rate vs. a career 38.1% also backs this up. Also concerning is that even when Longoria hits the ball in the air, 10.1% of his flyballs do not even leave the infield, an increase over his career 6.9%. Simply put, Longoria is not driving the ball with authority, and these numbers prove it. So how does he fix it?
The key to Longoria is his bat path. It has been widely inconsistent this year, and that has been a big part of his problem. His bat enters the zone quickly, but rather than staying in it a long time like it should, it is out of the zone too soon. This causes him to try and overcorrect himself if his timing is off at all- often resulting in him lunging at pitches and hitting weak grounders or dipping his back shoulder and hitting high, shallow flyballs. Also, it affects his ability to create lift on the ball and drive it into the outfield. In the past, bat path has been a real strength of Longoria. He could get fooled on a pitch, but could still drive the ball decently because his bat stayed in the zone for so long. It was also a big reason for his great power production. But now, Longoria’s bat does not stay through the zone long enough, and that is the biggest reason that he has not been making consistently hard contact this year.
This is a problem that Longoria can certainly fix, especially given that it has been such a plus for him in the past. But he has not made many adjustments with it this season, and that does cause at least some reason for worry. Evan Longoria has the ability to lead a Rays offensive revival in the second half, and he could quickly be back among the best hitters in baseball. But to do so, he needs to make the adjustments- we just have to hope he can do that mid-season rather than waiting until the offseason to work out his kinks.