In July, the Tampa Bay Rays just kept on winning–but Evan Longoria just kept on struggling. Longoria entered the month with an outstanding .298/.367/.550 line on the season, but he missed three games from the end of June to the start of July as his planar fasciitis flared up and everything went downhill from there. On the month, Longoria managed just a .194/.288/.347 line with just 3 doubles, 4 homers, and 11 RBI in 25 games and 111 plate appearances. What happened and how can Longoria get back on track?
The first thing that jumps out about Longoria’s July is that he struck out 37 times (33% of his plate appearances) while walking just 12 times. For a player who is usually quite disciplined, it was clear that something is wrong. That sharp uptick in strikeout rate wasn’t accompanied by a power surge either, as evidenced by his lack of extra-base hits and also his groundball rate of 44.3% on the month, almost 10% more than any other month of this season. Why so many strikeouts and so much weak contact as well? Delving a little bit deeper, we see that pitchers threw in the strike zone just 48.0% of the time against Longoria in July, solidly below the league average of 50.0% and his zone percentages for any other month. (Keep in mind that a 2% change is much bigger than it sounds.) And as pitchers began attacking Longoria considerably less within the zone, his approach completely fell apart. He swung at 24.0% of pitches outside the zone compared to his 19.1% mark on the season, just about the difference between a top-10 mark in the major leagues and league average. He became more tentative on pitches within the zone as well, swinging at 63.7% compared to his 61.7% mark on the year, a difference that certainly included quite a few pitchers’ pitches. His contact rate also decreased from 77.4% to just 71.0% as he found himseflf chasing pitches he simply couldn’t handle. In additon, after pitchers attacked him out of the zone time after time, Longoria was continuously fooled when they went back into the strike zone, striking out looking on 9.0% of his pitches compared to just 6.2% on the season. Pitchers adjusted their approach to Longoria nad everything fell apart.
How did such a great player in Longoria struggle that mightily for an entire month? A major factor could have been his status as a star player. When you’re a player like Evan Longoria, your team is constantly depending on you to drive in runs and lead them to victory. And that is the case no matter how opposing pitchers are attacking you in at-bats. Longoria saw the players around him playing out of their minds and wondered why he wasn’t in the mix. He began pressing, chasing pitches like we’ve never seen him and making a minor problem get worse and worse. There’s nothing Longoria can do about his decrepit July numbers. But now that it has happened, all he has to do in calm down. The Rays offense has struggled the last few games, but on the whole it’s vastly improved compared to where it was in recent seasons. Longoria is the best position player on the team, but he isn’t the only guy compable of making a major impact in games. Once Longoria accepts where the Rays are as a team and where he fits in as part of their lineup, his talent will start coming out again and this slump will quickly become a thing of the past.