The Tampa Bay Rays could not deliver on lofty expectations in 2014, ultimately finishing 77-85 and missing out on the playoffs. A good deal of that disappointment was due to the offense, who sat at just 27th in the league in runs scored, and their lack of power was a big cause of that as they were just 25th in the league in SLG. At the root of that disappointment was third baseman Evan Longoria.
Longoria put up the worst season of his career in 2014, hitting just .253/.320/.404. Longoria is normally at or near the top of every offensive category for the Rays, but this year he was just 4th on the team in OPS, 6th in batting average, and 3rd in slugging. His .724 OPS was the worst of his career by a 118 point margin.
The problem with his offense was in a large part due to a slight mechanical flaw in Longoria’s swing. He struggled finding consistency with his bat path throughout the year, and at times he was too short through the zone rather than being long through it. This resulted in an inability to drive the ball to left field with frequency, and it also meant that Longoria had a smaller margin for error in timing the ball. The weird part about it is that this has normally been a huge strength for Longoria, but this season it turned into a flaw.
That said, as the season wore on Longoria began to make improvements with his swing. Though it was only marginally better than his season numbers, Longoria hit .250/.304/.457 in the month of September. The take away from that is that Longoria was hitting for more power, which is an indication that he was finally fixing this flaw in his swing.
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Also puzzling about Longoria’s 2014 season was his drop off in defense. Usually a perennial Gold Glove Award candidate, advanced metrics show that 2014 was Longoria’s worst defensive season of his career. His UZR/150 of -0.6 means that Longoria was merely an average defender this year. Though defensive statistics are fairly speculative and occur in a small sample size, that is the first time that Longoria has posted below a 10.0 UZR/150 in a full season, and that is not just an occurrence of the small sample size of defensive stats.
Moving forward to 2015, there may be no player more key to a Rays rebound than Longoria. He has been one of, if not the most valuable Rays player since bursting onto the scene in 2008. It has been said many times that when Longoria is hot, the team is hot, and when Longoria is cold, the team is cold. Thus, the Rays desperately need their start to get back on track.
At the plate, Longoria certainly has the ability to rebound. Though his swing flaw can be one of the more pesky flaws to correct in a swing, Longoria’s bat path has been a strength for him in the past and it could very well be so again in the future. Fixing this may only take an offseason in the batting cages where Longoria does not have the pressure to be a key cog in a big league lineup.
Additionally, the Rays need Longoria to lead a revival of the Rays’ infield defense. Thought to be a big strength for them heading into the year, the infield defense as a whole was fairly disappointing in 2014. Rays pitchers thrive off of their defense, and it will be key for the group to return to form in 2015.
It is hard to say that Evan Longoria was not disappointing in 2014, but now that the season is over we can only move past it. Longoria has significant work to do this offseason on his offense and defense, and possibly most importantly is restoring his confidence in himself. That said, Longoria has looked like an MVP-caliber player in his career, and he still showed flashes of being that in 2014, so we could very well see Longoria once again among the league’s best players in 2015.