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Reading Too Much Into Evan Longoria’s Japan Series Grand Slam

By Robbie Knopf
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Evan Longoria did catch fire for the Tampa Bay Rays towards the end of 2014, but even that was relative. He entered the season having produced an OPS of .840 in each of his six MLB seasons and proceed to not reach .800 in any month of the season. In a season where so much went wrong, the blame cannot be placed squarely on Longoria. However, as the Rays look to surprise everyone thinking their run of success has ended and deliver a resurgent 2015, a rebound for Longoria would go a long way towards getting there.

Yuki Egarashi had just struck out Robinson Cano for the second out and faced Evan Longoria as he hoped to get out of the bases-loaded jam unscathed. The first pitch Longoria saw from Egarashi with the bases was a slider/cutter that stayed middle in. What was special was not only that Longoria crushed it, but exactly how he did. He drilled a high flyball just to the right of centerfield, and got over the fence for a grand slam to give the US a 6-0 lead over Japan. Without Longoria’s heroics, the US team easily could have lost the game–their final margin of victory would up being just 8-7.

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It was one pitch, one stroke of luck, but in a Rays offseason where we are looking for anything positive, this certainly qualifies. It is exciting to see Longoria taking the US team on his back to win the game. It is exciting to see him drill the ball to centerfield considering how much his results had dropped hitting the ball up the middle this season. Longoria had delivered an OPS+ at least 40% above league average when hitting the ball up the middle each season but one from 2008 to 2013 yet fell to 19% below average in 2014. That swing was a nice sign that Longoria is making the adjustments necessary to deliver results more in line with his previous performance.

The fact that Longoria hit a homer off a slider/cutter was also significant. For his career, Longoria has a .220 average and a .367 slugging percentage according to Brooks Baseball, but that slipped to just a .206 average and a .243 slugging percentage in 2014. His power against those pitches disappeared almost entirely. But when we are talking about a hitter with the talent of Evan Longoria, we know that if he struggled against sliders and cutters in 2014, he was going to look at the tape, figure out what went wrong, and find a way a get to past it. One grand slam doesn’t wipe away Longoria’s struggles, but it is nice to see him moving in the right direction.

This Japan Series is the last time we are going to see Evan Longoria play before spring training begins. Hopefully he can continue to generate positive results and provide hope that 2015 will see him return to his previous level of performance.

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