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Tampa Bay Rays: A Better Slump for Evan Longoria

By Robbie Knopf
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Yesterday, Evan Longoria looked like the player he is supposed to be, drilling two home runs to lead the Tampa Bay Rays over the Boston Red Sox. Before that, however, he had not homered in 26 games, the longest stretch of his career. Through May 5th, he managed just 1 homer and 6 RBI, far from what anyone expected. Why wasn’t he hitting the ball with any authority at all? Was Longoria ever going to return to his previous status as a superstar?

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The hope is that Longoria has found his power stroke again and there will be many more home runs on the way. Right now, though, it is worth talking about his recent past. Longoria wasn’t hitting for any power and there was clearly something wrong with his swing to cause  that. Unlike last season, however, he was struggling yet managed to be productive nonetheless. While he wasn’t driving in runs like usual, he was getting on base at an excellent clip on his way to a team-leading 13 runs scored entering the season finale against the Red Sox. Now he’s up to 16 runs.

Longoria was able to score so many times because his plate discipline looked as good as ever. Even before the two-homer game, he was hitting .272 with a .382 on-base percentage as he drew 16 walks while striking out 20 times. In 2014, Longoria’s strikeout rate and walk rate were 19.0% and 8.1% respectively. Thus far in 2015, he is at 17.4% and 15.7% as his walk rate would mark a career-high and his strikeout rate would be his best since 2011.

Last season, Evan Longoria didn’t strike out as much as he had previously, but his walk rate was also the lowest of his career. His slumps last year were so terrible because when he wasn’t hitting the ball with authority, he had nothing to fall back on. It is understandable as a fan to be angry when Longoria comes up with a runner scoring position and draws a walk. Your middle-of-the-order hitter is supposed to get that run in. On the other hand, you would much rather have a walk than an out.

It is not as though Longoria has been perfect this year by any stretch. Aside from the power outage, he is getting beat by too many fastballs up and has also had some issues with sliders and changeups down. However, it speaks to who he is as a hitter that he has been out of sorts in the batter’s box yet continues to battle and do what he can to advance his team’s cause. Longoria struck out 2.33 times for every walk in 2014 and 2.31 times in 2013. We hadn’t seen the plate approach that had made him one of the best players in baseball since his injury-shortened 2012.

We will have to see if this persists. It would be a worthwhile tradeoff for Longoria if he regressed to his career strikeout and walk rates but hit 30 or 35 home runs, and if that happens, no one will complain. If his power goes away for a stretch again, though, this is the mode that he needs to find. Longoria managed a .784 OPS amid a slump after putting up just a .724 OPS last season. He wasn’t that dynamic middle-of-the-order presence, but he still helped the Tampa Bay Rays stay afloat. The dream is that the rest of his slumps will be exactly like the last few weeks.

Next: The Undercards: Boog Powell Goes 4 for 4 for Biscuits

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