Evan Longoria: The Underrated Superstar

Evan Longoria

Neil Weinberg is the Founder of New English D and a writer at Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @NeilWeinberg44.

Despite routinely putting an excellent product on the field, the Tampa Bay Rays don’t draw very well. No club averages fewer fans per game. The reasons are likely numerous and include issues like the corporate climate in Tampa and the uninviting venue, but an important result of low attendance is a low national profile. The Rays don’t receive the kind of coverage their success warrants and as a result, you might not realize just how good their franchise player truly is.

Pitchers Owned by Longoria Since 2008
PA AVG SLUG OPS OBP WHAV wOBA H HR RBI
Brett Cecil (TOR) 25 .522 .913 1.473 .560 .609 .614 12 2 7
Chris Tillman (BAL) 27 .417 1.000 1.481 .481 .417 .594 10 4 5
Tim Wakefield (BOS) 23 .412 .706 1.228 .522 .333 .496 7 1 5
CC Sabathia (NYY) 66 .396 .849 1.364 .515 .340 .541 21 6 13
Derek Holland (TEX) 28 .375 .917 1.345 .429 .440 .528 9 3 8
A. J. Burnett (NYY) 45 .359 .513 .913 .400 .244 .391 14 1 8
Felix Doubront (BOS) 22 .353 .529 .984 .455 .389 .423 6 0 2
John Lackey (BOS) 34 .323 .613 .995 .382 .323 .420 10 2 5
Ricky Romero (TOR) 31 .320 .440 .892 .452 .240 .393 8 0 3
Mark Buehrle (TOR) 28 .320 .520 .913 .393 .200 .384 8 1 5

It would be foolish to sell Evan Longoria as someone who receives little recognition for his accomplishments, but he does receive decidedly less attention than he deserves. Longoria is one of the best dozen players in baseball, but he didn’t make the All-Star team. He’s often forgotten when discussing the game’s best likely due to where he plays and that’s unfortunate for him, but it’s really unfortunate for baseball fans.

All statistics reflect the start of play on September 4th.

This year, Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera remain the pinnacle of the sport, but a strong case could be made that Longoria is in the next tier of players. He ranks 6th in FanGraphs version of Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and only Trout and Cabrera are more than a win better.

He has a robust 132 wRC+ (meaning he’s 32% better than league average at the plate) which puts him 31st among qualifying hitters and he mixes that with superlative defense at third base, trailing only Manny Machado and Nolan Arenado in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) in 2013.

It’s easy for Longoria to get lost among so many excellent third basemen like Cabrera, Machado, Josh Donaldson, Adrian Beltre, and David Wright (all of whom are worth at least 5.0 WAR this year), but Longoria isn’t just having a great year – he’s having an amazing career.

Longoria has a reputation as someone who misses a lot of time on the DL, but he’s only played fewer than 120 games one time (2012) and in all but one season he’s been worth 5.0 WAR or better despite the games he missed. He has two 150+ game seasons and is on pace for a third in his sixth season.

The Rays’ star has also been a model of consistency, turning in a wRC+ between 128 and 146 in each of his six seasons while only having a UZR or DRS below 10 during his injury plagued 2012. Not only has Longoria been great, he’s been as reliable as they come between the lines.

He’s also been party to big moments like his wild card clinching homerun on the final night of 2011 and has signed two of the most team friendly contracts in recent history. He’s done everything you need to do to be a superstar, but his image seems lacking. He’s well respected by his peers and the media, but his performance doesn’t generate the kind of buzz it deserves.

Consider this. While WAR isn’t a perfectly precise estimate, it’s worth noting that since his debut in 2008, no position player has a higher WAR than Longoria (35.2). No one. Not Cabrera (35.0). Not Pujols, Votto, or Utley. Not Mauer. Not Braun.

And remember that WAR is a counting statistic. You get credit for being on the field and Longoria leads the pack despite playing in just 771 games compared to Cabrera’s 920. Among players who qualify since the start of 2008, only Mike Trout has a higher WAR per 162 games.

Evan Longoria isn’t just a very good player on an under-the-radar team. There is a case to be made that he’s been one of the best handful of players in the sport for the last six years. Maybe even the best.

Longoria is an excellent offensive player, but that is sometimes masked by what appears to be a less than stellar batting average. But that .274 career average is telling just a small part of the story. He has exceptional plate selection (11% career walk rate) and hits for power (.513 career slugging percentage) in a pitchers park while playing elite defense at the hot corner.

In the simplest terms, he averages 33 HR per 162 games and is one of the best defenders in the sport. If you can’t appreciate that, maybe baseball isn’t for you. By most accepted thresholds, he’s halfway (or more) to the Hall of Fame at 28. Yet he seems to get lost a little in most discussions. It’s mostly about the market, I would imagine, and it’s not really anyone’s fault.

The point, really, is that Evan Longoria is fantastic and is one of the most enjoyable players to watch. His approach at the plate combined with his highlight reel glove work should be enough to hook you in.

We spend a lot of time (and rightly so) talking about rising stars in baseball like Trout, Harper, Machado, Fernandez, and Harvey, but Longoria rose several seasons ago and hasn’t really slowed down. If you haven’t had the pleasure of sitting down with the sole purpose of watching Longoria play, it’s something this writer highly recommends.

  • Jason Hanselman

    Instead of deleting comments I’d suggest you learn how to be a better writer. Leading off with something that has nothing to do with your “analysis” is generally a bad way to start. You might also want to do more than just list facts in prose form. This could have been a table of his ranks in various metrics over a given time period and it would have saved the reader time without missing anything.

    • Mike

      Everything he said was correct and it needed to be said.

      • Jason Hanselman

        Why did it need to be said? Are you a shareholder of the team? Increased attendance will neither lessen the amount they receive in revenue sharing, nor realistically allow for any significant bump in payroll. Attendance is nickels while tv ratings are dollars. The attendance issue is vastly overblown by folks that are looking to take a potshot at a team that doesn’t afford many with their on-the-field play.

        • Mike

          Well…yeah that didn’t need to be said. I was mostly talking about how underrated Longoria is as a player and everything that he has done for the Rays. I have been a Rays fan as long as I can remember but no player is more underrated among his own fanbase than Longo is.

        • Neil Weinberg

          It’s a product of a small-market – which is the point. Longoria is a superstar on a team that doesn’t get a lot of national press because they don’t play in a big media market in front of tons of fans. It absolutely isn’t a potshot at the Rays – it’s a criticism of the media if anything.

    • Neil Weinberg

      I have zero role in comment moderation. If you posted comments that do not appear below, that is either because there was some sort of glitch in the posting process or they were flagged for one reason or another. I’ve been checking regularly since the article was posted yesterday morning and this is the first comment I have seen.

      You’re welcome to your own opinion, but the opening of the post offers the motivating puzzle for the analysis. Why is a player this good so lacking in national attention? I then proceed to lay out all of the ways in which Longoria is deserving of high national praise such as his impressive offensive rate stats, his defensive skill, and his accumulation of value. This is a chance for people who otherwise haven’t encountered Longoria’s play to get a chance to consider his abilities and performance. Not every baseball fan follows every team that closely. A die-hard Padres fan might not know much about Longoria and this is an attempt to change that.

      Writing in an analytic format requires that one makes sense of data or information. You’re capable of locating all of this information independently, but most people enjoy reading commentaries from people who have done the legwork and packaged it in a digestible way. I am not a reporter. I take information and make sense of it in a way that I find interesting (and in a way that many people find interesting). It’s not entirely clear to me what you find so questionable about my analysis, but if your objection is that it isn’t technical enough, then I’d invite you to read some of my other work at various other sites. Not everyone has the appetite for extremely detailed Pitch f/x reports and when I write about that, I do it for a site more dedicated to that type of analysis. There are many different types of baseball fans and I try to write for all of them. Putting facts together in word form is the basis for pretty much all analytic writing.

      Anyway, thanks for reading. Sorry you didn’t enjoy it.