Evan Longoria is just scratching the surface of his potential to be a star ball player. Longoria plays 3rd base for the recently downgraded Tampa Bay Rays. He was drafted 3rd overall in the 2006 amateur draft and sped through the minor leagues en route to his 2008 debut season in which he posted a fine line of .272/.343/.531 with 27 home runs and .373 wOBA, 133 wRC+, and an ISO of .259, which is still his career high so far. He had a 27.2% strike out rate in his rookie year but has since improved that number drastically, bringing it down to 21.6% in his short 3 year career.
Now that his strike out rate has gone down, perhaps his walk rate is now subject to change. Yes? Well maybe, but consider that his O-Swing% is 26% in his career. That is just about average from year to year (Note: this year's O-Swing% in the league was about 4% higher than previous years, jumping to 29.3%). So since O-Swing% is average and has been consistent through his career, it shows that he is going to have to create a "deeper" approach at the plate in order to work the count a little more and draw some more walks, but as mentioned in my blog post about Carlos Gonzalez, it is thought to be hard for someone to learn plate discipline. It is not hard to make the pitcher work though, which Longoria could do a little more if he so pleases because at this point. Longoria already sees enough pitches (3.93 P/PA) in his career, so it is not like he will be forced to get deeper into counts. So apart from natural development that players go through when entering their primes, he really won't ever have that big of an increase in his walk rate which could possibly hold him back from performing at the best of his ability. But that thought is a little extreme. He will learn how to make the pitcher work even more as he matures at the plate.
Another thought: Longoria's line drive (LD%), ground ball (GB%), and fly ball (FB%) rates have been a little funky:
2008: LD%: 19.8%; GB%: 38.6%; FB%: 41.6%, 27 homers
2009: LD%: 19.1%; GB%: 39.1%; FB%: 41.8%, 33 homers
2010: LD%: 20.3%; GB%: 36.6%; FB%: 43.1%, 22 homers
So after looking at these stats, some things pop into mind. Perhaps he got pretty un-lucky last year with his home runs. So I think his home run total will increase this year to about 35. 40 is a stretch and personally, I think that even 35 might be a long shot especially considering that he plays in Tropicana field. So maybe 31-34 homers.
Also, his BABIP was a little off trend last year. His BABIP in his first two years were 37 and then 32 points higher than his batting average but in 2010, it was 42 points higher.
Before I continue, I just want clear up any potential confusion and say this: when there is a bigger difference between one's batting average and BABIP, then it means that they are either striking out more or getting un-lucky.
In Longoria's case, he is getting un-lucky. Recall that his strike out rates have been getting much better as his career has been progressing and that his line drive, ground ball, and fly ball rates were all up last year(even if it was ever so slightly (LD%)). Now you may now realize that Evan Longoria got a little unlucky last year, even of it meant that his batting average was up. So it seems that he got a little bit robbed (not literally) of some home runs.
Well now you might think, "Well he probably hit more doubles." Not entirely true. He hit 44 doubles in 2009 and 46 in 2010. So there was not a big difference so it means even more that he was a unlucky. Yes, I am very aware that those double's numbers are gaudy. Use the amount of doubles as a reason for some more home runs next year.
So breakout year, right? Right. But it won't be a crazy year, but 31-34 homers, MAYBE in the high 30s. He should sustain those doubles and his strike out rate should get a little better but not much. His LD% should explode upward and his FB% should go up a decent amount. His GB% is also subject to get a little better. I expect a .305 average and .370-380 OBP with around 34 homers. He might also creep into the 4.00 range for P/PA. His SECA last year was .355 and that should go past his career average (.372) so maybe a .380 or .390 SECA.
A friend of mine who is my fantasy baseball league is in love with Longoria, so I'm just hoping that he doesn't read this post.
(Statistics in courtesy of: www.espn.com, www.fangraphs.com, and www.baseball-reference.com)