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The Giants’ Evan Longoria nightmare did not come true


John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports


Looking back at the 2019 Giants, with an eye toward the future. Previously: Joey Rickard, Donovan Solano, Kevin Pillar, Alex Dickerson, Fernando Abad, Stephen Vogt, Madison Bumgarner, Will Smith, Pablo Sandoval.

So many of the redeeming qualities of the Giants’ 2019 season were imported: the emergence of Mike Yastrzemski, the acquisition of Mauricio Dubon, even the promotions of many relievers who thrived at the big-league level.

It became easy to gloss over the veterans — and fans would want to gloss over franchise fixtures like Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford.

What could get lost in a forgettable season is they may have rediscovered a former star who had been lost.

Evan Longoria was not the dead weight he resembled a season earlier, when he bombed in his first year with his new team (.244/.281/.413). Playing in a spacious park with unfamiliar pitching and already on a downward career slope, Longoria immediately looked like an albatross contract, due $53 million through 2022 in his year-34, -35 and -36 seasons.

He did little to calm the concern in 2019’s first half, batting .220/.300/.371 in 71 games through June and again couldn’t find the stroke at home. He fit in with those aging around him, fans counting down the days until those pacts expired.

The calendar flipped to July, but Longoria flipped back the clock.

He went on a torrid, nine-game stretch, missed a few weeks with plantar fasciitis and his bat returned with him in August (though he tapered off in September). He finished with a respectable 20 home runs on the season, slashing .277/.341/.435 in the second half and presenting a middle-of-the-lineup bat that he will need to be next season. Barring the Giants exchanging contract burdens, Longoria’s not going anywhere.

Digging into the stats, Longoria’s 44.2 percent hard-hit rate was the best of his career, which bodes well for next season. Just six of his long-balls came at Oracle Park, where he struggled, and with the dimensions changing, his luck figures to, as well. But the most promising development of his season at the plate was in his patience, as his 8.5 percent walk rate was his best since 2013 and nearly double his 2018 season (4.3 percent).

He’s always been somewhat averse to walks — and the fact he batted .385 on the first pitch of his at-bats last season gives him reason to jump at early-count pitches. But he’s begun being a more disciplined hitter.

“Honestly, I don’t really care about walks,” Longoria said about halfway through last season. “I know that on-base percentage is this big system that people care about now. Obviously, being on base is important. But I’ve never come into a season with the goal of walking X amount of times. I’ve always felt like my job as a hitter was to go up there and try to do damage and drive guys in. You can’t really do that with walking.”

And yet, he adjusted because he had to. In the field, the need to adjust was not present.

According to the SABR Defensive Index, whose evaluations make up one-quarter of the Gold Glove vote, Longoria was the third best third baseman in the NL last season, behind Colorado’s Nolan Arenado and Atlanta’s Josh Donaldson. Washington’s Anthony Rendon got the nod for the third Gold Glove finalist, though, for an award Arenado won.

Longoria brought his glove with him from Tampa, even if it took his bat a year and a half to get through security. Though he didn’t have a throwback, MVP-type year, he was a slightly above-average player when expectations couldn’t have been lower. In a year of small finds, Longoria was rediscovered.

 

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