Hype machine: Evan Longoria

As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Evan Longoria has been demoted to Triple-A by the Tampa Bay Rays. A lot of bloggers seem really upset about this, and I’m sure those who drafted Longoria are. I’d like to put things into perspective, though.

Numbers

Stats

YR-AGE	LEVEL	AB	CR	BB%	LD%	BABIP	AB/HR	OF FB%	HR/FB	AB/2B	AB/XBH
2006/20	A+	110	83%	11%	5%	0.337	14	52%	17%	14	7
2006/20	AA	105	81%	1%	15%	0.278	18	31%	22%	21	10
2007/21	AA	381	79%	12%	23%	0.344	18	29%	24%	18	9
2007/21	AAA	104	72%	18%	16%	0.329	21	39%	17%	13	8

Major League Equivalent Line

YR-AGE 	LEVEL 	AB 	AVG 	OBP 	SLG 
2006/20	A+ 	110	0.272	0.336	0.500
2006/20	AA 	105	0.257	0.257	0.495
2007/21	AA 	381	0.281	0.362	0.490
2007/21	AAA 	104	0.257	0.383	0.486

Note: MLEs taken from Baseball Prospectus

Before we start, let me just make two notes.

First, take the following for what it’s worth. It’s difficult to run an analysis when we’re dealing with small sample sizes, as we are for Longoria for every level except Double-A in 2007.

Second, know that I do like Evan Longoria. A lot. I own him in a couple of leagues this year. It may seem as though I bash him a lot in the coming paragraphs. I am simply trying to keep your expectations in check and get a reasonable expectation for him.

That being said, on to the analysis.

Longoria’s numbers are definitely good, but don’t anticipate a Ryan Braun-like emergence this year. There are some definite drawbacks to consider. First, if we look at his MLEs, we’ll see that he struggled (batting average-wise) upon his promotion to Double-A in 2006 and then again upon his promotion to Triple-A in 2007. We’re obviously looking at small sample sizes, but it does appear possible that he has a relatively long adjustment period (at least 100 at-bats).

Even his equivalent slugging percentage at Double-A wasn’t fantastic at .490. In 2007, 62 major league players (with at least 200 at-bats) had a .490 slugging percentage or better. Ryan Braun’s was .634 (second best in baseball). Longoria’s was good, but not elite.

The same goes for his at-bats per extra-base hit (AB/XBH). 9.07 is good, but again, not elite. Seventy-two major league players (with at least 200 at-bats) had an AB/XBH of 9.07 or better. And that 9.07 mark for Longoria isn’t an MLE as his slugging percentage is. Ryan Braun, for what it’s worth, needed only 6.83 at-bats per home run (AB/HR, fourth best in baseball).

The bright side is how good those Double-A home run per fly ball (HR/FB) rates are. Even in Triple-A, 17 percent is pretty good. The problem is that his AB/HR doesn’t match the HR/FB rate. This is due in large part to his low outfield flyball rates. In Double-A (his largest sample size and where his HR/FB was the best), it was an awful 29 percent. In the majors, 271 players (with at least 200 at-bats) had an outfield fly ball rate of at least 29 percent.

It increased in Triple-A—but again, it was in a small sample size—but it still was just 39 percent. His power potential is severely limited unless he can make some adjustments. If he does, he could be very good in this area.

Looking at his contact rate (again, with the caveat that we are looking at sample sizes in all but Double-A in 2007), we see it drop with each promotion to a new level. If it goes any lower than 72 percent upon his promotion to the majors, he could be a batting average liability.

Finally, we really don’t know that Longoria is ready. Sure he’s got a nice swing and gets a lot of hype, but 104 Triple-A at-bats really isn’t sufficient. We really don’t know if he’s mastered Triple-A yet, much less ready to become a major league starter.

Now, I’ll stop playing devil’s advocate and talk about why Longoria could be good. First is the great HR/FB rates. The flyball rate is low, but it’s not out of the question that he’ll raise it. Even if he doesn’t, he still seems to have enough raw power to be relatively good.

His contact rate is much more likely to be around (or over) 75 percent than 70 percent. He also has shown the ability to take a walk, a good sign of his maturity as a hitter. His BABIPs have been consistently great as well (minus his first stint in Double-A).

Furthermore, his best MLE line comes in his second stint in Double-A where he had the best sample size. A line like that would likely give him value in all but shallow leagues. Plus, he’ll get a little more seasoning in Triple-A (two months or so) before being promoted. This will give us a reasonable Triple-A sample to look at and get Longoria some more experience at a higher level.

Overall, we shouldn’t be heralding Longoria as the next superstar just yet (not for 2008, anyway), but he does figure to be quite good.

Availability

Given Longoria’s relatively low draft position and the recent news of his reassignment, his ownership is pretty low in fantasy leagues. He’s owned in 67 percent of CBS leagues and just 11 percent of FOX leagues. He’s also on the “most dropped: lists for both Yahoo! and ESPN.

Even given the shortcomings we’ve discussed, Longoria doesn’t deserve to be owned in just 11 percent of leagues. If you have a bench spot available, pick him up. He’s not worth picking up if you’re forced to leave a starting spot empty, but he has big enough potential to warrant a bench spot. Once you own him, if you suffer a spell of injuries, you can drop him. But to leave him out on the wire for anyone else to stash away is a mistake.

As I said earlier, don’t count on him to be this year’s Braun (there won’t be one), but he could be a valuable player for four months or so.

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