Longoria again carries heavy workload for Giants at third base originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
You might have noticed a familiar name on all the graphics that are shown when Randy Arozarena strolls to the plate this postseason. The dynamic Rays outfielder has had a breakout month, and some of the franchise records he has broken belonged to Evan Longoria, who homered six times as a 22-year-old on the 2008 Rays team that went to the World Series.
Longoria has had a sneaky-long career -- he played with Gabe Kapler in Tampa Bay -- and shows no signs of slowing down, at least as far as workload goes. He was an everyday player for the Giants once again in 2020, giving them solid work at third base in his third season with the team.
This week we've looked at positions that are usually patrolled by longtime Giants -- catcher, first base, shortstop -- and one -- second base -- that now belongs to a relative newcomer. Longoria is somewhere in between. Here's a look at how he and other Giants third basemen did in 2020, and what's coming next season:
Longoria suffered an oblique strain late in camp and missed the start of the season, but he ended up starting 50 of 60 games at third base, soaking up nearly all of the Giants' innings at the hot corner. Obliques can be tricky, and Longoria admitted to some lingering soreness at times, but durability has always been one of his hallmarks and he was there for Kapler on a daily basis.
That was necessary, if you watched the way the first week went. Pablo Sandoval wasn't ready to fill those shoes this time, and Donovan Solano and Wilmer Flores were miscast defensively at third. Longoria wasn't a finalist for the Gold Glove Award, but he played well enough over there that he could have gotten the third spot after Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado. It ended up going to Miami's Brian Anderson, who had four Defensive Runs Saved to Longoria's two.
At the plate, Longoria had a .254/.297/.425 slash line with an OPS+ of 97 that put him just below league-average. He had seven homers and 28 RBI, but also hit into an MLB-high 10 double plays. After really struggling at Oracle Park his first two seasons, Longoria flipped his splits, batting .294 at home but .202 on the road. His OPS was 311 points higher at home, but that's just a fluke of a short season where most players' splits will just represent when and where they got hot.
You read through all that and think ... Longoria was fine.
He's no longer an All-Star, but he didn't hurt the Giants, either. That's basically what the Giants were at third base overall.
Their third basemen ranked 12th in the Majors with a .759 OPS, 15th with eight homers and 20th with negative two Defensive Runs Saved. Solano and Flores combined to go 13-for-33 when filling in for Longoria, but they gave that offensive production away on the other side of the ball. In his first year back from Tommy John, Sandoval actually only had six at-bats at third, primarily serving as a DH and pinch-hitter.
Probably that Longoria got 83 percent of the plate appearances at third despite missing the first six games. That workload showed in the numbers. Longoria hit .299 with a .495 slugging percentage through the end of August but batted .198 and slugged .337 in September. He went 5-for-40 over the final 11 games.
Kapler keeps an extremely close eye on players and prioritizes rest in order to keep bat speed up, but he didn't have much of a choice at third for a couple of reasons. First, the replacements were poor defensive choices, and even when he wasn't hitting, Longoria still played a good third base. Solano and Flores struggled early on, and during an appearance on KNBR after the season, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said playing them at third probably hurt their overall work defensively.
"I look at Donovan Solano, who has been a very solid defender his entire career, and I would have pinpointed where I think things went backwards a little was when we put him over at third base," Zaidi said, later adding that Flores played "a really good second base later in the season, whereas with Solano, I do think going over there (third) affected him."
There was another issue at third base, though, which brings us to ...
Sandoval was ultimately DFA'd and caught on with the Braves, making the NLCS. That was a break for him, and his season started with another one. Because of the long layoff, Sandoval was able to fully recover from surgery and make the opening day roster. But while the Giants never came out and said it, they clearly didn't trust him at third, either for range or health reasons.
Sandoval didn't play third until August 16, well after Longoria had returned, and only had 18 innings out there before being let go. The Giants did not have their expected platoon partner at third, which meant Longoria played against everyone, and that wasn't ideal.
Longoria had a .859 OPS against lefties but it was .671 against righties. His splits the previous two years weren't as extreme, but still, he hasn't hit righties well as a Giant. Sandoval was supposed to help there, but the second reunion didn't work out.
You probably noticed this during games, especially if you had the sound on to listen to Kruk and Kuip. Longoria repeatedly beat the shift, particularly against teams within the division that stacked three fielders on the left side. There were series when he shot multiple balls through the hole where a second baseman would play, and he actually ended up with a higher weighted on-base average (wOBA) against the shift (.337) than against a regular defense (.286).
Overall, Longoria was shifted on a career-high 32.1 percent of his at-bats. It'll be interesting to see if some NL West opponents stay more straight-up next season.
Prospect to Watch
The Giants' farm system is exciting because of the high-end talent at the top, but what really stands out is how much deeper it is, both in the top 10 and overall. A great example of that is Luis Toribio, a 20-year-old who would have been a top three prospect in this organization for much of the last decade but currently ranks eighth, per MLB Pipeline.
Toribio handled himself well during a stint in summer camp. A left-handed hitter signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2017, Toribio is known for his plate discipline and has put up good exit velo numbers in his limited time in the minors. He has a .428 OBP in 118 minor league games but hasn't played above Salem-Keizer. He was at the alternate site for two months, which could allow the Giants to move him aggressively.
The 2021 Plan
Longoria was originally acquired as one of the final pieces -- along with Andrew McCutchen -- for a 2018 squad that management hoped could get back to the postseason. He now could end up lasting longer in this rebuild than just about anyone from that team.
Longoria is the only Giant signed through 2022, and there's no reason to think he won't at least be around next opening day. In this economy, the remainder of his contract is just about untradeable, and the Giants don't have an in-house replacement even if they do want to make a change. That's low on the list of priorities anyway.
Longoria should be the third baseman once again next year, although the Giants should find a better backup plan. Mauricio Dubon has the range and arm to back up Longoria better than any of 2019's options did, but what the roster is really missing is a left-handed hitter who can handle third defensively.