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2014’s Most Average Hitter

The premise of this article is a very simple one: which hitter has been the most average in 2014? Considering this question led me through a very simple process, and to a very sad answer (I urge you not to look at the links until the end because suspense). To the leaderboards we go!

Seeing as we’re looking for the most average hitter (not considering defense), and wRC+ is a hitting statistic designed to compare hitters against the average, it seems like a natural starting place. Considering only players with wRC+ between 95 and 105 gives us a list of 24 players.

Next, let’s look at wRC+’s partner in crime: wOBA. League average for wOBA is .316, so this round we’ll be restricting our list of 24 even further, only looking at hitters with wOBA between .310 and .320. Doing so cut our list (almost) in half! We are now left with only 13 players, progress!

Now that we’ve condensed the list based on production, it’s now time to look at the composition of said production. Our average player should have a BB% of about 7.9, and a K% of 19.8. Adjusting our leaderboard leaves us with the three most average hitters in the league. One of these three is not a surprise. The other two are very sad surprises.

But we want 1 average player, not 3, so to narrow it down to the end, I have included another filter for ISO, because our most average hitter should hit for an average amount of power. This final filter leaves us with the single most average player in the major leagues, and fair warning, it will sadden you:

Evan Longoria: BB%: 8.8 / K%: 18.8 / ISO: .139 / BABIP: .287 / OBP: .324 / SLG: .390 / wOBA: .312 / wRC+: 102

League Average: BB%: 7.9 / K% 19.8 /ISO .140 / BABIP: .301 / OBP: .319 / SLG: .396 / wOBA: .316 / wRC+ 100

There was a time when Longoria was to baseball what Mike Trout is today (well maybe not quite on the same level). He came up in 2008 and was the the star of the Rays in their surprising march to the World Series. He showed off 100% not-fake, seemingly-superhuman powers. From 2008 to 2013, Longoria’s wRC+ was 15th in baseball, in a virtual tie with David Wright (who happens to be one of the other most average players). He was also the single most valuable position player by WAR (36.1) in that time. For the first 6 years of his career, Longoria was a model of offensive consistency.

2014 has been a different story though. I’m not the first to write about Longoria’s down year, so I’ll refer you to the works of Jeff Sullivan and James Krueger. The bottom line: Longoria’s bat speed is down, which is killing his power and his ability to hit inside fastballs. This can be seen in his power numbers: a .139 ISO is a far cry from his career ISO of .225 (for reference, David DeJesus has a career ISO of .140). Longoria’s only hitting 9.7% of his fly balls for home runs, compared to 15.5% for his career.

His power hasn’t fully disappeared, but it’s nowhere close to what it was. It’s this sort of sharp power decline that usually suggests some sort of injury à la Matt Kemp (.236 ISO in 2012, .125 in 2013 following a shoulder surgery). Longoria is not expected to miss much time with his latest foot injury, and as Krueger points out, Longoria himself has attributed these struggles with mechanical issues. However, if I were a betting man (or at least old enough to legally gamble in casinos), I would put money on the Rays’ third baseman undergoing some sort of procedure over the offseason.

Now the good news for the Rays is this: even as the league-average hitter, Longoria is still very valuable. Dave Cameron ranked him 9th in his trade value series, no doubt in large part due to his superb defense and very team-friendly contract. Projections have Longoria finishing 2014 with 4.0 WAR. If the cost of a win is approximately $6 million, then he’s worth about $24 million in 2014, but only being paid $7.5 million. Even if Longoria continues to be a league-average bat with excellent defense, he will be very underpaid and very valuable. Really goes to show how great that contract was, huh?

Even more fortunate for Rays’ fans is that given Longoria’s career history, this sort of drop off in offensive production likely is not representative of his true-talent level. While his days as a ~135 wRC+ hitter may be behind him, 119 games is not a huge sample size and Longoria is still just 28. It’s likely that Longoria’s production increases closer to his career averages (Oliver has him 126 wRC+ for next year, which definitely passes the sniff test). The fact remains: Evan Longoria, despite being the most average hitter in baseball, is still one of the most valuable. Now we’ll just have to see what happens to that other average-hitting third baseman.