In this week’s “Tale of the Tape,” we take a look at a pair of upper-echelon third basemen who have combined for 10 All-Star appearances and 384 home runs, Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria and New York’s David Wright. Longoria, 28, is a former AL Rookie of the Year award winner who once barehanded a foul ball to save the life of a reporter in a commercial for Gillette; Wright, 31, is a seven-time All-Star who once made a barehanded catch in fair territory to rob the Padres’ Brian Giles of a base hit. Both can be found in Mike Gianella’s four-star tier in the battle for next best after Miguel Cabrera, but only one can win this week’s “Tale of the Tape.”
Wright is the owner of a career .301 average. Excluding his rookie debut, the Mets third baseman has provided fantasy owners with a .300-or-better average in seven of nine seasons, including a high of .325 in 2007. Following an injury-plagued year that saw his average sink to a career-worst .254 in 2011, Wright has put up marks of .306 (2012) and .307 (2013). His batted-ball profile is as consistent as they come, and there’s no reason to doubt that another .300 average is coming. The same can’t be said for Longoria, whose batting average has fluctuated from .244 (2011) to .294 (2010). More recently, Longo has recorded averages of .289 (2012) and .269 (2013). Somewhere in-between is where I see Longoria finishing in 2014, but a strikeout increase of almost four percent and a batted-ball profile that included fewer line drives and more fly balls in 2013 could keep him in the .260s. Wright is the easy choice.
Just like his batting average, Wright has been a model of consistency in terms of his on-base percentage. He’s registered a .390 on-base percentage in three separate seasons, including last year, in addition to a .391 mark in 2012. Over the last two seasons, Wright’s on-base percentage is seventh best in baseball, trailing only Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, Joe Mauer, Andrew McCutchen, and Shin-Soo Choo. He rarely chases pitches outside of the strike zone, and his walk rate over the past three years—11.7 percent—is fourth highest among third basemen. On that same list, Longoria’s 11.6 percent walk rate is fifth highest, but his on-base percentage is 25 points lower. Longo’s BB/K rate has decreased in each of the past three seasons, from 0.86 in 2011 to 0.43 in 2013. Although their career walk rates are similar (11.3 percent for Wright, 10.9 percent for Longoria), Wright’s consistency of posting elite OBPs when healthy makes him the clear winner.
After smacking 32 home runs last season, Longoria has tallied 30 homers or more in three out of the last five years, for a total of 135 long balls. Among third basemen, only Miggy and Mark Reynolds have collected more. While we like to associate third base and power, only four reached 30 home runs in 2013, and that number has remained consistent over recent years (four in 2012, three in 2011, three in 2010). Longoria’s ISO hasn’t dipped below .230 in three straight and he remains one of the top targets of power at third. He’s still young enough to rock out one or two more seasons of 30 plus. Wright hasn’t hit 30 since 2008, when he launched a career-high 33. Since then, he’s hit 10, 29, 14, 21, and 18. Citi Field has had its hand in suppressing Wright’s power; the Mets’ home isn’t ideal for right-handed bats, but it has played more favorably since the fences were moved in. He’s averaged 17 since 2011, but that includes 110 games missed due to injury. 18-20 is a safe estimate.
Runs Batted In
Despite playing in 160 games and hitting 32 home runs in a top-five offense (according to wRC+), Longoria didn’t come close to sniffing his career best in RBIs. He finished the year with 88 RBI, which was fifth best at his position, while coming up seven plate appearances shy of 700. The culprit: 22 home runs with the bases empty. David DeJesus and Ben Zobrist figure to hit in front of Longo in 2014, and both have career on-base percentages better than .350. Longoria should comfortably finish with 90 RBI. Last season’s total was a fluke. Like his counterpart, Wright will spend the majority of 2014 batting third. The Mets scored 81 fewer runs than the Rays in 2013, however, and the talent from top to bottom just isn’t the same. Chris Young is no sure thing at leadoff, and Daniel Murphy has one very good year under his belt. Wright’s most recent RBI totals have been watered down by missed playing time (58 RBI in 2013, 61 in 2011). My better judgment leads me to the younger player on the better offense, but Wright shouldn’t be counted out for more than 75 RBI.
PECOTA sees Longoria scoring 76 runs in 582 PA while giving Wright 77 runs in 606 PA. Tampa was the far superior offense in 2013, however, with a 108 wRC+ and .324 wOBA, compared to an 89 wRC+ and .297 wOBA for New York. Longoria crossed home plate 91 times a year ago and Wright is only two years removed from doing the same. Batting behind Longo will be Wil Meyers, Matt Joyce, James Loney and Desmond Jennings; Wright will have Curtis Granderson, Ike Davis, Juan Lagares, and rookie Travis d’Arnaud. As much as I want to declare this one a tie, my confidence in Tampa’s group of hitters is substantially higher than my confidence in New York’s.
Slight Advantage: Longoria
Not counting Hanley Ramirez, Wright’s 45 stolen bases since 2011 are the most at third. Going backwards, his three-year totals include 17, 15 and 13 steals. Outside of 2012 (when he was caught 10 times), he’s been extremely effective on the base paths, including an 85 percent success rate last year. Because of his consistency and very recent success, I don’t see Wright slowing down in 2014; another 15 thefts are possible. Longoria isn’t blessed with the same speed or instincts as Wright, stealing six bases—and five caught stealing—since 2011. The likelihood of mid-teen steals from Wright is a big reason why he’s still in the conversation among the elite. The Met wins in a landslide.
Wright has missed 110 games since 2011, appearing in 102 games in 2011 and 112 in 2013. Last season, a hamstring sidelined Wright for almost all of August and September, but instead of sitting out the year, he came back for the team’s final seven games and hit two home runs. That’s so Wright. 2011 was equally as frustrating, as Wright missed 60 games with a stress fracture in his back. And, in 2009, he missed additional time with a concussion. In 2012, Longoria appeared in 74 games following a hamstring injury and setback. He was also sidelined for more than three weeks in 2011 with an oblique injury. Wright has appeared in 370 games to Longoria’s 367 over the past three years.
If healthy, both Wright and Longoria are going to play everyday. Longoria played in all but two games last season, and he’s appeared in 150 contests or more in three out of the last five years (with a low of 74 in 2012). Wright has played in fewer than 115 games twice since 2011, but they are basically even in total games played over that time. These are two middle-of-the-order bats with everyday jobs. Outside of injury, nothing is going to change that.
At this point in his career, Wright’s ceiling is that of a .300 hitter capable of 20+ HR, 170 R+RBI and 15 steals. Longoria’s batting average is up for debate, but I’ll give him the upside of .280 with 30 HR and 190 R+RBI. I think Wright’s skillset can carry over for the next two or three years (with slight batting average regression in subsequent seasons), while I question Longoria’s ability to hit for average now and in the future. Longoria is three years younger, however, and he’s still capable of putting together a monster season; Wright’s best is clearly in his past.
Slight Advantage: Longoria
Separating Longoria and Wright is difficult. It really comes down to what type of third baseman you want to build your team around, as both players will likely require a top-25 pick on draft day. Few third basemen offer the upside of 30 HR and 90-plus RBI like Longoria, but you must keep in mind that he’s only reached those marks (collectively) just twice. And one of those years he hit .244. Wright might not be the sexy choice because he’s no longer a 30-home-run threat and he plays on the inferior team, but he gives you a little bit of everything, including the potential for more steals than any other third baseman in baseball. The most current NFBC data shows a very slight preference for Longoria with an ADP of 22.42 (compared to 24.68 for Wright), but if I’m given the choice, 60 times out of 100 I’m going to choose Wright. Simply put, I don’t want to lose my league in the second round; I’ll happily bet on the player more likely to return value. In my estimation, that’s Wright.
And the winner is… Wright