I think, by this point, we all get the drill with these Tales of the Tape. For those just tuning in, I’ll be covering two players ranked next to each other in our tiered rankings for third base category-by-category, declaring a winner at the end. This week, we have Evan Longoria pitted against Carlos Santana. An important note before we begin: with some early ADP data in, Longoria is crushing Santana thus far, with an average draft position around 54 to Santana’s 74. As we’ll see, that is not representative of the production gap we can expect from them. Now, on to the good stuff.
A year ago, neither player excelled in this area, with Longoria finishing 20th among qualified third baseman at .253, and Santana 22 points behind him. Luckily, both players suffered from down years in AVG and should expect some improvement looking ahead to 2015. Longoria’s .253 mark was the second lowest of his career, and it was at least partially due to the second sub-.300 BABIP since reaching the majors. On a positive note, his strikeout and line drive rates stayed relatively steady with his career norms. Santana was especially destroyed by a low BABIP, finishing the year with a .249 mark. Despite always being a low BABIP player, one should still expect that to rise next year, and I’d expect a year-end AVG around .250. Longoria, though, has been on the high end in AVG through his career, and regardless of the downward trend over the last few years, he should still be able to beat Santana’s low output.
While Santana is a low-AVG player, he is much more valuable in OBP leagues. Last season, he took this category handily, outproducing Longoria .365-.320. Throughout his career, Cleveland’s corner infielder has kept his walk-rate steadily around 14 percent, and brought it all the way up to 17 percent in 2014. On the other hand, Tampa’s third baseman has been trending downward in walk-rate, and he plummeted down to just a league-average 8 percent a year ago. Going hand-in-hand with his lower walk-rate has been worsening plate discipline, swinging at way more pitches in 2014 than he ever had before in his career. Even if there’s another considerably large difference in AVG in 2015, Santana is still a safe bet to come out ahead in OBP.
After two easy calls to start this week’s battle, we have our first close competition. Santana took the dinger crown in 2014, hitting 27 long balls to Longoria’s 22. However, the latter has been a more prolific power hitter over their respective careers. That same trend held true for average fly ball distance, with Santana destroying Longoria in 2014, but Longoria coming out ahead by a large margin in 2013. For right-handed hitters, both parks play equally for home runs, but the switch-hitting Santana has the advantage when he bats left-handed. It’s a tough to call this battle, but with the way things are trending for both players, I give a slight edge to Santana.
Winner: Santana, slightly
We have another close battle here, and Longoria squeaked by in 2014 with a 91-85 victory that really could have gone either way. Obviously, there is some concern with his lineup in the coming season, though. They’ve already lost the likes of Wil Myers and Ben Zobrist, with the latter’s departure presumably having a big impact on Longoria’s RBI total. Desmond Jennings should still be there atop Tampa’s lineup, but it’s unclear who will bat second at the moment, and whoever it is probably won’t match Zobrist’s on-base ability. Santana, on the contrary, still has Michael Brantley and Michael Bourn hitting ahead of him. On top of that, if you are like me and believe in a Jason Kipnis bounce back, there could be a very solid 1-2-3 giving him plenty of RBI chances. It’s another toss-up, but with the way Tampa’s lineup looks to be downgrading, Santana gets the edge in this one.
Winner: Santana, slightly
In 2014, Longoria dominated this category, outscoring Santana 83-68, a result that’s largely consistent with how they’ve performed over their respective careers. The latter has a little added pop behind him in Cleveland’s lineup with the addition of Brandon Moss, and he still has the somewhat underrated Yan Gomes back there as well. The loss of Myers leaves Longoria relying on James Loney, Asdrubal Cabrera and possibly Steven Souza to knock him in. Though neither are premier base runners, Longoria has a bit of an edge, which should help offset the on-base advantage that Santana holds. With that being said, Santana still gets a very slight edge, due to a better supporting cast and OBP.
Winner: Santana, slightly
After finally getting some legitimate excitement in this category last week, we’re back to having a couple duds at third base. While Longoria does have a 15-steal season under his belt, it was back in 2010 and he’s never come close to matching that since. Santana tied his career high a year ago with five, which also tied Longoria’s 2014 output. Longoria’s past success gives him a little bit of an edge here, but it’s mostly meaningless since neither guy will be on your roster for steals (I hope).
The 29-year-old Longoria has had a reputation as an injury-prone player in the past, but he’s overcome that in the last two seasons, missing two games since the start of 2013. Other than 2012 when he missed major time with a thigh injury, he’s played at least 122 games in every season. Santana has also been very durable in his career, playing in over 140 games every year excluding his partial rookie season. While that would seemingly give him the edge here, there are some issues. He’s had concussion problems recently, missing nine games in 2014 and eight in 2012. Since there’s still a chance he could get a few games behind the plate going forward, there’s some risk for that to pop up again, even if it’s a relatively small one. This possibility gives Longoria the win.
Both players shouldn’t be a risk to be benched by their manager in favor of other players, as neither has any real competition pushing them from the minors. Longoria didn’t sit once in 2014, and Santana only missed the nine games due to the aforementioned concussion. Neither player will miss any playing time if they both remain healthy.
For the most part, both of these players are what they are at this point. The biggest way Santana could increase his value would be finding a way to get that BABIP up significantly above .300 for the first time of his career. If he could get his AVG better than .275, he would be hugely valuable, especially in OBP leagues. Longoria, though, has a more intriguing ceiling. It wasn’t all that long ago that he was one of the best players in the game. Though he’s been trending in the wrong direction, it’s not as if he’s on the verge of retirement, as 2015 will be just his age-29 season. It’s not unreasonably to hope for his AVG to fly back up to his past levels near .280, with his home runs getting back to 30-plus. Though it may be unlikely, the potential of Longoria’s all-around ceiling is more enticing than Santana’s.
At the end of all of this, we have a tie in the categories, with Santana taking OBP, HRs, RBI, and R, and Longoria taking AVG, SBs, injury risk and ceiling. Despite the large gap in ADP, it is an extremely close matchup, and based on value relative to draft position, Santana is a no-brainer here. In a vacuum, though, it becomes much tougher, and really depends on the league. Since Santana’s victories in HRs, RBI, and R were all extremely close, I give Longoria and his ceiling the edge. However, if you’re in an OBP league, I couldn’t fault you for taking Santana.
And the winner is… Evan Longoria
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now