Why Is Edwin Encarnacion Better?

A lot has been made of Edwin Encarnacion’s recent resurgence as a hitter. Over his last fifty games, the utility player has transformed himself from a DFA candidate to a middle of the lineup stalwart for the Toronto Blue Jays, swatting nine home runs, fifteen doubles and getting on base at a rate among the best in baseball.

Blue Jays fans have heard a lot about Encarnacion’s increased patience at the plate from the television broadcast booth, and while they have a point, it’s not as though the third baseman/first baseman/designated hitter is seeing a dramatic increase in pitches per plate appearance.

Instead of patience, Encarnacion has shown an increase in selectiveness. He’s increased his walk rate in each of the last three months not by merely laying off pitches outside of the strike zone, but by staying away from pitches he can’t turn into hits, regardless of whether or not they’re in the strike zone.

By only choosing to swing at the pitches he can get around on, Encarnacion’s power numbers have increased, and in turn, pitchers have become more wary of throwing him strikes, which is leading to the higher walk rate.

Let’scompare the four seam fastballs that Encarnacion was swinging at earlier this season to what he was coming around on during his hot streak:

For someone with a reputation for being a wild swinger, this strike zone looks fairly well controlled.

But compared to this, it appears as though Encarnacion has almost stopped swinging at fastballs on the outside corner of the plate althogether. Instead, he’s concentrating only on the pitches that land right in the middle of the strike zone.

Let’s now compare the fastballs he was taking during these same time periods.

Here, we see that he avoided some fastballs away.

But it’s nothing compared to what he’s laid off of during his hot streak. Look at all those borderline pitches on the outside of the zone and compare it back to the pitches he was swinging at. That’s amazing selectiveness.

As evidenced by his called strike zone, sometimes the home plate umpire is going to see those as strikes, sometimes he won’t:

However, the point is that Encarnacion is showing an increased willingness to wait for a pitch he can hit, sometimes that results in better contact, sometimes it results in a walk, but either way the results are becoming increasingly positive for the formerly maligned slugger who got off to a terrible start.

Here are his numbers month by month so far this season:

  • April: 0 HRs, .282 OBP, .365 SLG, .286 wOBA.
  • May: 1 HR, .257 OBP, .333 SLG, .260 wOBA.
  • June: 4 HRs, .313 OBP, .532 SLG, .364 wOBA.
  • July: 4 HRs, .377 OBP, .531 SLG, .399 wOBA.
  • August: 3 HRs, .443 OBP, .523 SLG, .419 wOBA.

With the cheap option ($3.5 million) that the team controls for 2012 on Encarnacion, the question for the Blue Jays now becomes about the sustainability of his good play of late. We’ve witnessed Encarnacion’s inconsistency in the past, and so one has to wonder if this is just a blip of a small sample of success or if he’s legitimately changed his approach at the plate, and we’re witnessing the results.

Comments (17)

  1. It really is an interesting decision that lays ahead of the Jays. If there is anyone or thing the jays might go after in the offseason you would think it would be a 1B/DH type, with the ability to move Lind to either depending on their signing. But it makes you wonder whether it’s really necessary. Is keeping Encarnacion for 3.5M worth more than that supplemental round pick? Is Edwin good enough to be your everyday DH? The numbers he has put up since moving to DH are most telling, perhaps the stresses of being a really poor defender and the benefits of spending more time in the cage rather than fielding grounders has really helped his mental approach at the plate. Usually I scoff at such theories but you have to think their is some correlation between his recent success at the plate and the fact he no longer has to struggle defensively playing a postition.

  2. @Chris -you raise some good points, but then there is the fact that Edwin has played some pretty admirable spot-duty at both corners during this hot streak at the plate. You’d think the increased uncertainty that he’ll be at one spot all the time would make him even more of a butcher in the field and lead to off-days at the plate, but I’ve seen a number of good run-saving plays at first and third. If nothing else, the team’s patience with him is being rewarded. Hopefully this is in fact a sign of a legitimate change in approach, and not an outlier period of success for a known streaky player.

  3. My dream, sign Pujols or Fielder. If you land Pujols, trade EE + Prospects for a starter. If you land Fielder, trade Lind + a prospect for a starters.

  4. My dream, sign Pujols or Fielder. If you land Pujols, trade EE + Prospects for a starter. If you land Fielder, trade Lind + a prospect for a starter.

  5. @Argos – I fail to see your logic – Wouldn’t it be the other way around? Or neither. I mean if you sign Pujols he is unquestionably your first basemen, and then you could move Lind to DH. If you signed Fielder as either your 1B or DH, you still have Lind at either spot. Although in theory you would definitely want to keep Lind as your 1B if you get fielder just based on defensive regression as he is introduced to Burrito Boys.

  6. My bet is that one of those two guys signs for the bosox with A Gonz moving to RF. The other ends up in St louis.

  7. really? Isn’t A Gonz a plus defender?

  8. He’s a great defender, as is Pujols. With Drew’s contract up thye will need a RF. Im sure they would take the slight drop in Defence to add a either of those bats. AGonz seemd to be a ‘team guy’ and may be open to a move like that to add one of those two bats.

    • Gonzalez isn’t going to move to right field. He played there a couple times just to get Ortiz in the lineup in NL parks. It’s not something the team could do, even if he was willing, and expect him to stay healthy for a whole year. No way they’d do that to someone they’ve already invested $154 million in. A far more likely scenario sees them bidding adieu to Ortiz and talking Fielder into a full time DH role.

  9. It seems to me that the real question is whether or not the Jays’ organization and development team believe that it’s E5′s mechanics and approach that have changed. If they do, there’s precedent in Bautista that they’ll reward production. I remember that’s precisely what AA said during the press conference on Bautista’s extension.

    E5 is young and cheap. So if they believe his recent resurgence (as Bautista’s) will continue, you can believe they’ll extend him. Even if only to flip him later.

  10. Parkes – What makes you think he would not stay healthy if moved to RF? He has been very durable over his career. Has he ever been on the DL?

    I’m not sure what they would be doing to him??? Its not as if I suggested he become the DH here. RF is not a step down from 1B. I would say its a more important defensive position and I’m sure they would discuss it with him and not just force a move. He seems like a player that would be open to such a move if it added a player the caliber of Pujols.

    There are only a few teams that can afford players like these and you just know that one of them will get creative and go outside the box to add then to their line up. This is a move that could happen!

    • Did you see him play RF earlier this year? It will never be a full time move. He doesn’t have the range at all. And I doubt he has the arm strength although I’ve never seen him throw.

  11. It’s nice he’s able to get it going in the second half but if he continues this next year then what’s the point? If he starts contributing when we are 10 games back then it’s pretty much useless imo. The Jays need more consistent players who don’t go into long slumps if we hope to contend at all.

  12. No I didnt see him in RF, but he’s a talented player and if he worked on it there’s no reason he couldnt become an average defensive rf.

    Again, the key here is finding a way to get one of the best bats in the hsitory of the
    game into your line up. My bet is that the bosox try and find a way to get it done.

    I would like to think the Jays will take a run and unlike many in the media believe top players will come to play here if they are offered market value contracts.

  13. If they brought in Pujols, couldn’t they move him to third, and keep A Gonz at first? Isn’t Youk’s contract up at the end of this year?

    It doesn’t matter anyways. I firmly believe Pujols is staying in St. Louis.

  14. Gonzalez is not, nor will he ever be, a RF in Boston. I live in Boston and can tell you that is not under any consideration here. He has no range and below average footspeed. He only played out there during interleague because both he and Ortiz were in the midst of sustained hot streaks.

    Most people’s belief is they’ll bring Ortiz back for one more season at DH. They also really like what they’re seeing out of this Reddick kid in RF.

  15. I think a huge part of E5′s slow start was that he was mishandled by management. I could be remembering wrong but was he not placed at 3rd base on the last day of training camp? Was this not the exact thing switch that Jose Bautista refused to do until he had ample time to practice? After being told he would not be playing 3rd – the position that earned him the nickname E5 – he was thrown to the wolves. He quickly made errors and had people wanting to toss him out of town due to his defense. May be overly simple but I think it had a huge effect.

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