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.