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Edwin Encarnacion's Breakout SeasonPosted on September 18, 2012 at 08:12 AM.
Edwin Encarnacion was always that player whom we expected more from. The Sabermetric community loved him more than the stat line he would produce in Cincinnati, but Encarnacion never really was able to harness that raw power and turn it into results on the field. After spending five seasons as the Redsí third baseman, Encarnacion was a throw-in player in a deal that sent Scott Rolen to the Reds and Josh Roenicke and Zach Stewart to the Blue Jays. The two prospects were the story in the deal for the Blue Jays, but they took Encarnacion to play third base for the rest of the 2009 season.
He stayed in Toronto in 2010 and did hit 21 home runs. But, he struggled yet again to fulfill his promise as he hit just .244/.305/.482 with 16 doubles, 29 walks, and 60 strikeouts in 90 games. At 27 years old, Encarnacion was heading in the wrong direction. It was his third consecutive season of decline. Combining a declining offensive game that wasnít all that prolific to begin with and the fact that he is one of the worst defenders in all of Major League Baseball, Encarnacion was dangerously flirting with being out of Baseball.
The Blue Jays actually put him on waivers after the 2010 season. The Oakland Aís claimed him and then released him just two months later. The Blue Jays brought him back, again banking on the idea that perhaps some promise would finally become a reality if he spent more time at first base and designated hitter rather than at third base where he earned the nickname ďE5Ē.
Once again, Encarnacion showed promise. He played in 134 games, the most he appeared in since 2008. While his home run total was just 17, he smacked a career high 36 doubles. It was evident that he was changing his approach. He began to hit the ball better to the opposite field. His .272/.334/.453 batting line was his best since 2007. A closer look at his season illustrated some of the changes he made. He didnít hit his first home run until May. He finished May with just that one home run. But, the changes were beginning to take effect as he would hit 14 home runs and add 21 doubles over the next three months, improving his OPS in each month. He was becoming more selective, walking a bit more and striking out a bit less.
The improvement was obvious, but nothing couldíve prepared us for what Edwin Encarnacion was about to lay on us in 2012.
Through 139 games, Encarnacion has already enjoyed a career season. Finally breaking out and realizing what many predicted for him, the 29 year old is batting .279/.382/.565 with 23 doubles, 40 home runs, 102 RBI, and 13 stolen bases. He has already surpassed career highs in OPS, home runs, RBI, stolen bases, and every other power statistic. His .287 ISO is fourth in the Major Leagues, trailing only Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Hamilton, and Ryan Braun. His .399 wOBA and 154 wRC+ are sixth in the Majors.
But, why the seemingly sudden breakout? Again, it is a change of approach. Annectodely, Encarnacion has changed his swing. Before the middle of last season, he was a top-hand release hitter. This year, he is following through by keeping both hands on the bat. This change has allowed him to stay closed enough as he makes contact to drive the outside pitch. As a result, he is no longer the strict pull hitter he was throughout his early career. He is also hitting more flyballs this season. His 50.5% flyball rate is about 5 percent more than his career average. His home run to flyball rate for the season is 18.9%, a career high. But, that career high isnít that far off his other seasons when he posted rates of 15.1% or 12.4%.
He is also walking at a 13% rate, four percent more than his career average. But, his real change is his selectiveness at the plate. His O-Swing rate (swings at pitches outside of the strike zone) is 20.8% this season. His career average is 26 percent. But, even his Z-Swing rate (swings at pitches in the strike zone) is more selective as he swings at 60.6 percent of strikes as compared to his career average of 63.7 percent. With his contact rates near his career norms, his newly found selectiveness has allowed him to hit more to his strength.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, Encarnacion is having a breakout season while not playing third base. He has appeared at the hot corner just once this season, instead splitting time between first base and DH.
In July, the Blue Jays signed Encarnacion to a three year, $29 million deal. That type of deal isnít one that indicates that the Blue Jays view him as an elite power hitter. He doesnít have to top 40 home runs in each of the next three seasons in order to make good on that contract. The Blue Jays are paying him to be a consistent power hitter rather than a prolific one. Consistency hasnít been a trademark of Encarnacionís career, but given his new approach, the power that was always evident, and the relative bargain of the contract, the Blue Jays made a smart bet. Odds are against Encarnacion topping this season, but the Blue Jays arenít paying him the type of money to do that. And, if he does manage to replicate this season, they have one of the best bargains in the sport.
Players progress and develop at different rates. Some fail to make the adjustments that will allow for success. Edwin Encarnacion has made those adjustments in 2012. It will be interesting to see whether or not his new approach is permanent. If it is, the Blue Jays have a powerful middle of the order for the next few seasons.
2012 has been the season of Mike Trout, the Baltimore Orioles, the Oakland Aís, and the Stephen Strasburg shutdown. But, for Blue Jays fans, it has also been the year that Edwin Encarnacion finally broke out. His power potential finally met reality.
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BORN: April 17, 1975 (38)
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