Sunday, July 15, 2012

Celebrating Edwin Encarnacion

Last night on Twitter, the statement was made that Edwin Encarnacion has been as productive as David Ortiz for a third of the price tag. The statement was immediately challenged. "Are you sure about that?" The answer is yes. As the saying goes, "Look it up." Encarnacion currently has 3.0 fWAR and David Ortiz has 2.9. The WAR figures are remarkably similar on as well. The only thing incorrect about the original statement was that Encarnacion makes one-fifth of what Ortiz makes. The fact that Dunn was selected to the All Star Game over Encarnacion was one of the most egregious All Star crimes this century.

The formula looks rather familiar, doesn't it? A player from the Dominican Republic is under-appreciated and bounces around a little bit. He is never considered an everyday player until his late twenties when as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, he decides to seek out coaching and change his approach at the plate. This willingness to listen and improve yields high power results and an overall massive uptick in performance. Sounds just like Bautista, right? The stories are remarkably similar except that Bautista will always be a better fielder.

Whatever it is that goes into coaching in the Toronto organization and in the willingness of its players to evolve, Encarnacion is a success story in spades. His current triple slash line of, .295/.384/.578 is plutonic. His ISO, wOBA and wRC+ are easily the best of his career. His wOBA of .409 is tenth in the majors and his ISO of .283 and wRC+ of 161 are both eighth in the majors. That is all around awesomeness, is it not?

Encarnation has increased his percentage of fly balls and since his homer to fly ball rate are the highest of his career, that is a good combination. The updated ZiPS projections think he will finish with 37 homers. That number is very realistic and could be conservative. He has 25 right now.

PitchF/X data indicates that Encarnacion has become a very patient hitter at the plate. His 22.7 percent of swings at pitches out of the strike zone are the lowest of his career. His overall swing percentage is also the lowest of his career. That seems to indicate that Encarnacion is waiting for his pitch and then crushing it when he gets it. And for a power hitter, his 7.7 percent swing and miss rate is very low for such a basher. His 15.9 percent strikeout rate is not the norm for such high power numbers. And just for kicks and giggles, the Blue Jays' slugger has stolen nine bases in eleven attempts this season and in the past two seasons is 17 for 21.

The problem for Encarnacion has been where to put him. He was not a good third baseman. He has played there once this season. He has played 39 games at first this season and is holding his own there. He'll never be a Teixeira over that bag, but he can improve and can become a decent first baseman. He started the season as the designated hitter, but it is hard to see him in that role. First base seems to be his future.

And his future looks suddenly bright. There were some trade speculations about Encarnacion a few weeks ago when he started to bust out with his season. But those talks have settled down as the Blue Jays just tied him up with an extension that makes him a Blue Jay through the 2016 season. The top dollars of the deal top out at $10 million and so the deal seems very reasonable for the Blue Jays and gives Encarnacion a guaranteed home and paycheck for a while.

It has been fun to see Encarnacion grow in the eyes of the Blue Jays' fan base. He was affectionately known as, "E-5," for most of his Blue Jays experience. That was a play on the initial of his last name and the double-meaning that E-5 is the designation for making an error at third base. Now Blue Jays fans just call him, "EE," and everyone knows what that means. If that was a shoe size, it would be very large. And that is fitting because Edwin Encarnacion is living large and playing large up in Toronto. He has been a terrific story this season and one of the top five story arcs thus far.

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