Analyzing Edwin Encarnacion’s Fast Start

To put it simply, Edwin Encarnacion is on fire. 

Having just clubbed a fifth homerun in the past six games Encarnacion is on a tear and for the season is slashing a ridiculous 320/376/680 with 9 homeruns, 24 RBIs and 4 stolen bases. 

His wOBA is at a Jose Bautista-esque .443 and despite his shoddy defense has already accumulated a 1.1 WAR.  His current wRC+ is an impressive 187 and his ISO is through the roof at .361. 

Encarnacion was always known as a solid hitter coming through the ranks and there was always the feeling he was only scratching the surface of his offensive potential. 

EE has started the 2012 MLB season with a vengeance, punishing poor unsuspecting pitchers in the process.  Has the man some affectionately call “E5” turned a corner in his career or is this hot start simply a result of some good fortune? 

I wanted to dig a little deeper into the numbers to get an idea if Edwin Encarnacion is for real.  The Blue Jays have a proven track record of developing and getting the absolute most out of talented but unproven hitters – see Bats, Joey.  

Not to compare the two sluggers, Edwin will never have the on-base skills that turned Bautista into one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball.  But, have they potentially caught lightning in a bottle again?

Let’s look at some of his key stats in relation to career levels.

EE AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ ISO BB% K%
2012 .320 .376 .680 .443 187 .361 7.3 16.5
Career .262 .337 .461 .347 109 .199 8.7 17.2

 Obviously these are all career marks thus far and it is still relatively early into the season but a full month has passed and his stats are phenomenal.  His walk and strikeout rates are right in line with career levels and he has always been a slugger but this season he has taken that power to another level.

Here is his batted ball profile:

EE BABIP LD% GB% FB% HR/FB
2012 .306 12.3 33.3 54.3 20.5
Career .283 18.6 36.6 44.8 12.2

 Not surprisingly with any power surge his HR/FB ratio is well above his career level and a 20% mark is the type of number Jose Bautista has been putting up over the past few seasons during his revival.  His BABIP isn’t outlandish though a touch high given his line drive rate.  It is also probably artificially lower given how many fly balls leave the yard entirely.

Let’s now look at his plate discipline numbers:

EE Swing% Contact O-Swing O-Contact Z-Swing Z-Contact F-Strike SwStrk
2012 45.2 79.8 26.7 64.3 63.1 86.1 52.3 8.8
Career 47.0 81.1 25.9 62.0 68.8 88.4 58.6 8.6

 Again, other than pitchers trying to avoid throwing a first pitch strike less this season most of these numbers are right in line with his career averages. 

Defensively he has been terrible and let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that is a fixable skill set.  UZR rates him very poorly at both first and third base and this is just a trade off the Jays will have to live with as long as he is on the team.

So what gives, why such an amazing offensive start?

If I had to hang my hat on a possible reason for his early season success it would definitely start with Encarnacion’s improvement versus the slider.  Historically it has been a pitch that has given him fits and has been a crutch for him over his entire career (-14.1 runs vs. slider).

This season he actually has a positive run value versus the slider which is a career first.  In fact early on there isn’t a pitch he hasn’t handled well, including the cutter.  Combine an inflated HR/FB with an improvement versus his long time nemesis (aka the slider) and maybe he really has turned a corner. 

Surely some of his numbers will regress as the season plays out and it is possible he has had favourable pitching matchups to start the season (pitchers without solid sliders/cutters) but with Jose Bautista still struggling to get his timing back the Blue Jays will continue to lean heavily on his powerful bat.

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