Mission ’13: Edwin Encarnacion, Slugger

The Jays beat Arizona 4-1 in game one of their series at Chase Field, and Edwin Encarnacion contributed a 2-run home run in the 9th inning as insurance. Sure, starters Esmil Rogers (his best game as a pro) and Brandon McCarthy (his best game of the season, until the 9th inning HR) pitched extremely well, but it was EE who caught my attention.

Unfortunately too much time has been spent on those who haven’t played to their abilities this season. It’s not unusual: we’re all groping for answers to help us cope with the negative variation that’s been almost epidemic. But there are some players playing really well this year, and Edwin is one of them.

We all know that he experienced a power surge last year. His breakout season in 2012 (66 xbh, 99 R, 83 BB, 151 wRC+) has been duplicated in 2013. Some things are better (R, xbh, BB, etc.) while others (wRC+, wOBA) remain comparable, if slightly lower.

What has commanded attention though is the very good—not great—power and the low strikeout totals. Edwin has a good eye, as his 13% BB rate attests but what’s so astonishing is how rarely he strikes out. Presently EE sports a 9.7% K-rate, which is 9th best in all of Major League Baseball. He’s the only player in the majors who combines near-elite power (35 HR after today’s game) with a top-30 K-rate.

Edwin’s 25.8% o-swing rate is almost identical to his career average of 25.6%, but his z-swing and swing rates are near the lower end of his career spectrum. The main difference is that he’s making more contact: his contact rates outside the strike zone, inside the strike zone, and overall are all at career best levels, albeit marginally in the case of contact outside the zone and his overall contact rate. When he makes contact, he drives the ball (.258 ISO).

Edwin drove the ball well (.277 ISO) in 2012, his breakout season, hitting 42 HR and 24 2B. It was the first time in his career that he had more than 30 HR, and it was also his first time clearing the 150-game barrier. Injuries and inconsistency made that impossible previously. This season he’s only missed 3 games, playing 135 of the Jays’ 138 games. He’s projected to clear his career high of 66 xbh, set in 2012, but only marginally (70 or so, according to ZIPS and Steamer). His walk totals are also projected to be in line with last year’s total of 84: ZIPS projects 87, while Steamer projects 88. His BABIP is down for the 3rd straight season, though, as it’s hovering around the .250 mark.

Then there’s his obscene strikeout rate: at 9.7%, he strikes out like a light-hitting middle infielder known for making good contact. Do we know anyone like that? Sure, former Blue Jay Marco Scutaro fits the bill. Marco had some extra base hits during his stopovers in Toronto and Boston, but was better known as a contact hitter. His tendency in that regard has improved over the last few seasons. His power has remained consistent but his K-rate, which ranged from 10.2% to 15.6% in his first 7 full seasons, has dropped from 8.1% to 7.2% to 6.5% over the last 3 seasons. Edwin’s K-rate is slightly higher (9.7%), but wouldn’t look out of place in Scutaro’s stat line. A key difference is that Edwin has near-elite power.

Scutaro’s a good contemporary example, but let’s dig into some historical stats. I chose a cut-off point of 1961, because it was an expansion year with a lot of home runs. I then chose players who hit at least 30 HR in a season. I whittled the number down further from that point to give me an idea of how Edwin Encarnacion’s present performance stacks up against players from the last 52 seasons. Here are the results:

  • Since 1961, there have been 1,585 occasions when a player with at least 500 plate appearances had a K-rate of 10% or lower;
  • Of those 1,585 instances, the overwhelming majority were ‘Punch-and-Judy’ hitters with fewer than 10 home runs;
  • there were 1,450 occasions when a player had 500 PA and a K-rate of 9.7% or lower;
  • in 53 of those 1,450 instances, a player hit 30 or more home runs with a K-rate of 9.7% or lower;
  • in 28 of those 53 instances, a player hit 35 or more home runs:

Year

Player

HR Total

K%

1985

D. Mattingly

35

5.6

2004

B. Bonds

45

6.6

1979

D. Baylor

36

7.1

1969

H. Aaron

44

7.4

2004

A. Pujols

46

7.5

2002

B. Bonds

46

7.7

2006

A. Pujols

49

7.8

1993

F. Thomas

41

8.0

2003

G. Sheffield

39

8.1

2008

A. Pujols

37

8.4

2000

T. Helton

42

8.8

1962

F. Robinson

39

8.8

2011

A. Pujols

37

8.9

1972

B. Williams

37

9.1

1970

B. Williams

42

9.1

2009

A. Pujols

47

9.1

1999

V. Guerrero

42

9.2

2005

A. Pujols

41

9.3

2000

C. Jones

36

9.3

2006

C. Lee

37

9.4

1970

C. Yastrzemski

40

9.5

2003

A. Pujols

43

9.5

1998

N. Garciaparra

35

9.5

2006

A. Ramirez

38

9.5

1961

R. Maris

61

9.6

1962

R. Colavito

37

9.6

2013

E. Encarnacion

35

9.7

1996

G. Sheffield

42

9.7

We should note the frequency with which some players got on this list: Pujols did it often (7); Bonds (2), Sheffield (2) and Billy Williams (2) also had great stretches. Don Mattingly narrowly missed doing it 3 straight years, but my favourite is the entry 4th from the bottom.

The upshot is that 19 different players have reached 500 PA and hit 35 or more home runs while striking out less than 9.7% of the time over the last 52 seasons, and Edwin is one of them. It’s an impressive feat and he’s keeping good company. Edwin is doing something that very few players have done in the last half-century. Enjoy.

Wes Kepstro

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3 Responses to “Mission ’13: Edwin Encarnacion, Slugger”


  1. 1 site December 12, 2013 at 4:35 am

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  2. 2 Idiot Fan September 3, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    It has been incredible to see the maturation of EE. If the Jays had to keep either EE or JB it isn’t even close, EE is superior in almost all aspects offensively.

    If he were to become available (EE) we could pick and chose almost any top prospect(s) given his production, age, skill-set and especially contract.

    EE/JB are both bargains actually.


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