When a player experiences his break-out campaign after seven years in Major League Baseball, often the first tag to get applied is “fluke”. There are questions about whether the player can repeat that success, especially after waiting so long for it to finally blossom.
Given his performance in past seasons, it would be tough to argue against it for Edwin Encarnacion, who at 29-years-old, finally captured some of the promise with a season that saw him hit .280 with 42 home runs, 110 RBI, a .941 OPS, and a bWAR of 4.6. After all, we are talking about a player that had been placed on waivers and claimed by the Oakland Athletics just two years prior, only to be cast away and return to Toronto.
The pressure to repeat such a season could be astronomical, but not insurmountable. In fact, we saw a similar situation play itself out just two years earlier with Jose Bautista. Also at 29-years-old, Bautista came out of nowhere to hit 54 home runs in 2010 and faced similar questions about his ability to repeat those numbers. All Bautista did in 2011 is have an arguably better season, coming back with 43 home runs, but increasing every other offensive category that season.
It could also be argued that Encarnacion’s success was not a one-season wonder at all. One could look at his second half stats from 2011 and say that his 2012 production was just the product of something clicking the year prior and the continued development of proper technique. After all, Encarnacion did finish 2011 with a productive second half that saw him contribute a .291 batting average, 11 home runs, 36 RBI, and a .887 OPS.
That all said, the question is not really if Encarnacion is capable of repeating his 2012 season, but whether he needs to at all.
In 2012, the early season struggles of Bautista and the multitude of injuries all around the field forced Encarnacion to step up and produce non-stop. However, the pressure to do so in 2013 is not nearly as great. The additions of Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera to the line-up, as well as the return of a healthy Jose Bautista and the continued development of Brett Lawrie will take some of that pressure off of Encarnacion. Having extra weapons to help endure struggled of key players will make this team more dynamic and reduce the need for one bat to carry it from April through October.
That’s not to say that the team can succeed should Encarnacion slide back to his mediocre production in years prior. Having a productive E.E. in the middle of the order make pitcher approach Bautista differently and two big bats in the middle of the order to help shoulder the burden are what this team has been lacking for years. However, if he could settle into the role of a 30 home run, 85-90 RBI bat, then it is reasonable to believe the Blue Jays would be quite pleased.
And I don’t think that is an unreasonable expectation of fans to have either.