If the Toronto Blue Jays were a better baseball team (and there wasn’t this guy named Miguel Cabrera) Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion might be getting at least a sniff of early MVP consideration. Encarnacion has hit the stuffing out of the baseball and is currently tied for third place in home runs in the American League and is fifth in RBIs. Bautista missed time early with separate ankle and back issues but is getting on base a ton and hitting .348 in May. Thanks to Jose’s incredible stretch of baseball lately my title is quickly becoming less of a question but I figured why not ask it anyway – who is having the better 2013 season?
Obviously there are a few different ways we can look at this. Edwin has the early edge if you use traditional power numbers (13/11 HR, 38/27 RBIs) in seven more games played. But as there is more and more of an emphasis on advanced stats in baseball, I’m going to use a couple of my favorite to try to figure out who has been the Blue Jays most valuable and important player so far this season (sorry Melkman).
Before I get started I would love to hear your thoughts on the issue at hand – who do you think is having the better season?
Although these guys are both sluggers, on base percentage is still a great measurement of value. A team only has 27 outs in a game – managing to find a way on base is arguably the most important skills in baseball. I’m going to retroactive my stats to about a week ago for a moment. Both Jose and Edwin were hitting for nearly and identical average at .250 and .248 respectively, but Jose’s OBP was .037 point higher. Bautista’s BB% was 15.9% (now up to 17.1%) while Encarnacion measured up at 10.3% (now at 10.4%). This led to a big advantage for Bautista in OBP, despite a very similar average from both players.
Now back to the present. As I mentioned earlier, Jose is hitting .348 in May (going into Friday’s game) and has improved his season average to .271. Edwin is still hovering around .250. Now that Jose is swinging the bat better, the OBP battle isn’t even close. Bautista continues to show one of the best eyes in baseball and swings at pitches outside of the zone only 22.2% of the time while Edwin’s chase rate is 26.4%. To give Encarnacion some respect, when the ball is in the zone he almost always hits it. His contact rate on pitches inside the zone is 89.0%, which is ridiculous for a player with his kind of power. Edwin is also making good contact on pitches outside of the zone with a 72.2% contact rate compared to Bautista’s 67.4%. So our eyes are not deceiving us that Edwin is hitting everything in sight. But the high contact rate out of the zone won’t help his notorious BABIP. At the end of the day on base percentage is king and Jose’s walk rate trumps Edwin’s contact.
If you aren’t familiar check FanGraphs for the full definition. Basically wRC+ is a park and league adjusted average to quantify how many runs a certain player is worth to his team compared to the league average (which is 100). This is where the scale really tips in favor of Bautista. Jose’s wRC+ is 6th in the American League at 155 while Edwin measures up at a “still great by Blue Jays standards” 124. So despite Encarnacion’s 38 to 27 lead in RBIs, Bautista is the bigger reason why the Blue Jays are creating so many runs lately. And how about we give John Gibbons some credit too. In the two weeks since he’s moved Bautista to second in the lineup, Jose’s wRC+ is a Miguel-like 234 while Encarnacion’s is a much improved 174. Not sure if Gibby figured that one out on his own but it was a forward-thinking move as having your best hitter second is currently challenging conventional baseball wisdom.
So in conclusion, it turns out to be not much of a contest. Jose Bautista-man is still the man in Toronto but Edwin is definitely 1A. They are both great baseball players and we are very lucky to have them as Toronto Blue Jays. They are also signed through at least 2015 under reasonable contract terms. If the Blue Jays know what’s good for them, neither Bautista or Encarnacion will be going anywhere for a very long time.
Winner: Jose Bautista (in a relative landslide)
— MLB Fan Cave (@MLBFanCave) May 23, 2013