Name: Edwin Encarnacion
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September 17, 2013 – Placed on 15-day DL by Toronto Blue Jays with left wrist injury.
Edwin Encarnacion had a breakout campaign in 2012 and was quietly becoming one of the best offensive players in all of baseball. He hit 42 home runs that season, had a very nice 0.89 BB/K rate and his .941 OPS was the third highest in the American League, trailing only Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout.
Paired with Jose Bautista in the heart of the Blue Jays order, Encarnacion was expected to continue his offensive dominance but I think some people still wondered whether or not his incredible year was a fluke.
Encarnacion’s previous career-high for home runs was 26 in 2008 and he had only cracked more than 20 in a season twice prior to 2012. However at 30 years of age it appeared as Encarnacion was probably a late bloomer just hitting his prime. If the Blue Jays were a playoff team, there was a chance he could even receive MVP consideration in 2013.
Steamer projected a bit of regression from Encarnacion’s career campaign and predicted a .265/.352/.485 triple slash with 27 home runs, 63 walks, 85 strikeouts and a .362 wOBA in 2013.
The 2013 MLB season started out a bit strangely for Encarnacion. He belted out nine home runs and slugged .535 in April but a .203 BABIP was holding his batting average down to only .238. He also struck out 18 times, which was his highest total for any month in 2013. He was basically either hitting out of the park, walking or getting out – there wasn’t much in between.
As the season progressed, Edwin’s BABIP began to normalize and again he was producing at a near MVP-caliber rate. His OPS of .904 was good for fifth in the AL in a year when offensive numbers were down across baseball. He was fourth in isolated power and fifth in wOBA at .262 and .388 respectively. His BB/K rate of 1.32 put him first in the AL by a ridiculous margin (Dustin Pedroia was second among qualifiers at 0.97). His 10% strikeout rate was the league’s fourth best and his slugging percentage was more than 100 points higher than any of the players ahead of him.
A good eye combined with incredible zone coverage helps make Encarnacion extremely productive at the plate. For three seasons in a row he’s made good contact out of the zone while chasing only about 25% of the time. He also made very good contact in the zone this season at 90.3%, which all helped make for a career-low 6.4% swinging strike rate in 2013. About the only pitch he didn’t destroy was the cutter (which he saw about 8.3% of the time) and had positive pitch values on every other pitch he saw according to FanGraphs.
Despite being a right-handed batter Encarnacion had almost an identical batting average and on-base percentage against both RHP and LHP this year. He slugged better against righties (.547) than lefties (.486) and his OPS was actually higher versus RHP in 2013 (.904) than in 2012 (.892).
Encarnacion struggled with a wrist injury to finish the year in September, which clearly impacted his late-season performance. He was smartly shut down midway through September and had successful surgery to clean up cartilage in his left wrist on September 17. He finished the season with a 4.0 rWAR and 4.1 fWAR and narrowly missed becoming just the ninth player in the past 20 years to finish the season with at least 40 home runs and less than 70 strikeouts.
It would probably be safe to assume that Encarnacion will continue his elite-level play in 2014. Even if his strikeout rate does increase a bit he’s made significant improvement to his walk rate the past two seasons to more than make up for it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he walks even more often than the career mark he set in 2013 at 13.2%, especially if pitchers learn to start pitching around him more often. Steamer’s early projections predict a triple-slash of .271/.362/.507 from Encarnacion with a .374 wOBA in 2014.
Hopefully the wrist injury won’t affect him next season and I should note he had surgery on the same wrist after the 2009 season to repair a large bone spur. His recovery time for this injury has been set at two months and should be okay to continue with his offseason training at the end of this month.
Encarnacion should anchor the middle of the Blue Jays lineup and will most likely remain the Blue Jays clean-up hitter in 2014. My favourite move of the season however was when John Gibbons moved him and Bautista up to third and second in the order. Both players saw big time improvements to their wRC+ in these spots and I would love if the Jays decided to give their best two hitters more opportunities by moving them up on a full-time basis next season.