With many of our favorite players starting to find their way to Florida and Arizona for spring training it’s time to dream. With last year’s disappointment still fresh in our minds and many fans whining like a preteen because our beloved GM didn’t sign every single free-agent out there.
Let’s talk about a guy that could seriously contend for the 2014 MVP award. Edwin Encarnacion (EE) has resurrected his career and elevated his status to premium power hitter, but he hasn’t moved into the elite club….or has he?
Thankfully, EE doesn’t play much third anymore, and to the surprise of many, he has fared quite well on the opposite side of the diamond with a .992 fielding percentage. Last year, Encarnacion started 9 games at the hot corner, 78 games at first, and 55 as a DH. Most of the games EE played at third was during interleague play (raise your hand if you are tired of interleague play). I thought EE’s future was as a DH the epitome of a one-dimensional player.
We are well aware of Encarnacion’s story so I keep it short. In 2005, he was a Top 50 prospect. He made his debut for the Cincinnati Reds at third in June of that year. The next 4 years he accumulated over 70 errors, and a field % of .935, this didn’t improve much during his time in Toronto. No. 204 is where Edwin’s field % currently ranks all-time with a .9343. That’s enough of picking on his fielding skills.
I imagine most fans would be able to stomach the poor defense from a 3rd baseman that was healthy and produced at the plate. The health issues seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back and allowed JP Ricciardi to get him for cheap. Encarnacion’s injury problems started in 2008 with back spasms and wrist alignments…sound familiar? Last year Encarnacion’s season ended early due to a wrist injury which required surgery (no update on how it is doing). Man I hope that he is ready to go this spring and doesn’t take 2 years to get the strength back up. After missing 58 games due to a wrist injury in 2009, it took until halfway through the 2011 season to regain his form.
We all remember how the 2011 season started, right? The last day of spring training our favor coach made Edwin our opening day starting third baseman after not receiving any time there that spring. He quickly found his way on the bench. Many speculated that his struggles in the field followed him to the dish as he struggled mightily….can you blame him. Playing primarily as a DH and 1st baseman since losing his job at the beginning of the 2011 season, Encarnacion starting turned a corner. He turned it in a big way. Encarnacion has hit more dingers than everyone but Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis since the beginning of the 2012.
Encarnacion worked with Luis Mercedes on shortening his swing and using both hands, instead of the helicopter swing we saw prior to 2012.
An added benefit to mechanical adjustments was an increased base on balls (13 BB%) and decreased strikeouts (10 K%). 2013 was the first year that EE had a higher BB% than K% and this resulted in a BB/K of 1.32, the higher the number the more patient the batter. EE never had anything higher than 0.60 before 0.89 in 2012. In 2013, there were only 4 other ‘power hitters’ with ISO of .200 that even came close to EE’s BB/K of 1.32, those guys were Cabrera, Ortiz, Bautista, and Trout. Cabrera had the highest BB/K of the four with a 0.96, so we could say that EE was a beast in that department.
EE has always had tremendous raw power (one of 20 players to hit five homers greater than 450 feet between 2007 and 2012) but lacked the plate discipline to become an elite hitter. In 2012, he combined raw power with plate vision and plate discipline. On top of improved vision and discipline EE started to square up on pitches, to a tune of 102 line drives compared to 79 in 2011. Even more impressive was how patient EE has become. In 2011, EE watched 736 pitches go for balls, conversely in 2012 and 2013, EE watched over a 1000 pitches go for balls. This tells me that he isn’t swinging at balls out of the strike zone.
In 2011, EE watched 1244 pitches go for strikes, conversely in 2012 and 2013, EE watched over an average of 1500 pitches go for strikes. EE just isn’t chasing bad pitches; he is waiting for a good pitch to hit and is squaring up on it with more regularity.
As long as the wrist fully heals with no setbacks, we can expect EE to continue to be a premium power hitter, with a decent average, and solid OPS in 2014. If EE can take the next step he will have to increase hit OBP and collect a few more hits with runners in scoring position….I don’t think that is asking too much.
Let the games begin.