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Blue Jays 2015 Year in Review: Edwin Encarnacion

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Blue Jays DH Edwin Encarnacion had a season of two halves. In a mid-season piece I wrote on the first half disappointments, Edwin was front and centre, and in my opinion, was the biggest disappointment of the players included. From an individual performance standpoint, he had failed to live up to expectations.

At the time, I posed a question that asked if Edwin’s first half was a sign that regression was hitting the soon to be 33-year-old, or if his first half was simply an extended period of unusual struggles for the slugger. Clearly, Edwin answered that question with his play, and he still has plenty in the tank.

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His numbers at the halfway mark were extremely underwhelming. His .233/.326/.452/.778 slash line wasn’t close to his former three years, his strikeout and walk rates were headed in the wrong directions, and his hard contact rate plummeted.

He more than turned it around in the second half. His slash line sat a ridiculous .336/.433/.700/1.132 and his wRC+ went up 89 points to 201. His 201 wRC+ was the second best mark in the entire league in the second half, sitting only behind Joey Votto. His walk rate went up to 13.4% and his strikeout rate dropped to 12.6%, giving him a BB/K ratio of 1.06, only one of five to do so, and the only one of the five to hit more than 20 HR.

Arguably the biggest factor in his huge second half was his batted ball profile. His hard contact rate jumped from 27.5% to 45.6%, which brought his season long number to 35.5%, very similar to what he put up in the previous three seasons.

His GB% dropped by ten points, which is crucial for a hitter of his style. Getting the ball on a line and in the air is a very important aspect of his success. His wRC+ was -16 on grounder, 204 on flyballs, and 448 on liners. This type of wRC+ inflation from GB to FB to LD is largely consistent league wide, but for a hitter that relies on power and has to deal with consistent shifts on the infield, it’s vital that he gets the ball in the air.

I could go on and on about Edwin’s second half, but simply put, it was monstrous. He’s made it clear he still has the unique ability to smash the baseball, take his walks, and limit his strikeouts. It’s an absolute treat to have him in the middle of the lineup for a huge bargain of 10 million.

The Good

As explained above, the power and plate discipline are still there. 39 home runs were his most since 2012, his 94 R and 111 RBI represented career highs, he finished 8th in OPS and wRC+ with marks of .929 and 150, and his ISO was a career high at .280. His ability as a hitter is remarkable, and the hot streaks he puts together are fun to watch. Along with the talent, Edwin also brings outstanding year-to-year consistency.

Throughout the last four years, his home run total has sat between 42 and 34, OPS between .941 and .901, and wRC+ between 151 and 146. You could sift through a number of different statistics and you’ll get similar results; he consistently delivers year in and year out.

On top of the hitting prowess he offers, he actually put together the best defensive season of his career. His 481.1 innings was his lowest total since 2011, due to the team’s reluctance to play him in the field to preserve his health and the presence of Justin Smoak, but his advanced defensive metrics fared well when compared to his career rates.

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He posted his first positive UZR of his career at 1B, with a mark of 1.6, and his DRS was at an even 0. They’re by no means top of the line numbers, but they marked the best of his career.

At the end of the day, Edwin isn’t an all-star caliber player because of his defense, but it was a positive nonetheless. His improved defense led him to his career high fWAR of 4.5. His offensive dominance and consistency is what makes him the player he is, and the fact he turned around his season from an underwhelming first half proved to fans that he is indeed the slugger we’ve become accustomed to and that he isn’t planning on slowing down.

The Bad

It’s hard to find many negatives in Edwin’s overall game, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The one negative going forward is his age, and ability to stay healthy. He’s managed to avoid major injuries throughout the last four years, contributing to his ability to be consistent, but he’s had issues with minor injuries.

He had some shoulder woes in the first half, which most likely played a role in his first half struggles, and he dealt with a finger issue throughout the second half, including in the late stages of the season and playoffs. Recently, he underwent sports hernia surgery, and it’s expected he’ll be ready to go for spring training. As he gets older, the chances of these minor injuries turning into injuries that sideline him for longer periods increase.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing as opposed to a natural occurrence for aging players, but I’m nitpicking at this point because there’s a small amount of options in Edwin’s game to critique.

Next: Risky business, but could the Blue Jays look at Morneau?

The Future

I think it’s pretty safe to assume that Edwin is going to have another productive season in 2016, barring an injury that puts him out of play for an extended period of time. He showed in the second half that his hot streaks are continuing to over power periods of struggles and that he can consistently put up strong campaigns.

Fangraph’s Steamer projects some regression from Edwin; they have him hitting .265/.357/.514/.871 with 36 HR, 106 RBI and a 136 wRC+. The Steamer system tends to be on the low side, so it’s not a surprise it’s projecting numbers below what he did this season, and the 136 wRC+ is still tied for the 11th best amongst all projections. And if he were to regress to those numbers, I don’t think anyone would be complaining.

Of course, it’s impossible to predict how players are going to perform from season to season, but Edwin’s talent and proven consistency make him one of the safest bets to have an Edwin-like year. Regression and injuries are ultimately inevitable for every player, but 2016 should be another productive season in the middle of the Jays formidable offence for Edwing.

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