Who: Edwin Encarnacion, No. 10. Designated hitter, occasional first baseman, former third baseman, winter league left fielder. 6’2, 235 LBS. 29 years old.
Tao-Approved Nicknames: EE is perfectly acceptable, and somewhat endearing. But don’t you dare call him E5, or we’ll write you a stern, scolding tweet to set you straight.
History: Seven MLB seasons and 786 games, with Cincinnati and Toronto. Entering fourth season with the Blue Jays.
Contract Status: Jays exercised one-year, $3.5 million option over the offseason. Free agent after this season.
Career Stats: .260 AVG, .336 OBP, .453 SLG, .789 OPS in 3078 plate appearances. 117 home runs, 392 RBI.
2011 Stats:.272 AG, .334 OBP, .453 SLG, .787 OPS in 530 plate appearances in 134 games played. 17 homers, 36 doubles, 55 RBI. OPS+ of 110, highest of his career.
Splitting the Season into Convenient Portions: In 95 games and from June 1st through the end of the season, Encarnacion posted a .360 OBP/.499 SLG/.858 OPS with 16 home runs and 24 doubles.
Looking Back: There’s something about Edwin Encarnacion that makes it hard for a significant portion of the Blue Jays fanbase to embrace him. Certainly, the Jays made an unpopular organizational about-face at the end of spring training last year, thrusting Encarnacion back into active duty at the hot corner in spite of assurances that he would never darken that side of the infield with his troublesome glove work. And when it went poorly from the outset, with EE making three errors in his first two starts in field, fans pounced on the weakness with choruses of hisses and boos.
There also seems to be something about Edwin’s body language that is off-putting to that angry horde, as though fans are seeking for him to appear more contrite after those gaffes. We’ve heard more than a few fans bemoan the fact that Encarnacion didn’t care about his eight fielding misplays at third, but somehow Brett Lawrie’s six errors are forgiven because he appears dutifully upset by them. (As though we could ever know such things.)
But if there was some perception that Encarnacion wasn’t sufficiently fazed by his bad defense, those struggles clearly affected him at the plate early on. He pressed and struggled through much of the first two months of the season, managing just one home run, striking out 21 times versus just four walks. But as the Jays transitioned Encarnacion out of the infield and into a role which saw him primarily used as a DH and occasional first baseman, his offensive numbers turned around dramatically. In July and August, he’d post OPSs of .909 and .960, and he was the Jays’ second best offensive player for a significant portion of the summer months.
A key part of that success - and part of the reason for our boundless EE optimism - was an improved strikeout rate. EE’s whiff rate of 14.5% was the lowest of his career.
Looking Forward: In spite of the fact that the Blue Jays already have a dozen or so options in left field, they asked Encarnacion to make an attempt at the position in five Dominican Winter League games. Though there isn’t much in the way of reports about how that experiment went, the fact that there’s been no further discussion of the notion probably speaks volumes.
Edwin’s defense at first base was perfectly fine last year, and given the physical struggles of Adam Lind last year, it would not surprise us to see Encarnacion get at least a start per week at that infield corner. Given our druthers, we might even like to see Encarnacion platoon with Lind versus left-handed pitching, though such a scenario seems unlikely at this point.
(Strange, isn’t it, how we’re always stuck talking about Edwin’s glove? It’s clearly the least of his tools, but it seems to overshadow all else.)
Encarnacion should get plenty of at bats in the middle of the Jays’ lineup this year, and given the current hopeless devotion to Lind as the cleanup hitter, we’d expect EE to find himself in the five-hole if he hits well, and maybe seventh if he struggles.
2012 Expectations: Wherever he occasionally plays in the field or hits in the lineup, we fully expect a solid season at the plate from Encarnacion. That 95 game stretch starting in June was no fluke, and if he can carry forward that level of performance, an OPS in the .830 range or higher is well within reach.
You might hope for something more than that out of your DH spot, but the major league average output for the position was an OPS of .764. We can’t see Encarnacion’s performance falling beneath that level, and we can imagine him providing good value at 50 points over the mean. Could he go 100 points above that level? It wouldn’t surprise us and if he does, he’ll be a tremendously valuable piece of the Jays offense.