Tuesday, February 28, 2012

30 Jays in 30 Days - Edwin Encarnacion's Offense Is His Best Defense

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.


Lrxst said...

There are worse players to have DHing, that's for sure. When he first arrived from Cincinnati he drove me nuts, probably in no small part due to the fact that he was replacing Scott Rolen. Talk about a comedown. But I think the general perception of him among Jays fans is really unfair. He's done everything the team has asked him in terms of losing weight etc., he legs out doubles that a guy his size doesn't seem to have any business making, and it's awfully fun when he hits three-quarters of his seasons home run total in a two-week span.

What I'm saying is that if he had been born in Riverside, CA and not La Romana, DR he'd be huge in this city. HUGE.

Bakatron said...

i was probably very high when i made this bet over the internet but as long as EE does not field, i see him posting ortiz like numbers.

if i lose the bet, my friend gets a jays hat. i have no regrets giving it but i wouldnt mind winning the bet.

DGAPA said...

And what do you win Bakatron?

sporkless said...

The odd thing about EE is that everyone seems to expect him to have a monster breakout hitting year every year, yet he is remarkably consistent at the level he performs at. Which is a good (not great) level.

Where these expectations come from I'm not sure I understand, but I think it has a lot to do with his lack of popularity by the home crowds.

Tao of Stieb said...

So you're saying I shouldn't be cranking up the expectations?


gabriel said...

I don't think EE has a problem playing in the field when he doesn't have the burden of being the starter. He looked quite creditable at third later in the season as well as at first; I'd be happy to see him giving Lawrie the occasional day off from the field.

Lrxst is quite right that EE looked very good and smart on the basepaths last year, taking the extra base and stealing bases opportunistically; and it sounds like he's in great shape this spring as well.

Anonymous said...

We saw Edwin play 3B 2 years ago, it was awful and everyone knew it. He was old enough and played enough 3B that we also knew it wasn't going to get better. When they signed him again we were promised he wouldn't play 3B, just 1B and DH, but then he did and proved everyone's expectations right.

Brett Lawrie was young, in his first season ever playing the position. It was expected that he'd make a few errors, but given time he will get better. That's the difference in the comparison.

That and the fact that Lawrie posted a .963 fielding percentage compared to a .892 for Edwin. Lawrie also had a range factor of more than 1/game over Edwin and a UZR/150 of 15.7, compared to -37.0 for Edwin.

Tao of Stieb said...

I'm not saying that EE is as good a fielder as Lawrie. (And get that fielding percentage garbage out of this discussion, by the way.)

My point is just that people are now cynical about EE's defense, which gives him no margin for error. Maybe that's reasonable, as you note, because of their relative levels of experience.

And yeah: I though EE did a really good job on the basepaths. You ever see him round third? It was quite a sight.

Ty said...

This is totally qualitative and anecdotal, but I noticed that EE smiled a lot more last season, specifically in the 2nd half. Happy EE is probably my favorite person ever. Easily the team leader in smiles above replacement.

Anonymous said...

Fielding percentage may not be a great stat, but its a direct counter-argument to, "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."

You compare the numbers 8 and 6 and make it seem like they both just made a bunch of errors, when in reality EE was almost 3 times as likely to make an error as Lawrie was.

Tao of Stieb said...

Again, my point wasn't to try to say that EE and Lawrie are roughly equivalent.

On the other hand, we're comparing pretty small samples, so going to UZR/150 based on 273-380 innings is a bit of a misuse of the stat.

I think that EE is probably not quite as bad in the field as people think (though still very much below average), and we just don't really know what Lawrie is going to be. He could be a Gold Glover, or he could be a butcher. We just don't know, and anything we say at this point is a guess based on happy thoughts.

mike in boston said...

The odd thing about EE is that everyone seems to expect him to have a monster breakout hitting year every year, yet he is remarkably consistent at the level he performs at. Which is a good (not great) level.
Where these expectations come from I'm not sure I understand

selective sample sizes -- see above for an example of this. for some reason Jays fans think, every year, THIS is the year EE maintains it over the course of a whole season.

There is no rational basis for having a high degree of confidence that EE can be a + offensive player over a whole season. The evidence is to the contrary.

Anonymous said...

Today's version of Rico Carty