Edwin Encarnacion, hereby known as E5, was a disappointment during his tenure with the Cincinnati Reds. While he was seen has having talent, he was also labeled as an inconsistent underachiever. He was relegated back to Triple A in 2007, only to return to the major leagues for a couple inconsistent seasons before being a throw-in in a 2009 trade to the Toronto Blue Jays.
E5 had no heart, according to Cincinnati managers, who would bench him for not running out fly balls, and for that reason he wasn’t expected to eclipse the label of underachiever. A failure of his heart? A total failure of his heart? Maybe that explains why every now and then this Crackerjack falls apart.
I swear, it was as if E5 had been sitting on his bottom for 5 years, doing nothing but eating Bon-Bons, watching his stories, and sneaking out of his housecoat occasionally for a tease. Until – at last! – he laced up his cleats, stepped outside, and decided it was time to play some ball.
Yet his career still didn’t materialize in a straight line. In 2010 he was designated for assignment by the Blue Jays, only to be claimed off waivers by the Oakland Athletics. In a rare goof by Billy Beane, the A’s non-tendered him and he ultimately ended back wit the Blue Jays, where he began to play 3B in 2011. Getting dizzy yet?
But E5’s heart grew 5 sizes during this time and he was one of 2012’s winners for the Heart and Hustle Award, which honers (honours, for our French Canadian readers) active players who demonstrate a passion for the game of baseball and best embody the values, spirit and tradition of the sport.
It was also during 2012 that E5 started to hit bombs, only now he had put his teasing ways behind him and was doing it consistently. Always possessing raw power, E5 has put that together while developing into an all around great hitter. Since the second half of 2011 only Miguel Cabrera has has more homers. Let’s take a look a table showing his ’12 and ’13 numbers, plus our 2013 Crackerjack Projections for him:
While it’s tempting to just drop the mic and just type myself off the stage after we hit those projections so closely, I think there is a lot to say about E5’s 2014. Cutting to the chase, I think he’ll be exceptional in 2014.
While his fumble-fingered glove work has driven him mostly off 3B, his bat has firmly cemented him in the top tier at first base. As proof-positive evidence of this, we need to look at his plate discipline, but while strong plate discipline is often mentioned with other hitters, we need to hop into the family minivan and really drive this point home with Encarnación.
His walk rate in 2012 was 13.0% and it ticked up to 13.2% in 2013. Meanwhile, his strikeout rate was at 14.6% in 2012, then down to a remarkable 10.0% in 2013. You read that right: E5 walks more than he strikes out. His BB/K is actually 1.32, which is tied with Marco Scutaro and trailing only Norichika Aoki. The difference is that unlike these light-hitting slappers, E5 is a power hitter. Never forget.
His discipline is further confirmed by the number of pitches he swings at that are outside the zone. The lower the better, and E5’s O-Swing% was 26.0% in 2013, which is a full 5% below the league average of 31.0%. He doesn’t swing at bad pitches, he’ll take a walk, and he hardly ever strikes out. Instead, he puts a lot more balls in play. For folks who worry about his batting average, remember that a strikeout only leads to a trip to the dugout. Although Encarnación’s career BABIP is just .275, if only a few more of those balls fall for hits, we could see him flirt with a .290-.300 batting average.
None of this is the norm for guys with 30+ home runs, but that’s why E5 will again be exceptional in 2014.
Whereas early in his career E5 would take a long, hard swing at the ball, he significantly mixed it up in 2012. Instead of following through with just one hand on the bat, he now follows through with both hands still on the bat. This gets his swing through the zone faster and allows his considerable raw power to now play up in games. For more on this, I invite you to check out this excellent piece by Jack Moore or this one on usable power.
Bulls will point to his recent wrist injury and claim it will sap his power. True, Encarnación’s power took a slight dip late in the season right around his mid-September wrist surgery, but he was still hitting well up to that that. This was also not a sudden, traumatic injury, he had been dealing with soreness in his wrist for some time. With a full offseason to heal, he should be all set in 2014.
Edwin Encarnación: Early 2014 Projections