Edwin Encarncion, what’s going on?

So, Eddie E, former third baseman, now turned first baseman/DH is having a lot of success in 2012. As a result of that success, he’s put a signature on a contract that will pay him 29 million dollars, minimum, over its 3-4 year term. The obvious question, which is now worth 29 million dollars, is whether or not EE has made real changes that make the Blue Jays think he’s going to stay a consistently productive hitter.

I am not a hitting instructor, so all the mechanical changes and tweaks that he may have made, are not something I can speak to. However, the hitter cards over at Brooks Baseball can give us a very real insight into whether his results have changed over the past few years. I’m going to take a look a 2010, 2011 and 2012 in a few different ways, and see if there is evidence of a changed approach for Encarnacion.

Let us first look at pitch locations. From left to right we have 2010, 2011, 2012, all pitch types from all pitchers. You can click for the full size version, but the colour guides us to the most frquently pitched-to locations. Blue is no pitches, red is a spot that gets pounded over and over. Graphs are from the catcher’s perspective.

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There aren’t any huge variations here, in 2012, Edwin has seen more inside pitches than in the previous years, but generally, pitchers pound him down and away. Righty power hitters have a reputation of that being the safest place to pitch them. So, there has been a similar approach from the pitchers, year to year. The next thing to look at is what Edwin chooses to swing at, because if he doesn’t swing, he doesn’t put the ball in play. Has he changed this approach?

These graphs are nomalized for all RHH, so we are comparing how much Edwin swings vs. a league average righty. In 2010, Encarnacion had decent results. He recorded a wRC+ of 110, which is a 10% better than average hitter, and he swung at lot of pitches. Take a look at the outer edge of boxes.  Both in and out of the zone, he liked to take a hack, especially low and away. 2011 showed a slight improvement, mostly with laying off inside pitches. Now, in 2012 Encarnacion has limited his chasing both the high and the inside pitches to well below league average, most of those boxes have turned blue. As a comparison, his wRC+ is 163 this year, or 63% better than leagu average.

He is swinging less overall. Fangraphs tells us that his overall swing percentage is declining every year, significantly so in 2012, from 48.6% to 47.3% to 42.7%, he has gone from being a bit of a free swinger, to being a bit of a selective hitter. His rate of chasing balls out of the zone is now 24.9%, the league average is 30.2%.

Swinging less and at less pitches out of the zone only helps if you are able to make good contact on the pitches you are hitting. From Fangraphs, I grabbed a chart showing Edwin’s ISO, his power with his batting average subtracted away. Here are the last 3 years.

So, as 2011 progressed, we can see EE found a measure of his power stroke in the second half. Despite a quiet few games in April this year, he has continued to build on that ability to hit the ball with power.

The balls that Encarnacion does chase out of the zone tend to be low and away. Let’s take a peek at what he does with the low and away pitch, compared to the average righty.

This chart show us how often he hits flyballs from each location.

Announcers often talk about putting a ball low and away to try to get a hitter to ‘roll over on it’ and hit a weak ground ball. Compared to the rest of the league, Edwin is not that guy. Middle away and low away are good spots for him to put the ball in the air, he really has only one bad box in the corner. So, we know he hits more balls in the air than the average batter, what kind of results does he get?

Generally, we know that line drives are the most likely to result in a hit, with fly balls being caught on a much more regular basis. However, if you can hit fly balls hard enough, they go places where nobody can catch them. What kind of SLG results has Encarnacion achieved?

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Again, 2010 on the left through 2012 on the right. Back in 2010, EE could cover the outer half well, but did not make good contact on pitches high in the zone. From above, we know 2010 was a year where he chased pitches high out of the zone, with little to show for it. in 2011, he tried to adjust, and he did hit pitches on the inner half with more authority, but that left him unable to attack pitches in the zone, but on the outer half. Encarnacion had a hole in his swing that was a called strike, so he had a very exploitable weakness.

It appears that in 2012, he has adjusted his sights and his mechanics enough to A) look for pitches on the outer half that are lower in the zone and B) get under those balls enough to drive them with power. We’ll have to see if pitchers start trying to get him jammed up an in, to try to take away the power from those areas middle away.

At 29 years old, Edwin is still making a case that he has only improved in his strategy, and in his execution. All home runs count for the same number of runs, but his average distance is up to 414.6 feet this year, compared to 401.3 feet last year. The speed off the bat is up an average of almost 2 mph as well, at 106.9 MPH.

Because Daylife hasn’t said anything about this sort of thing yet.

In conclusion, I would have to say that Edwin Encarnacion shows every sign of deserving the confidence that the Blue Jays front office have shown in his perfomance. He has shown a marked improvement since the middle of 2011. He has shown a trend towards becoming more selective about where he swings the bat. He has demonstrated an ability to generate power in the areas where he chooses to attack. He has a plan, and though not a perfect hitter, he executes it well.

Again, as per Fangraphs, his perfomance, given an available free agent at his position, it would cost 6.6 million to replace his 2010 porduction, and upwards of 14 million to replace his 2012 production. Since Edwin is a known quantity, I can see why the Jays front office would offer up a 9 million dollar average salary to keep him around.

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