2012 marked a magical year for Edwin Encarnacion. In a season that saw a majority of the Blue Jays starting lineup and starting rotation go on the disabled list, EE was a lone bright spot. In fact Edwin was the only Blue Jays position player to substantially outperform preseason expectations, even among such high-potential players as Brett Lawrie and Jose Bautista. At the end of the year he finished with the 7th best offensive season in the MLB by both wOBA and the park adjusted wRC+. In the history of the Blue Jays only a handful of players have finished that high, names like Bautista, Barfield, Delgado, McGriff, and Olerud grace that coveted list.
In total, Edwin Encarnacion hit 16 more home runs than he had in any other season, he had a walk rate almost 3% higher than his previous high and that culminated into a season with more than twice the value that he had produced in any season prior per fWAR.
Despite the massive uptick in performance there seemed to be a slight lack of recognition. Perhaps this was a result of the chaos that was occurring around him? Or perhaps it was a sense of expectation? To some extent the Toronto fan base expected a surge from Edwin Encarnacion. We had always been told he had potential, particularly in the power department.
In 2012 that potential came to fruition, but through what means exactly? On the outside Edwin didn’t seem like a particularly different player, he wasn’t ‘jacked up’ and his play on the field was as clumsy as ever. The main difference we saw was this presumed power that had finally been unlocked. Edwin always had raw power, but changes in 2012 allowed him to utilize it and turn it into game power.
If you were a listener of the now defunct Up and In podcast, Jason Parks and Kevin Goldstein often talked about the concept of raw power versus game power in terms of prospects, but a similar concept applies to major league hitters. The theory states that there is players that have great raw power, but in order for that to translate to ‘in game home runs’ there needs to be an accompanying hit tool of a certain level. In 2011, Edwin’s hit tool was not at that level.
To attempt to fix that, as John Lott wrote late last April, Edwin Encarnacion made a couple changes to his swing prior to the 2012 season. These changes being a subtler leg kick as well as a two handed followthrough. Both of which can be seen in the following two GIFs.
The first GIF is of Edwin Encarnacion’s swing on a HR hit off Jered Weaver in 2011, the second GIF is of Edwin’s swing on a HR hit off Wei-Yin Chen in 2012.
In 2011 Edwin had a fairly large leg kick that started as soon as the pitcher begun his windup, but in 2012 he shortened the leg kick motion, started it later. As for the two handed followthrough, which can be seen in the second GIF, the result was a shorter, more controlled swing. Often the result of shortening one’s swing is an additional amount of time that the hitter can use to see and assess the pitch that’s coming out of the pitcher’s hand. In turn this can be seen in a hitter’s plate discipline statistics.
In 2012, Edwin Encarnacion posted the lowest overall swing rate of his career (41.6%), while still maintaining his career average contact rate (82.1%). He raised his pitches per plate appearance rate from 3.74 in 2011 to 4.19 in 2012. Of course P/PA isn’t the be all end all of plate disciplinary statistics, notably bad hitters like Jemile Weeks and Jamey Carroll also appeared in the top 20 in P/PA in 2012. However if we take a closer look at Edwin’s Pitch F/X Hitter Profile we find that quite a few of the pitches that EE was laying off of in 2012 were breaking balls low and outside.
Each of the above graphics includes Encarnacion’s swing rate against the slider (left) and curveball (right) in 2011 and 2012. As you can probably tell, there is quite a bit less red at the bottom of the 2012 graphic indicating that Edwin swung at a substantially lower number of breaking balls low and outside in 2012 as opposed to 2011. Thereby leading to more balls, more walks, and better overall contact…three things that were supposedly the objective in changing Edwin’s swing.
As well, as was previously mentioned, Edwin hit 16 more home runs than his previous career high, while maintaing the lowest PA/HR rate of his career. This runs somewhat contrary to the theoretical results of the changes that he made. Most often the compacting of one’s swing will lead to less power, not more. Instead Edwin Encarnacion’s HRs were on average 15.8ft further (413.2 ft in 2012, 397.4 ft in all years prior) than his career Average True Distance per Hit Tracker, lending itself to the theory of game power versus raw power.
With both of those points in mind there’s a case to be made that Edwin’s career highs in BB% and HR/FB% aren’t subject to as much regression as one might expect. ZiPS for example projects a 10.6 BB% (down 2.4%) and a 15.1% HR/FB (down 3.6%) assuming the same fly ball rate as 2012, resulting in a .369 wOBA (down 27 points). Pitchers are bound to pitch to Edwin differently, but if he can make adjustments as he did in 2012 there’s reason to believe that he should be able to combat those changes and produce similar overall offensive numbers save for slight regression as the result of age.
Alex Anthopoulos often talks about investing in in the player, the player that puts in the work and makes the needed adjustments. Edwin showed that he could accomplish that last season. Alex Anthopoulos likely saw that when he signed Edwin Encarnacion to a 3-year $27 million dollar contract extension.
He’ll never be an elite (or even above average) fielder, but he has an elite, cost-controlled bat at a position that, league wide, is beginning to lose depth. There’s no reason to believe that his premier performance won’t continue going forward.
Since the Blue Jays acquired R.A. Dickey from the Mets in late December, there hasn’t been a whole lot of Blue Jays news. This has been a stark contrast to last year’s offseason where even at this time, the Jays were linked to such players as Prince Fielder and Matt Garza. The obvious reason behind the lack of recent Jays news and rumours is the fact that, for the most part, the Jays as a team, are set. They have a full lineup, a stacked rotation, and a bullpen overflowing with additional relievers. Up until recently the only position that the Blue Jays needed to fill was that of the 25th man on the roster.
That position was filled earlier this week with the signing of Mark DeRosa to a guaranteed 1-year $750,000 contract with an option for an additional year at the same price. DeRosa, strictly as a player, fits a need within this Blue Jays team. He plays a number of positions (1B, 2B, 3B, LF, RF) and he’s been well above average vs. LHP in the past. This skill was present in 2010 wherein DeRosa posted a 138 wRC+ versus lefties (in a small sample size) and 2009 wherein DeRosa played a full season and posted a 141 wRC+ vs. LHP. On the other hand, there’s been a significant amount of time since then and the time in between has been filled with a number of injuries as well as poor performance. Though pure performance is not the only thing that DeRosa provides.
As Drew Fairservice of Getting Blanked quite excellently noted in his write-up of the transaction, “Mark DeRosa is the mascot to the stars.”
DeRosa’s meaning to the 2013 Jays will likely be no different than what Omar Vizquel meant to the 2012 Jays, he’s a veteran presence. He is reportedly a ‘great clubhouse guy’ and one that can ‘mentor the younger the players’. Whose to say what that’s really worth, but it would be hard to argue that DeRosa’s character and on field performance don’t at least have the potential to create the 1/15th of a win above replacement required to justify his contract.
With that said, DeRosa is the 25th man to a seemingly complete Blue Jays roster, but despite that, early last week, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe had this to say about the ongoing Michael Bourn free agency mystery.
6. Michael Bourn, CF, free agent — The Rafael Soriano signing by the Nationals is a reminder to never underestimate the market Scott Boras can create for a client. Bourn seemed like a good fit in Seattle before the Mariners acquired Morse, and the Phillies, who could use another outfielder, remain an obvious choice. The Mets are not out of the picture if the price and length of commitment come down. Could the Blue Jays be a long shot? They have Colby Rasmus, but he could be traded. The Yankees?
Considering that Anthopoulos has stated on a number of occasions that the Blue Jays roster for 2013 is all but set and that there is purportedly some financial parameters, the rumour doesn’t make a whole lot of initial sense. However, thinking about the Jays in relation to the teams around them, talent-wise, the rumour begins to hold some worth.
Right now the Blue Jays are a very good team, they’re likely the best team in the AL East. The problem is that there’s a number of other very good teams in the AL East, namely the Yankees and Rays. As saddening as it is, it isn’t too hard to picture a situation in 2013 wherein the Blue Jays finish 3rd in the division. The Jays are still banking on 600 plate appearances from a number of injury-prone players and solid seasons from breakout stars like Edwin Encarnacion and Melky Cabrera.
By signing Michael Bourn the Jays would put themselves on a level above the two aforementioned teams. Bourn would represent somewhere between a 2-4 win upgrade over current centre fielder Colby Rasmus and might push this team past the 95 win mark.
Of course, there’s the little issue of getting Bourn to agree to a reasonable contract. Many have speculated that Bourn might take a ‘pillow contract’ or in other words a 1-year contract. This is such that he can go back on the free agent market next offseason.
If this ‘pillow contract’ is really what Bourn is looking for, there’s a case to be made to sign him.
For one thing, Bourn makes the Jays better in 2013 and gives them an even better shot at a World Series. For another, because the Blue Jays have a protected 1st round draft pick, by signing Bourn they would have the potential to ostensibly transfer their 2nd round pick this year into a 1st round compensation pick in the 2014 draft.
The Blue Jays have the 42nd pick in the 2013 draft. They would lose that pick if they signed Michael Bourn. However, it is fair to assume that Bourn would warrant a qualifying offer after 2013 considering that he hasn’t produced an fWAR below 4.0 since 2008. If he is then signed by another team without a protected pick in the 2013/2014 offseason the Blue Jays would get a compensation pick in the 31-34 range. They would also get an additional $250,000+ added to their draft budget based on 2012 slot values. Not to mention that the 2014 draft is also (so far) looking like a draft with more depth than the 2013 draft.
Though if Bourn is signed, Colby Rasmus becomes a player without a place on this roster. Any trade involving him, would likely be selling low, but keeping him on the roster would be a waste. It’d leave the Jays in a tough position.
This is why, in the end, attempting to sign Bourn could easily become a logistical nightmare. It’s highly unlikely that the Blue Jays sign him, but Bourn is an interesting free agent case given the situation he’s in and the protected pick that the Jays have. If the Jays don’t sign Bourn, who will? Mariners? Mets? Rangers? No one seems to be biting, but then again no one seemed to be biting on Rafael Soriano either. So whose really to say what will happen.
With that said, I leave you with a Sporcle Quiz that I whipped up about players that the Blue Jays have acquired this offseason. It includes all players acquired between October 29th and today (January 28th). This includes any player who was signed, traded for, or picked up on waivers. The date that the player was acquired is listed. To view the quiz in it’s Sporcle form click here, or click read more to view the embedded version.