Posts tagged Edwin Encarnacion

The Root of Edwin Encarnacion’s Improvement in 2012 and its Effect Going Forward

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Courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr

Courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr

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.

EESwing2011Slowed

2011 (Click to Enlarge)

EESwing2012Slowed

2012 (Click to Enlarge)

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.

2011-EE-Slider-Curve

2011 per Baseball Prospectus’ Pitch F/X Hitter Profiles (Click to Enlarge)

2012 (Click to Enlarge)

2012 per Baseball Prospectus’ Pitch F/X Hitter Profiles (Click to Enlarge)

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.

Special Thanks to Chris Sherwin and Steve McEwen for their input on this post

The Season That Was: 2012 Edition

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The Blue Jays 2012 Season in a Nutshell

So thats it…the season is done, the playoffs have already started, but once again without the Jays. 2012 marks the 19th straight season without a Blue Jays playoff berth and their .451 winning percentage is the worst it has been since 2004. Instead of a Blue Jays playoff berth the baseball world is enthralled with the season of the Dustin Parkes dubbed Baltimore #YOLOrioles who have not only secured a playoff spot, but are marching their way right on to the World Series, or at least so it seems. That’s because this year among other things the Orioles found the ever so coveted luck dragon, they found some way to win despite the limitations of what would seem like a relatively crappy team. Quite a few people have tried to quantify what exactly we saw this season, but it seems like the best answer is still shit happens.

In Toronto, the narrative has been similar as fans watched this season and saw a bevy of players go down with injuries, while simultaneously ruining any hope of a Blue Jays playoff berth, shit happens. The list of injuries is a long one and includes such key players as Brett Lawrie, J.P. Arencibia, Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, and Jose Bautista among others.

If you take a quick glance at that list you’d probably assume it to be the reasoning behind the Blue Jays’ mediocrity and 99 times out of 100 you’d probably be right, but in this case it doesn’t tell the entire story. On top of being one of the most injured teams in baseball the Blue Jays experienced some worse than expected performances from a majority of their starting lineup.

This is the list of Blue Jays’ hitters who outperformed their wOBA as projected by ZiPs, one of the most trusted projection systems available: Edwin Encarnacion, Rajai Davis, and David Cooper.

As you can see that list includes one, maybe two everyday players. Not only is that slightly depressing, but it’s a major factor behind the Blue Jays’ lack of a playoff berth.

Beyond the obvious demoralization of a terrible season there was one other sad point this year and that’s how inquisitive it has left us. Coming in to the year, 2012 was supposed to be a year that answered questions, but it seems like it has left us with more questions than it answered.

Sure there was the breakout seasons from Encarnacion and Morrow, and sure Bautista reaffirmed himself as one of the leagues best hitters, and sure maybe even the bullpen looks pretty damn good going forward, but what’s one to make of the rest of the team?

Yunel stepped back this year both on a hitting level and a likability level for most of the fan base, this coming after one of the better years in his career. Lawrie was praised as a super prospect after his unpredictably amazing finish to the 2011 season with the Blue Jays, but this year he hasn’t progressed to the level that was expected and has instead shown the ere of his injury ridden ways. Last, but…well maybe least, Colby Rasmus wasn’t all he was cracked up to be, if you take out his promising production from the month of June he ends up with a 69 wRC+, which would rank 2nd last among qualified hitters. While the last of those statistics is rather arbitrarily conceived, it still goes to show the general ineptitude that Rasmus showed during the majority of the 2012 season.

As for pitchers, Ricky Romero wasn’t exactly the staff ace that some expected him to be…in fact he wasn’t even the slightly above league average pitcher that I expected him to be. Instead he posted the 3rd worst qualified ERA in Blue Jays history and the 5th worst qualified FIP all to go along with his now record 13 straight losses for whatever that’s worth (Hint for the latter half, not much). Then there’s Henderson Alvarez, who despite posting a similar ERA and higher FIP than Romero as well as the lowest K% among starters in the MLB, probably isn’t getting enough flack. Sure he’s 22 years old and has fire coming out of his arm, but he still halved his K% and doubled his BB% from 2011, not a great trend.

Not to mention that the above list of players doesn’t include the lost seasons of Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison due to Tommy John Surgery.

With all that said it doesn’t really leave the Jays with much certainty for 2013, which was basically what was said going in to 2012.

Beyond the supposed mainstays in the lineup and rotation there is a glut of players like Moises Sierra, Anthony Gose, David Cooper, and Hechavarria who showed some promise, but don’t really have an affirmed spot for 2013. This probably isn’t exactly what Alex Anthopoulos imagined his roster would look like for what is going to be his 4th full season as Blue Jays General Manager, which makes the 2013 offseason particularly interesting.

Anthopoulos has already said that he’s likely going to increase payroll, but to what level is unknown. As well whereas after 2011 AA was the Silent Assassin, the Amazing Alex Anthopoulos, and the Jedi among other endearing names, this year he has undergone more criticism from the both regular and hardcore fans alike. If he doesn’t do anything big in the offseason and fails to win in the regular season it would be reasonable to assume that his job could be on the line.

Don’t get me wrong I’m a big fan of Anthopoulos’ processes but a situation has been created in which he has a lot of players who haven’t panned out as expected and if the ownership doesn’t have absolute confidence in Anthopoulos whose to say that he won’t be gone come 2014 or even sooner. If that is the case then there is the potential that AA rushes the process and while it isn’t a likely occurrence it could be a defining factor for the Jays going forward. Only time will tell.

Photo Credit: Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Side Note: Posts on the blog were pretty sparse towards the end of the season as I was quietly enjoying some of the performances from Morrow, Gose, Sierra, and Hechavarria, but as we move into the off season you can expect more posts including a few in depth breakdowns with what went for some of the players mentioned in this post.

Hindsight is 20/20: The Scott Rolen Trade

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Photo Courtesy of Getty Images via Daylife

Official Transaction:
Three years ago today, July 31st 2009, the Blue Jays sent Scott Rolen and $4 million to the Cincinnati Reds for Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Roenicke, and Zach Stewart.

The Situation:
At the time of the trade Scott Rolen was 34 years old and in the midst of a typical Rolenesque season. He had a 121 wRC+ and was playing his usual top notch defence at the hot corner. At the time the Blue Jays owed Rolen ~$4 million for the rest of the 2009 season and then $11 million in 2010. Following the trade it was reported that Rolen had asked to be traded for personal reasons.

WAR Since Trade:
Scott Rolen 7.3 fWAR

Edwin Encarnacion 6.9 fWAR
Josh Roenicke 0.0 fWAR
Zach Stewart 0.2 fWAR

Discussion:
At the time of the trade there seemed to be a very mixed reaction to the transaction in its entirety. On one hand the Blue Jays gave up a player in Scott Rolen who was having a nice little season, but on the other hand the Blue Jays were 11.5 games out of a playoff spot and it looked like it was maybe time to sell.

In terms of the return it may not have been exactly what was expected for a player who was performing to Rolen’s level. In Encarnacion the Blue Jays got a “third baseman” who was touted as a player who at 26 had not yet reached his potential. As for the other players in the trade Roenicke and Stewart were two Reds minor leaguers who ranked uniformly on the border of the Reds Top 10 Prospects. Following the trade Roenicke was praised as the closer of the future, but as we now know that didn’t really happen.

As for Stewart he finished the 2009 season in fine fashion and ended up at and I kid you not #1 on the Blue Jays’ 2010 Baseball America Top 10 Prospect List. However that list doesn’t include any of the players from the Halladay deal who would be traded for a couple of weeks after that prospect list was posted. Furthermore despite his #1 ranking Stewart found no spot  on the Baseball America 2010 Top 100 Prospects List.

As time moved on Josh Roenicke became somewhat of an afterthought in that trade and he has gone on to become a fringy MLB player. As well despite what fans were told of Encarnacion’s potential it sure didn’t show up in game action between 2010 and 2011. If anything it seemed all of the players that came back in the Rolen trade would never really pan out as expected.

Of course some of that feeling was mitigated when at the 2011 Non-Waiver Trade Deadline the Blue Jays included one of the Rolen pieces, Zach Stewart, in a trade for Edwin Jackson. Edwin Jackson would later be traded for everyone’s favourite Georgian Colby Rasmus.

Verdict:
At the time of the trade it seemed like the Blue Jays were kind of caught in a corner. Rolen wanted to be traded and as is in the world of professional sports when a guy wants to go somewhere else you at least need to look around. Because they “had to” trade him they likely got less than they could have for him.

By FanGraphs WAR measures before the 2012 season the Blue Jays were down a total of 4 wins in that trade. However now that Edwin Encarnacion has become what people projected him to become the trade suddenly looks different.

Not until 2012 has it looked like the trade brought back the Blue Jays players of any particular use. Zach Stewart was a nice prospect who never really panned out…but was useful in the Rasmus trade. Josh Roenicke was a nice prospect, but was an older prospect and it may not have been crazy to expect what has become the outcome of his career.

As for Edwin, in 2012 he has produced at a level far higher than anything he has produced to in his career and it doesn’t seem unsustainable for the future. Not only that, but the 163 wRC+ that Edwin has thus far in 2012 is higher than any weighted runs created plus that Rolen has produced in his entire career.

Now that the Blue Jays have signed Encarnacion for the next three years they will hold him for his age 30 to potentially 33 seasons and an average annual price of $9.7 million. On the other side of things the reds are paying Rolen $6.5 million dollars for 2012, the last year of a two year contract, but are getting Jamey Carroll like hitting production. As of now the Reds have got more production on their side of the trade, but at a higher cost. Going forward the Blue Jays have found a player in EE that will become a mainstay in the lineup with the potential for more.

Grade:
★★★★

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