Posts tagged Pitch F/X

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

Getting to Know Brad Lincoln

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Photo Courtesy of Getty Images via Daylife

12:23 AM: Travis Snider pulled mid game and replaced with Yan Gomes

12:25 AM: Travis Snider hugging teammates and coaches as he leaves the field

12:30 AM: No one has a clue where Snider is going…many speculate it to be for Matt Garza

12:32 AM: Shi Davidi tweets Blue Jays trade Travis Snider to Pirates for Brad Lincoln

12:33 AM: Twitter goes wild

Now that we have chronicled what amounted to a hectic ten minutes lets talk about it. My initial reaction to the trade like many others was something akin to confusion and a state of dumbfoundedness. Mostly because for one “the Blue Jays frickin’ traded Travis Snider!” and for another I simply didn’t know enough about Brad Lincoln.

Here’s a primer on Mr. Lincoln.

Brad Lincoln was drafted 4th overall in the 2006 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Going in to the 2007 season Baseball America ranked Lincoln as the No. 67 prospect on their Top 100 Prospects List. That same year Baseball America gave Brad Lincoln the prestigious title of having both the Best Fastball and the Best Curveball in the Pirates farm system. All of this praise was despite Lincoln missing significant time in 2006 due to an oblique injury.

Going in to the 2007 season Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus said that in a perfect world Lincoln would be a No. 3 and potentially even a No. 2 starter. Kevin also noted that the Pirates expected Lincoln to move quickly potentially even reaching AA by the end of the 2007 season.

Both Lincoln’s and the Pirates’ plans were derailed in April 2007 when Lincoln went under the knife and got the now infamous Tommy John surgery. That surgery would force Lincoln to miss the entire 2007 minor league season.

In 2008 and 2009 Lincoln would go on to produce uninspiring results for the Pirates hiA, AA, and AAA affiliates, but would still receive a call up in the latter portion of the season. In his short time in the majors Lincoln would produce (if you can even call it that) a K/BB rate among the leagues worst and an ERA, FIP, and xFIP all above 5.00. In 2011 a similar situation would come to fruition. this time Brad Lincoln showed himself to be much more of a ground ball pitcher, but the results he produced were not much better with an ERA, FIP, and xFIP above 4.00.

Getting towards the present, Brad Lincoln began the 2012 season as a seemingly washed out 27-year-old pitcher in AAA. After a short stint in AAA Indianapolis Lincoln was once again called up to the big leagues, but this time in a relief role.

Lincoln has started 5 games this year, but has excelled out of the pen. In totality Lincoln has produced a 25.1 K% and 5.9 BB%, but in relief the K% jumps up to 29.9%, which ranks 21st in the league and the BB% changes to 6.0%. Lincoln’s relief K/BB ratio sits at an even 5.00, which ranks 16th in the league.

Some of this newfound success comes from the fact that Lincoln has posted a ridiculous 99.3 LOB% in relief this year, but keep in mind that relievers generally have higher and flukier left on base rates. Moreover Lincoln has added a couple of MPH on his fastball and it appears that the added MPH are not just a relief mirage because in his 5 starts this year Lincoln has maintained a similar velocity to that of what he has produced out of the bullpen.

As well, being that he has been in the bullpen Lincoln has been able to amplify his two best pitches, his fastball and his curveball, using both at rates ranking at career highs.

All of this has amounted to quite an interesting reliever…one who leads all qualified relievers with a 0.50 ERA on the year, has a 2.31 FIP that ranks 8th among qualified relievers and a 2.78 xFIP that ranks 14th among qualified relievers.

It hurts to give up Travis Snider, it really does. I was among those who believed in Snider’s potential and those who pleaded for his inclusion on the 25-man roster at the beginning of the year. However in Brad Lincoln the Blue Jays are getting an extremely valuable late inning reliever that could become one of those Vinnie Pestano/Sergio Romo types.

The creator of Meats Don’t Clash Mondays will truly be missed, but the return that the Blue Jays got for him is not as bad as initially believed. I didn’t like the trade at first, but as I went deeper and deeper into Lincoln’s stats and scouting reports I became more and more acclimated to the idea of the trade. Brad Lincoln isn’t Matt Garza, but he isn’t that bad and he is under team control until 2018.

This is an official farewell to Travis Snider, best of wishes in Pittsburgh.

No One is Safe Anymore – The Adam Lind Story

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Photo Credit: Reuters Pictures via Daylife

Over the course of his tenure in Toronto Alex Anthopoulos has quietly stressed one thing and that is that no one is safe, (almost) anyone can be traded at any time and apparently demoted too.

Last year Travis Snider a player everyone seemed to like was sent down after less than 2 months of production. Earlier this year Brett Cecil a player everyone seemed to think was destined for a rotation spot was demoted after a bad spring. Now the latest recipient of this treatment is former All-Star first baseman Adam Lind who yesterday was sent down after an absolutely horrid start to the season.

When I had originally wrote this blog post I had gone on the premise that I would absolutely condone the demotion of Adam Lind that I would get along on the band wagon and make Adam Lind my Official Blue Jays Scapegoat for the 2012 season.

I was going on the premise that Adam Lind had been terrible the entire season, which in a way he has, but before today I hadn’t really taken a good look at his FanGraphs page and I may have been going on the wrong premise.

Yes, it is true that Adam Lind is hitting .186 on the season and that he has a wRC+ among the likes of Chone Figgins and Willie Bloomquist, but did you know that Lind is actually walking at a higher rate than he did in even 2009?

His weighted runs created might not look too hot, but he is walking at a career pace and maybe even getting a tad unlucky to boot. Over the course of the season thus far Adam Lind has a .209 BABIP. That number is 53 points below where it was last season, 68 points below his 2010 number, 82 points below Lind’s career average, and 91 points below the league average.

Of course BABIP isn’t perfect and a slower, power hitting (?) first base type like Lind generally sustains a BABIP that is lower than normal, but a .209 BABIP should easily move up and regress to the mean. Does that regression to the mean make him 2009 Adam Lind, probably not, but Lind is doing a couple things to try and make that happen. These underlying things lie in Lind’s plate discipline data.

This is Adam Lind’s Pitch F/X Plate Discipline Line from 2009
27.9 O-Swing% – 59.0 Z-Swing% – 43.0 Swing%
75.5% O-Contact% – 87.1 Z-Contact% – 83.2 Contact%

This is Adam Lind’s Pitch F/X Plate Discipline Line from 2010 and 2011 Combined
35.1 O-Swing% – 64.5 Z-Swing% – 49.3 Swing%
67.6 O-Contact% – 84.7 Z-Contact% – 78.4 Contact%

This is Adam Lind’s Pitch F/X Plate Discipline Line from 2012
27.9 O-Swing% – 57.3 Z-Swing% – 41.7 Swing%
75.6 O-Contact% – 88.0 Z-Contact% – 83.6 Contact%

Take a look at those three lines, take a really good look at them. What do you see? Well if you looked hard enough you probably saw that the 2010 and 2011 combination line is completely different from either of the other two lines oh and yeah Lind’s 2012 plate discispline is eerily similar to his 2009 numbers.

Those same 2009 numbers that made Adam Lind an All-Star, a Silver Slugger, and even an MVP Vote Getter. It seems for the past two seasons Jays fans have been holding on to the glory of that magical season hoping for more production from their failing first baseman. Will this be the year that it happens?

Well let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here. Yes, it is nice that Lind is taking more pitches and swinging at less pitches outside the strike zone. It is also nice that Lind is making contact on 5% more of the pitches that he swings at, but unfortunately solely plate discipline doesn’t tell the whole story.

Though Lind’s plate discipline has been great and he is likely getting better pitches because of it he isn’t necessarily taking advantage of these opportunities. He may be making contact on 83.6% of the pitches that he swings at, but Lind is also creating ground balls on 48.9% of the balls he is putting in play.

In comparison to 2009 that 48.9% is 6.9% higher, but then the thing about batted ball outcomes is that they aren’t solely independent. Those extra ground balls that Lind has been hitting are coming out of his line drive rate and fly ball rate resulting in close to career lows in both categories.

Beyond that what has hurt Lind in the power department is his 9.7% HR/FB, a number 5.4% below Lind’s career average.

So then after all this where does the verdict lie? In terms of plate discipline Lind has been right on par with his 2009 numbers, but then in the batted ball data he is far from where he was that magical year.

The Jays have purportedly cited that they sent Lind down in order for him to “gain confidence”. That so called “confidence” that Lind supposedly needs will very likely come while he is off crushing balls in that bandbox park in Vegas and in that bandbox of a league that is the PCL, but it is possible that it could come at the expense of his approach?

I don’t know about you, but if I was seeing pitches I knew I could just crush out of the ballpark I’d probably swing at them as apposed to waiting for better ones that may or may not come.

Its kind of okay if this “confidence” comes back to Adam Lind in Vegas, but if he takes what I predict to be a new approach in Vegas back to the MLB he could have quite a few issues. At that point I’m not sure how well his confidence will do when he is swinging at pitches way outside the zone in the unforgiving big leagues.

Then if you even factor out the possible potential loss of production from Adam Lind, how well could it possibly serve you to be starting a potential AAAA player in Yan Gomes? My well thought hypothesis says that it probably won’t go over so well.

In the end you the reader must realize that I was one of the ones criticzing Lind all season. I was one of the ones clamouring for Lind to be benched, but I have realized the ere of my ways. Lind surely doesn’t need to be hitting in that clean up spot that he has not been suited for in over two years, but I fail to see how having him to AAA will help anything.

And please understand one thing, I am in no way suggesting that Lind will become what he was in 2009, but with the way he has been at the plate this year, he has put himself in the very best shape to do so. You know other than the fact that he hasn’t been able to hit a fly ball to save his life.

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