Blue Jays Bet on Edwin Encarnacion’s Power

Edwin Encarnacion has been one of the league’s biggest breakout players in 2012. He carried a .295/.382/.565 line into the break (all career highs) and with 23 home runs, he sits just three away from his career high set back in 2008 with Cincinnati. Thursday afternoon the Blue Jays rewarded Encarnacion, signing him to a three-year, $29 million contract.

Encarnacion has always had a decent bat with a ton of pop. He entered the season with a career .260/.336/.453 line, averaging 25 home runs per 162 games. This year, the power has exploded. His slugging percentage of .565 is a career high by 83 points and his ISO of .269 is a high by 31. He’s hitting more fly balls than ever before (50.6%) and more of them are leaving the yard (17.8%).

It’s easy to point to his pull power — 14 home runs to left field, a 31.0% HR/FB rate — but it’s Encarnacion’s power to center field that has put this year apart from past seasons. Eight of his 23 home runs have come to center, with a 15.1% HR/FB rate that nearly triples his career mark of 5.9%. As we’re only talking about 53 fly balls, it would be easy to call this up-the-middle power a fluke, but a change in Encarnacion’s swing suggests it should be sustainable.

Observe, a snapshot of Encaracion’s finished swing from 2012 next to one from 2011:

Specifically, look at where Encarnacion’s hands end up. In the 2011 swing, the hands would come apart and result in a sort of “helicopter” backswing. Now, Encarnacion keeps both hands on the bat throughout the swing. The result is a shorter, quicker swing that gives significantly more power, specifically on outside pitches (in this case, resulting in a home run to center in the cavernous Oakland Coliseum). As ESPN’s David Schoenfield pointed out, the biggest difference for Encarnacion this season has been his ability to hit the outside pitch for power, and this is where many of those center field home runs come from.

Power can be fickle, and what can look like a breakout for half a season can merely be a fluke, but the warning signs just aren’t there for Encarnacion. Seven of his 23 home runs are considered “Just Enough” by ESPN Hit Tracker, with 33% a normal rate for hitters. His HR/FB rate of 17.8% is just 2.7% higher than his previous career high. Most importantly, he’s made a significant mechanical change that supports a power increase.

The Blue Jays are betting not that Edwin Encarnacion remains an elite hitter for the next three years, just a consistently above-average one. If he continues to do what he has over the past three months — a distinct possibility thanks to his revamped swing — the Jays will pull a huge profit out of this extension.




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33 Responses to “Blue Jays Bet on Edwin Encarnacion’s Power”

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  1. Brian says:

    “The Blue Jays are betting not that Edwin Encarnacion remains an elite hitter for the next three years, just a consistently above-average one”

    I concur.

    Also, at a 3yr/$29m salary, Edwin needs around 2.5 WAR/year to generate fair value. I think he can do it, especially now that his WAR will no longer be hurt by his bad defense at 3B.

    It makes me wonder though, since EE has shifted positions, do you think he’s going to be average, above average, or below average compared to the full time 1B/DH?

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    • ralph says:

      He’s already at 2.8 WAR for this year. On a $3.5 million salary, no less. Is there anyone who’s provided more bang for the buck this year so far off of a free agent contract?

      Which is not to say he’s guaranteed to even hit 2.5 WAR again in a season. No one knows if he will, but he’s certainly proved himself theoretically capable of doing so.

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  2. StK says:

    I thought it was 3yrs/27M with a 10M club option in 2016 …

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    • Johnhavok says:

      It is technically 3 years/27 million, but the 2 million buyout of his club option in 2016 guarantees that he will make 29 million if he’s bought out. So… 3 years 29 million guaranteed.

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      • garik16 says:

        Yeah but lopping those extra 2M in there is misleading, since the value of the option decreases the cost of that buyout.

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      • TKDC says:

        Garik16,

        This is standard practice for detailing the terms of contracts in a total years/total salary format.

        The buyout can just as easily be viewed as deferring $2 million and having an $8 million option for the 4th year. He’s getting the $2 regardless.

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    • Brian says:

      If I’m not mistaken, there is a $2m buyout for the 2016 option, thus pushing the overall total to $29m.

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  3. Patrick says:

    3yrs/29M would include the 2M buyout of the option year.

    (In essence the Jays option gives them a choice of 3yrs/29M or 4yrs/37M)

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  4. AL Eastbound says:

    I don’t see a problem accumulating 2.4 war per season now that he will be getting full time

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  5. R M says:

    I think the title to this article is terrible. What if they were betting on his defense? You can’t know that.

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  6. MikeS says:

    I was at a White Sox – Blue Jays game last week and a Jays fan in the row behind me said “somebody is going to give him a lot of money. I just hope it’s not the Jays.”

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    • greenfrog says:

      The risk seems relatively low – it’s not as though the Jays are giving him a Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth-type contract.

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    • Garold says:

      That Jays fan is not in the majority. EE was not particularly liked a couple of years ago but he is a fan favorite at the moment and I haven’t talked to another fan that doesn’t like this deal.

      The only topic that doesn’t have fan consensus yet is whether to call his home run trot the chicken wing or the T-rex.

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  7. CJ says:

    So you can even ignore $/WAR if you want. Who could the Jays sign for 3/39 next offseason?

    http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2013-mlb-free-agents/

    Mike Napoli would’ve been nice, I guess, after that it gets pretty bad. If Toronto thinks they can contend, I don’t think you want to cross fingers and hope that this isn’t the year Berkman or Pena or Lee fall off a cliff.

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    • CJ says:

      3/29, even, which makes it even better.

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    • Brian Lin says:

      I wonder if Cole is ever willing to accept a 6 year deal with an opt-out clause at the end of 3 years.

      Or to keep in the spirit of Blue Jays’ policies, it will be a 3 year deal with 3 player options, but all options must be activated (or declined) at the same time.

      It might be interesting to see if Cole Hamels is interested in something like that. I mean, at the end of 3 years, Hamels will be 31 yrs-old. If he’s interested in re-entering the free agent market, he can decline the options; if he wants to stay for another 3 years, he can accept the options.

      What do you guys think?

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      • jevant says:

        Someone is going to give Hamels someting like $150m/6yrs, and I guarantee it won’t be the Jays.

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      • Garold says:

        The Jays team policies doesn’t include player options, it’s team options that they love. I can’t think of any Jays player that was recently given a player option, because AA knows that’s a losing proposition.

        Hamels is not signing with the Jays.

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  8. brez224 says:

    Im a Jays fan. When we traded away Rolen and got E5 i was PISSED. Now Anthopoulis continues to amaze with his foresight in trades and aquisitions, as well as building one of the best farm systems in baseball. This team most likely will not make the playoffs this year but will be a real contender for many years to come, as they have rebuilt from the ground up for many years, and have much more money to spend (as opposed to teams like Tampa Bay) when crunch time comes and they need a big aquisition or two to push them over the top. Expect big things from this team

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    • Brian says:

      Best GM in Toronto since Gillick.

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    • Mike says:

      I agree with your sentiment completely! Although I must point out (hate to give JP any credit), but Ricciardi was the GM who pulled off the Rolen for Edwin/Zack Stewart/Roenicke trade.

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    • It was JPR who traded for EE… And plus, EE was a throw in/salary dump in that Rolen trade. The key pieces were Josh Roenicke and Zach Stewart, who were supposed to be studs.

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      • Brian says:

        Not exactly. Scott Rolen requested to be traded, and the Reds gave the best offer. Stewart was the Reds’ best pitching prospect at that time, but was not a stud. I can’t remember if Roenicke was suppose to be good or not …

        EE was definitely just toss into the trade, as the Blue Jays would need a 3B and the Reds no longer need EE.

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    • The Jays didn’t want Encarnacion, dumped him twice, and AA had nothing to do with acquiring him.

      They have got lucky and are seizing their good luck with this signing. it’s a solid move with medium risk which, I hope, will stop Jays fans from lusting after David Ortiz.

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      • Brian says:

        GM AA allowed EE to be claimed by the A’s because the salary would be too high from arbitration. In arbitration, salaries almost never go down; they either stay the same or go up. At the time EE was making $4.75m (source cots baseball), so it was unproductive to keep EE at that price.

        However, a week later, the A’s released EE for some unknown reason, thus making him a free agent.

        GM AA took the opportunity to re-sign EE to a $2m/1yr deal + club option! Therefore you are 100% wrong to say, “AA had nothing to do with acquiring him”.

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  9. Paul says:

    I am not a AA worshiper and I think the fawning is well overdone. However, big-time power hitters are perhaps as great a commodity as ace starters, especially in an era of pitcher dominance, which we are now four years into.

    AA said before last year that they thought Encarnacion “had another gear.” I respect the hell out of the guy because he has a hitting coach who is obviously really great at teaching hitters who have the ability to hit for power to do so, and he listens to him.

    You can look at the metrics you want, and they will show that Encarncion has the underlying skill to hit for big power. But what really matters is that AA trusts his hitting coach, and his hitting coach has a fabulous track record of teaching power hitting. That’s worth the contract. This is how it is supposed to be done.

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  10. Oleg says:

    dont understand the Jays fan against this deal

    a) its not an overpay

    b) if it was an overpay, a three year contract is the perfect scenario to buy high anyway.

    and it’s not like he’s blocking any prospects at DH anyway.

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