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.