Edwin Encarnacion is Hunting

One of the coolest stories taking place right now is the emergence of George Springer in Houston. Springer is among the more interesting prospects in recent years, and after a bit of a rough introduction to the majors, Springer’s caught fire. He homered again Wednesday, and over the course of the last month, Springer’s gone deep nine times, ahead of Yasiel Puig, Giancarlo Stanton, and Troy Tulowitzki. Springer’s been one of the best power hitters in the world, and over that month, he’s also hit 40% fewer home runs than Edwin Encarnacion.

Encarnacion stands at 15 dingers in 30 days, and over those 30 days, that’s more home runs than have been hit by both the Cardinals and the Royals as whole teams. Previous to the hot streak, Encarnacion had gone deep just once, prompting people to worry that something was wrong. If something was wrong, it was resolved in a damned hurry, and now Encarnacion is among the Blue Jays who have led the team into a playoff position. It’s interesting to examine some of Encarnacion’s recent trends. It’s interesting, too, to compare those against larger ones.

The biggest thing when it comes to power streaks and power droughts is that there’s usually an awful lot of noise. When asked about the difference for Encarnacion, John Gibbons offered that Encarnacion before was just missing his pitches, and now he’s hitting them. A home run is the result of a single swing. A home run can turn into a non-home run very, very easily. Let’s break this down real quick. It’s easy to swing a baseball bat. It’s less easy to use the bat to strike the baseball. It’s less easy still to strike the baseball and hit it somewhere fair. The toughest thing is actually squaring the ball up to make quality contact. That’s where it gets to be a matter of timing and millimeters. A good home-run swing might be almost identical to a non-home run swing, but for a very minor difference, and so it stands to reason that sometimes streaks and slumps will be arranged randomly, and not the result of something being wrong or right. There’s a reason why power numbers take so long to stabilize, relatively speaking. Powerful hits represent a small fraction of all swings.

So, one thing we can say about Encarnacion: he’s not this good, nor is he as mediocre as he was the first few weeks. He’s had some lucky swings, following some unlucky swings. But there have been some changes underneath. Edwin Encarnacion, right now, is hunting certain pitches. He’s looking for pitches he can lift and yank.

A few simple numbers. We’ll split Encarnacion’s season around the end of April, to capture his slump and his surge. First, his rate of swings at pitches over the outer third, or beyond:

Slump: 39% swings
Surge: 32%

Now, his rate of swings at pitches over the inner third, or beyond:

Slump: 44% swings
Surge: 51%

Before catching fire, Encarnacion attempted 22 more outside swings than inside swings. Since heating up, he’s attempted a dozen more inside swings than outside swings. Of course, that doesn’t explain everything, but the reasoning is this: Encarnacion is most dangerous over the middle and in, and he’s least dangerous away. This is the case for most righties, but Encarnacion has pull power more than anything else, and he’s been swinging like he knows it.

This mirrors a greater trend over Encarnacion’s career. I’d like to show you a table. Below, we’ll compare 2009-2011 Encarnacion to 2012-2014 Encarnacion, using numbers you’re familiar with.

Window GB% HR/FB% O-Swing% Z-Swing% Contact% Zone% wRC+
2009-2011 35% 12% 27% 64% 83% 51% 106
2012-2014 34% 18% 24% 61% 83% 49% 149

Quickly glance at parts of the table and you won’t see any real meaningful changes. Encarnacion has chased very slightly less, and he’s swung at strikes very slightly less, and he’s still put a lot of balls in the air. He’s the same sort of contact hitter. But then there are the big differences. Encarnacion has lifted his HR/FB by 50%. His wRC+ is up 43 points. One explanation is that the plate-discipline numbers don’t reveal enough detail.

Let’s look at some swing rates again. First, here are swings at pitches out of the zone over the outer third, or beyond:

2009-2011: 33% swings
2012-2014: 26%

And here are swings at pitches out of the zone over the inner third, or beyond:

2009-2011: 25% swings
2012-2014: 28%

So Encarnacion has swung at fewer balls away, and more balls in. Put another way, he’s swung at fewer balls he can’t do much with, and he’s swung at more balls that have some power potential. Let’s look now at Encarnacion’s overall swing rates at pitches over the outer third, or beyond, including both would-be strikes and balls:

2008: 43% swings
2009: 42%
2010: 43%
2011: 44%
2012: 37%
2013: 34%
2014: 35%

You see a big drop there between 2011 and 2012, which is also when Encarnacion blossomed into an elite-level slugger. He’s kept up the same habits, and while Encarnacion doesn’t ignore outside pitches, he thinks less of them than he used to. Some of this is psychology and development. Some of this probably has to do with mechanics, which Encarnacion tweaked prior to 2012. This is an old story now, but here are a couple sample swings, the first from 2011 and the second from 2012. Both are home runs.

E5before.gif.opt

E5after.gif.opt

Watch the front foot and you see a much more modest timing mechanism. Watch the hands and now you see a two-handed follow-through. The first adjustment was to keep Encarnacion from being behind on pitches. These days he’s more balanced earlier on. The second adjustment was to cut down on the swing length and improve bat control. While some feared this would cut into Encarnacion’s power, it’s quite obviously done the opposite, as he’s not lacking for strength and now he’s better able to consistently hit the ball where he wants to.

By improving his timing, Encarnacion is more able to turn on pitches. And by cutting down on the length, Encarnacion is less able to reach away, but he’s better able to punish pitches over the inner half, and beyond that. He’s never been great away, but he’s gotten better in, and now he’s optimizing his swing selections.

Here is a table of slugging percentages by pitch location:

Window Inside Middle Outside
2009-2011 0.420 0.521 0.430
2012-2014 0.572 0.698 0.434

And that ignores, also, whiffs and fouls. What Encarnacion wants to do the least is go after pitches over and beyond the outer third. He’s learned that and improved on that, and that’s in part what’s driven his success with the Blue Jays. That’s in part what’s driven his most recent success with the Blue Jays.

In terms of his eye, Edwin Encarnacion has become a particularly focused hitter, and that’s been true to an extreme degree during his current power streak. He lives by hunting pitches he can drive to left or center field, and while in theory this leaves him vulnerable to pitchers who can work him over the outside edge, Encarnacion’s strikeout rate suggests that it simply isn’t that easy to do that over and over again. He doesn’t miss pitches over the middle or inside. He doesn’t like to swing at the rest of the pitches. A series of perfect pitches away can retire him, but miss outside and you’ll throw balls, and miss inside and you’ll need a new ball. Encarnacion doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room.

In time, Encarnacion will cool off, as this is way too hot of a hot streak. In a lot more time, Encarnacion might decline into something less than one of the best power hitters in baseball. He and Jose Bautista share an awful lot in common these days, and that’s the kind of terrible news for pitchers that makes facing the Blue Jays an unenviable task at the moment.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
nard
Guest
nard
2 years 3 months ago

Gyea.

Ballfan
Guest
Ballfan
2 years 3 months ago

Hooray!
The Blue Jays are relevant again (finally) and have interesting players to analyze.

Yunel's Eye Black
Guest
Yunel's Eye Black
2 years 3 months ago

People stopped calling Edwin “E5” a while ago bro

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 3 months ago

Since when?

Yunel's Eye Black
Guest
Yunel's Eye Black
2 years 3 months ago

Since he became a god

bdhudson
Member
Member
bdhudson
2 years 3 months ago

The article doesn’t say “E5” anywhere…

Yunel's Eye Black
Guest
Yunel's Eye Black
2 years 3 months ago

@ bdhudson: Sullivan removed the reference

@ Jeff Sullivan: sorry man I was just giving you a hard time, great article

Steven
Guest
Steven
2 years 3 months ago

I’ve heard him being called E5 last year despite being a DH. Nicknames don’t always have to make sense; they just have to stick.

bdhudson
Member
Member
bdhudson
2 years 3 months ago

Whoops. Yay for everyone!

Bart
Guest
Bart
2 years 3 months ago

Since he stopped playing third base.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew
2 years 3 months ago

He earned that nickname with his hard work and determination! It can never be taken away from him!

Yunel's Eye Black
Guest
Yunel's Eye Black
2 years 3 months ago

Never too late to become E3 I guess

Torgen
Guest
Torgen
2 years 3 months ago

His middle initial is also E.

thecodygriffin
Member
thecodygriffin
2 years 3 months ago

He will ALWAYS be E5 in the hearts of many baseball fans.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
2 years 3 months ago

Agreed. When I want to say to a friend “Hey, Edwin Encarnacion is MASHING! Check it out, he hit two more homers tonight!”

that all gets shortened to

“E5!!!”

FrankDrakman
Guest
FrankDrakman
2 years 3 months ago

Graig Nettles of the Yankees used to burn “E5” into his glove. EE had some trouble playing 3rd when he first got to the Jays, hence the moniker.

Mike Green
Guest
Mike Green
2 years 3 months ago

Encarnacion has also been very good defensively over the last two-three weeks.

It should also be noted that he injured his wrist late in spring training, and he just wasn’t hitting the ball as far in April even on pitches middle of the plate in.

Matty Brown
Member
Member
Matty Brown
2 years 3 months ago

His home-run on Tuesday night against the Rays (Cobb) was magnificent. It was another ball inside that he swatted like nothing into the 2nd deck.

siggian
Guest
siggian
2 years 3 months ago

And two more last night that are long gone in any ball park. He hammered both of them.

everdiso
Member
everdiso
2 years 3 months ago

Sqwuaaaakkk

Max G
Guest
2 years 3 months ago

Back in November, swami JP Breen boldly predicted that Encarnacion could be a legit 2014 MVP candidate.

Catoblepas
Guest
Catoblepas
2 years 3 months ago

This seems like an article that could’ve benefitted greatly from the use of the new heat maps. Really good and interesting, but I love me some visual aids.

TtD
Guest
TtD
2 years 3 months ago

Aw! And here was me hoping for a runout of the new toys. Edwin’s heat map is a thing of beauty at the moment.

Greg
Guest
Greg
2 years 3 months ago

I’d be curious to see stats comparing EE pitch selection before and after he had laser eye surgery a few years back.

Matthew
Guest
Matthew
2 years 3 months ago

16 in May now

Pizzabox
Member
Pizzabox
2 years 3 months ago

18*

Pizzabox
Member
Pizzabox
2 years 3 months ago

Not referring to Matthew… just pointing out how stupid good EE is right now.

Dusty Baker
Guest
Dusty Baker
2 years 3 months ago

Can’t get the bunt down when asked — I’ve got no use for him.

FrankDrakman
Guest
FrankDrakman
2 years 3 months ago

“Dusty Baker”? Sure you’re not John Farrell in drag?

AL Eastbound
Guest
2 years 3 months ago

#Edwing

Blow
Guest
Blow
2 years 3 months ago
Little Sister
Guest
Little Sister
2 years 3 months ago

Ew.

Canard
Guest
Canard
2 years 3 months ago
SomethingRotten
Guest
SomethingRotten
2 years 3 months ago

Jeff Sullivan writes about the Jays and their winning streak comes to a humiliating end. A coincidence? I say no. I call it the Sullivan-Mariners effect.

MLB Rainmaker
Member
Member
MLB Rainmaker
2 years 3 months ago

I call him E5 because its one of the best nicknames of all time, only second to “Moonshot” Scott Baker. God that guy could give up a homerun like no one else….it felt like they weren’t going to land sometimes.

Fun fact, E5’s SLG was .374 on May 5 and before tonight’s game it sat at .579! With his run he’s only 4 HRs short of most HRs in a calendar month. Any chance the Jays are playing the Rangers this week, maybe Moonshot Scott can help us get there…

Sammy J
Guest
Sammy J
2 years 3 months ago

I don’t know. Esteban Yan had a pretty awesome nickname.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
2 years 3 months ago

Estaban Yan f’ing Gomes?

MustBunique
Member
Member
2 years 3 months ago

Lasershow is pretty good too.

Johnny
Guest
Johnny
2 years 3 months ago

The plate discipline is almost identical in 2009-2011. The jump in 2012-2014 in HR/FB% screams PEDs in my book.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew
2 years 3 months ago

Did you even read the article?

IMW
Guest
IMW
2 years 3 months ago

That would be because you’re an idiot.

Jimmer
Guest
Jimmer
2 years 3 months ago

Does your book consist mostly of pictures and small words? Maybe written by a ‘Dr.’?

EE's Parrot
Guest
EE's Parrot
2 years 3 months ago

EE crushed a couple of inside meatballs off of Shields last night. Both times Salvador Perez had him set up on the outside corner, but Shields’ fastball(?) ran inside both times.

Slamhole
Guest
Slamhole
2 years 3 months ago

Double E!

jim fetterolf
Guest
jim fetterolf
2 years 3 months ago

The gifs, like the game last night, show that EE is killing cookies, munching on mistakes. That comes from the discipline of waiting for a pitch in a spot and then handling it.

Good piece, Jeff.

Aksum
Guest
Aksum
2 years 3 months ago

I would like to see what his leg looks like going the opposite way.

MustBunique
Member
Member
2 years 3 months ago

E5 T-Rexing the crap outta the inner half is a whole lot of fun to watch. Thanks for taking the time to point out the differences in the front-foot timing mechanism. It is easy to see the difference watching the GIFs, not something that I would have picked up on since I don’t watch the Jays on a regular basis.

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