If one of those names doesn’t seem to fit, perhaps you haven’t been paying close enough attention in 2013. (And you probably didn’t read Dave Cameron’s trade value column.) The fact that Encarnacion is third in the majors in home runs and fourth in runs batted in doesn’t put him in elite company in historic terms, though.
No, it’s something Encarnacion is not doing that makes him unique.
Encarnacion is just not striking out.
At least, not by typical slugger standards. Through 202 games and 444 plate appearances, Encarnacion has struck out just 46 times, an obscenely low rate for a power hitter. No other player in the top-10 for home runs this year even sniffs his 10.5% K-rate and Adrian Beltre is the only one who tops him in the top-68.
The list of boppers with low raw strikeout rates is thin and elite, though there are an abundance of examples. However, Encarnacion is playing at the height of strikeouts in terms of league era. So when we consider league context and create K%+, a shorthand that shows how far above or below league average someone was with respect to strikeouts, what Encarnacion is accomplishing stands out.
The table below shows the lowest K%+ rates since 1961 for players with a home run per plate appearance (HR/PA) rate of 6% or greater. That 6% mark has been hit 425 times in that span, or about eight times per year, thus denoting players among the power-hitting elite.
|1993||Frank Thomas||White Sox||25||676||41||171||8.00%||53.0||6.07%|
|2013||Edwin Encarnacion||Blue Jays||30||439||28||149||10.50%||53.3||6.38%|
Elite company, indeed. It appears Encarnacion has become one of the masters of hitting home runs without striking out, an appreciable trait. After all, strikeouts aren’t necessarily bad but fewer strikeouts means more balls in play, potential fly balls, thus producing more opportunity for home runs (and sacrifice flies, hits, etc).
Encarnacion’s drop in strikeout rate hasn’t come from being more passive, though, as passivity could detract from a power-hitting approach. Instead, Encarnacion has a swing rate a little below his career average the past two years and has instead been selectively aggressive with pitches outside the zone, displaying a major spike in O-Contact%.
Once again Edwin is tops among 2013’s home run leaders, leading the way in O-Contact% and SwStr%. Beltre is close again and teammate Jose Bautista isn’t far off, but Encarnacion rules the roost for those with 20-plus homers.
There’s one other thing you may have caught as you perused these numbers – Encarnacion has more extra base hits (49) than strikeouts (46). This alone isn’t that rare, with 567 players having done it since 1961. But it’s more rare for sluggers, as only about two players a season, on average, hit 30 home runs and have more extra base hits than strikeouts. If we want to get really specific, he’d be just the 69th player with 30HR and more extra base hits and more walks than strikeouts.
With all of that said, this is more just an interesting case than anything of inherent value (e.g. there was no connection between K%+ and wRC+). It’s certainly not a bad thing, and it might also be an additional signal that Encarnacion’s improvements at the plate are real and tangible. Perhaps most importantly, it’s a good sign for his continued power output – fewer strikeouts means more balls in play, and for Encarnacion that means more fly balls, letting his top-20 HR/FB rate go to work.
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