Edwin Encarnacion Is Not Your Typical Slugger

Hank Aaron. Barry Bonds. Albert Pujols. Edwin Encarnacion.

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.

Season Name Team Age PA HR wRC+ K% K+ hr/pa
2004 Barry Bonds Giants 39 617 45 233 6.60% 39.1 7.29%
2004 Albert Pujols Cardinals 24 692 46 171 7.50% 44.4 6.65%
2002 Barry Bonds Giants 37 612 46 244 7.70% 45.8 7.52%
2006 Albert Pujols Cardinals 26 634 49 174 7.90% 47.0 7.73%
1969 Hank Aaron Braves 35 639 44 170 7.40% 48.7 6.89%
2009 Albert Pujols Cardinals 29 700 47 180 9.10% 50.6 6.71%
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%
2000 Todd Helton Rockies 26 697 42 162 8.80% 53.3 6.03%
2011 Adrian Beltre Rangers 32 525 32 134 10.10% 54.3 6.10%

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%.

Year 2B HR XBH 150-gm Pace K% O-Contact% SwStr%
2005 16 9 25 54 25.6% 44.8% 10.6%
2006 33 15 49 63 16.7% 48.3% 8.7%
2007 25 16 42 45 15.4% 57.0% 9.8%
2008 29 26 56 58 17.5% 62.0% 8.7%
2009 11 13 26 46 19.8% 64.0% 7.9%
2010 16 21 37 58 16.3% 68.2% 8.3%
2011 36 17 53 59 14.5% 74.0% 7.1%
2012 24 42 66 66 14.6% 72.4% 7.2%
2013 20 28 49 73 10.4% 77.1% 6.0%

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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Blake Murphy is a news editor at The Score, and is a freelance sportswriter covering baseball, basketball, hockey and more. Think Bo Jackson, without the being good at every sport part. Follow him on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.


37 Responses to “Edwin Encarnacion Is Not Your Typical Slugger”

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  1. Dukefrukem says:

    I would have thought there would be credit given to 2013 David Ortiz stats too.

    He’s only played in 86 games with 319 AB but just 46 Ks, 47 BBs and 20 HRs (13th in AL).

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    • Blake Murphy says:

      His HR/PA didn’t qualify in this particular example.

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    • ralph says:

      I presume this is something we’ll never know, but it’d be fascinating to know the story behind how Ortiz ended up cutting his strikeout rate so much. Was it purely a player decision?

      Or did the managers/coaches/front office step in and say something like “You know David, in the past we’ve said that we don’t care about strikeouts, because a good approach that produces walks and dingers will likely be accompanied by copious strikeouts. But we think you’re a special breed — a good enough hitter who can drastically cut his strikeouts while maintaining excellent power production and OBP. So here’s your challenge for the year 2011: try to make more contact on 2-strike counts and see where you end up for the season.”

      Admittedly, I wondered the same about Prince Fielder’s massive K% drop last year, and that hasn’t exactly held up.

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  2. ralph says:

    Presented for those who enjoy the occasional foray into small sample size theater:

    Encarnacion has taken things to a whole other level this month by striking out in a mere 5.7% of his July plate appearances.

    But that’s not the amazing thing.

    The amazing thing is that while sporting that 5.7% strikeout rate, he’s managed to walk in 18.4% of his July plate appearances.

    For those who don’t want to do the math, that’s a 3.20 BB/K ratio.

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  3. Skin Blues says:

    “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”

    You’re double-counting this skill, which is already accounted for in his HR total (and wRC+, and XBH). You should have just stopped when you said “strikeouts aren’t necessarily bad”. The rest of that line of thought perpetuates the idea that strikeouts ARE necessarily bad.

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    • Blake Murphy says:

      It’s not double-counting…that could be the case if I made some sort of xwRC+ formula or something. I was just reiterating some of the benefits of striking out less, for those who may not have had those examples come to mind. I didn’t say “less K=more HR” just the steps by which it can create more opportunities.

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  4. Cybo says:

    E5 has been quietly awesome this year. Just dealt Puig away for him in a keeper and I’ve been feeling pretty good about that even if I don’t get to see him on Sportscenter every night.

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  5. I had noticed the K% drop too, but hadn’t looked into the rarity of it. Good stuff.

    But shouldn’t it be K%- instead of K%+? Not substantively different, but I had to stop and think it through a little.

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  6. Phantom Stranger says:

    How do the numbers look if you run them on a home/road split? A lot of the AL East teams believe the Blue Jays steal signs when they play at home, much more than other teams.

    -33 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Marcus A. says:

      Not that difficult for you to look up but just FYI. He’s hit more home runs away than home (17 v. 11). And his walk and strikeout rates are similar, although slightly better at home than away. He has 28 BBs and 21 Ks at home, v. 25 BBs and 25 Ks away. Any way you slice it, it’s impressive.

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    • Blake Murphy says:

      The sign-stealing stuff has been debunked pretty authoritatively the past few years. It’s complete b/s.

      +19 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Radivel says:

        But ESPN had not one but two front page articles about it! They contained lots of maybe proof and possible facts!

        They were the two most poorly written, chasing-shadows articles I’d ever read on ESPN by someone not named Jayson Stark, which is saying something.

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    • Ballfan says:

      if the Jays actually stole signs would they not perform better? Last place….

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      • octelium says:

        If they were winning then people would know they were stealing signs. So they use the sign stealing to make sure they loose and that way it doesn’t look like they are stealing signs, duh!

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  7. canuckassassin says:

    Great article. All that was missing was a chicken wing home run trot gif.

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  8. TribeFanV says:

    Great article. I’ve wondered how a guy with a LD% north of 20 (this year) and not-terrible wheels can sport such a poor BABIP (.252, career .277), though. 11.5% pop-ups this year, but it still seems odd.

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    • Ano.te says:

      I have honestly thought about this a lot as well this year. Things like this, combined with about 400 other random thought provoking questions like this, have me finally understanding the nuances of why the jays are in last place. Beyond the SP (which has just been bad, obviously – go Todd Redmond, *Ace*) our offense has run into a whole bunch of anomalies like this over the year.

      At one point this year there were quite a few regular Jays hitters with BABIPs well below their career average – with no real explanation other than “well, maybe the guy is just not hitting the ball hard enough in certain situations?”.

      Yet as you see with “The Artist Formerly Known as ‘E5′” he is hitting the ball well, and has a LD% to match.

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  9. SurprMan says:

    Any article about sluggers with low strikeout rates would be remiss in not mentioning Ted Kluszewski (he retired in 1961, the cut-off year for this analysis).

    In 1954-1955, he had a 7.1% HR/PA along with a 5.6 K% (very curious to know what K+ that translates to…).

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    • Blake Murphy says:

      Just FYI, 1961 is “expansion era” and makes a nice clean cut-off point in the BRef play index.

      His K% of 5.8% in 1955 is a K%+ of 51. Still behind that Bonds group but cracks the leaders for sure. Nice find!

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  10. Rick Leask says:

    Edwin has great stats over the last couple of years. A team like Texas could certainly use him. What would the give up to get him, Profar and Perez.

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    • Blake Murphy says:

      I’d be REALLLLY surprised if the Jays moved Edwin for what wasn’t a king’s ransom of a return. He’s not old, he’s on a very reasonable contract, and he’s probably the most popular non-Reyes at the moment.

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      • Well-Beered Englishman says:

        “probably the most popular non-Reyes”

        …Bautista?

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        • Demetrios says:

          Surely you are forgetting about Munenori Kawasaki

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        • Blake Murphy says:

          Right or wrong (hint: it’s wrong), Jays fans have kind of turned on Joey Bats in the last little while. Combo of the team doing poorly and his outbursts with umpires, blah blah leadership blah. So, not valid, but it’s common among the fanbase right now.

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  11. Victor Conte says:

    No, I’m not surprised that Encarnacion’s and Bautista’s names weren’t on the Biogenesis list…Canada has great chemists too.

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  12. Darryl says:

    EE’s low K rate makes me think that if Gibby decides to go back to Jose/Jose/Edwin at the top of the order, Edwin should bat second and Bautista third.

    I can’t go too in depth right now because it’s 1 AM and I am quite tired, but I’ll do my best to defend my statement tomorrow. Cool? Cool.

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  13. Bob says:

    Bautista should… Pardon MIGHT be on the list if he didn’t get ejected if he didn’t get thrown out all the time.

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  14. Dexter says:

    Forgive my ignorance but do the walk rates used exclude IBBs?

    EE has had surprisingly few of those this year.

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  15. LRG says:

    And he probably should be better than he is right now. That .250 BABIP with a 21.1 LD%? That can’t last. He should probably be hitting .300. This guy is one of the best hitters in the league right now and is extremely under appreciated by most of the baseball community.

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