When talking about a player’s defensive value, you will almost never hear things like errors or fielding percentage discussed on FanGraphs. These metrics have all kinds of problems, and we simply have better ways to evaluate the abilities of defenders nowadays. Occasionally, errors and fielding percentage do tell the story correctly, however. For instance, I present Edwin Encarnacion.
The Blue Jays began the season with E5 as their starting third baseman. He’s played 141 innings in 16 games at the position this year during which time he has already made eight errors, tying him for the league lead among third baseman. The man he is tied with, Mark Reynolds, has played 430 innings at third base this year. Encarnacion has made the same amount of errors as the league leader in 1/3 of the playing time.
Or, if you want to look at it from a fielding percentage standpoint, his mark at third base this year is .784. The next lowest mark of any semi-regular player in baseball is Andy LaRoche at .892. How low is E5’s fielding percentage? Let’s just put it this way – Jose Bautista slugging percentage is higher than Encarnacion’s fielding percentage at third base. Disenchanted with his play at third, the Jays have recently used Encarnacion more at first base; he has the lowest fielding percentage in baseball of any first baseman too.
In 200 innings in the field, he has made 11 errors. A normal everyday position player will rack up about 1,300 defensive innings over the course of the season – at this rate, over a full season, Encarnacion would finish the year with about 70 errors. Seventy.
Teams have been putting up with E5’s defensive issues over the years in order to get his bat into the line-up, but this year, he’s not even providing any offensive value – he’s hitting just .237/.262/.324, he’s without a home run, and he’s decided to just stop walking. His ZIPS projection over the rest of the season is .247/.313/.427, good for a .328 wOBA that would make him roughly a league average hitter.
A league average hitter who is also one of the worst defensive players in baseball is not a Major Leaguer. The Blue Jays have resisted bringing up top prospect Brett Lawrie from Triple-A Las Vegas, in part because his defense at third base is also not very good, but there’s no way the Blue Jays should continue to pencil Encarnacion’s name into the line-up. He’s an absolute disaster in the field, and his bat simply doesn’t even come close to making up for it.
Despite their current three game losing streak, Toronto should have some hopes for contending for the wild-card this year. They’re only four games behind the Red Sox and Yankees, have scored more runs than they’ve allowed, and have the game’s best hitter anchoring a solid line-up. If they patch a few holes and keep their pitchers relatively healthy, the Jays could stay in the race all summer.
If they’re not convinced that Lawrie is ready yet – and remember, Las Vegas is a hitter’s paradise, so you have to deflate his Triple-A numbers by a good amount – they should still be able to find a competent alternative at third base. There’s no reason that the Jays should continue to put up with a never-ending series of errors from one of the worst defenders the sport has seen in a long time.
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