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The Edwin Encarnacion Revival Project

Edwin Encarnacion was signed in the off-season to a pretty club-friendly deal with the expectation that he would DH and occasionally play some first base. After the Toronto Blue Jays made a rather surprising announcement about his starting at third base based on a small sample size and his being perhaps the single greatest omission on the best shapers list, Encarnacion’s bat struggled and his defense was as his nickname advertises. And the vultures started to circle.

In April, Encarnacion had a triple-slash line of .257/.282/.365 and followed that up in May with a .236/.257/.333 line. It was the combination of the same old glove defensively and the ineptitude offensively that thrust Jose Bautista back to the hot corner, and if not for Brett Lawrie‘s injured hand, Encarnacion may have found himself without much of a role at all.

What has happened since the break is a brand-new-shiny version of Encarnacion as he’s gone .328/.438/.566. Whether or not he was motivated by the prospect of shopping for a new condo I don’t know, but what’s really interesting is to look at how he is a very different hitter in 2011 than he has been in the recent past.

On the year, Encarnacion is hitting .279/.339/.458 with a .350 wOBA, good for 8th overall among third basemen with at least 350 plate appearances, just behind the likes of Adrian Beltre, and just ahead of Evan Longoria. Since Encarnacion has a career .261/.337/.454 triple slash and a .345 wOBA, this shouldn’t be as big of a surprise as it seems like. But in this season of apparent subdued offensive excitement, Encarnacion is producing particularly well in context of his woeful start.

What’s curious is just how different he is in a couple situational settings.

In his career, Encarnacion has been a pretty average hitter in “pitchers” counts and historically a below average hitter even in favorable counts.

Not much in the way of change here in favorable counts versus his last two seasons. But in less favorable counts, there is a big change:

So while his performance is within a reasonable expectations in typical hitters counts the last several years, Encarnacion is a fundamentally different hitter in 2011 with two strikes than he has been over the last two seasons. For further comparison, looking at Encarnacion’s batting average against the 2011 AL-league average, he comes up roses:

Encarnacion is a career .193 hitter with a 2-2 count and this year he’s batting near .300. Whether this is a change in his approach or just the sun shining on his backside, I can’t tell you. ┬áSmall sample size to be sure, but across the board in typical pitchers counts where he has been a very easy out, Encarnacion is either getting very lucky, or he’s simply hitting way, way better.

Another way that 2011 has demonstrated a pretty stark correction has been his success against right handed pitchers. Historically, Encarnacion has hit left handed pitchers slightly better than right handed pitchers, and over the last several seasons, he has started to really struggle versus righties. But 2011 has reversed that trend.

His career BA vs. RHP is .258 and in 2011, it’s up to .282. While he has hit righties this well before, it hasn’t been since 2007 but even then, his wRC+ was 99 versus RHP where it stands at 116 in 2011. And in addition to his average, he’s also striking out less vs. RHP:

Now, if you’re in a league that takes into consideration defensive metrics, Encarnacion is barely useable and in terms of wins above replacement, he isn’t particularly valuable as a third basemen because of his brutal glove. But in the second half, only Ryan Zimmerman has been a hotter hitter at third base and Encarnacion is probably making decisions for the Toronto brass awfully easy as the team holds a club option of $3.5 million in 2012.

Had Lawrie not broken his hand, Encarnacion may have found himself in the minors or in an entirely different organization. But this is one of the things that makes baseball such an interesting sport to follow — Encarnacion was given a window of opportunity, and he’s fundamentally turned his season around.