Edwin Encarnacion Continues To Walk The Parrot

Title: Edwin Encarnacion Continues To Walk The Parrot
Date: October 8, 2013
Original Source: Rotographs
Synopsis: This article was a Blue Jays fan showing love for Edwin Encarnacion, under the guise of fantasy baseball analysis.

There’s not a lot of guesswork about Edwin Encarnacion anymore; we can be relatively certain there’s nothing fluky about his ascension to the second tier of fantasy first basemen, as odd as it may have seemed when it began in late 2011.

Given the depth of the position, perhaps his overall value isn’t all that striking – he returned roughly $18 this year, trailing only Chris Davis and Paul Goldschmidt at the position – but he now appears to be a safe pick.

He also appeared at third base 10 times this season, meaning he’ll be eligible on both corners in many formats next year (more on that during third baseman week, perhaps).

The fact that Encarnacion is a reliable option now is surprising given how his career had looked up until the midway point of 2011.

Starting as a potential power-hitting third base prospect, it was Encarnacion’s glove that originally stood in his way. The fantasy potential was there, however, as in 2007 “E5” managed a .289 average with 16 home runs and eight stolen bases. From there, however, a drop-off in average and his horrendous throwing at third limited his playing time.

In 2009, the Toronto Blue Jays acquired him from the Cincinnati Reds as a throw-in in the Scott Rolen trade. He was so unimpressive in his first season and a half that the Jays actually waived him – the Oakland Athletics would claim him and grant him free agency, allowing him to re-sign in Toronto. It was weird.

In 2011, two things happened: the Jays tried Encarnacion out at first base (logical, since his glove was never the issue as much as his arm was) and he started further refining his already-somehwat-rare discipline.

Then after the 2011 season, he lost 10 pounds and made changes to his swing mechanics. The swing change saw him keep two hands on the bat through his swing rather than one, and it may be the reason he now ‘walks the parrot’ after home runs (as a positive reinforcement of where his second hand now finishes the swing).

That change, combined with the more sleek look and sound plate discipline, manifested itself immediately.

Take a look at Encarnacion’s ‘third base value rank’ over time, along with some of his key statistics:

Year 1B Rank 3B Rank HR AVG SB wRC+
2006 28 15 276 6 111
2007 14 16 289 8 103
2008 18 26 251 1 109
2009 30 13 225 2 91
2010 20 21 244 1 109
2011 10 17 272 8 113*
2012 2 2 42 280 13 151
2013 3 3 36 272 7 145

*2011 wRC+: Apr-May=65, Jun-Sep=133

It’s clear Encarnacion has three distinct parts of his career: prospect, flame-out, and resurgence.

There’s little concern of him sliding back, too. Sure, he’s unlikely to ever play enough games at third base to be eligible again after 2014 (although we would have said the same thing last year) and that limits his overall value some, but he does things that few other first basemen do. At a very deep position, he excels:

2011-2013, minimum 800 plate appearances, 1B rank
AVG: .275 (17th)
R: 253 (4th)
RBI: 269 (6th)
HR: 95 (T-2nd)
SB: 28 (3rd)

The two areas some may be concerned with are average and stolen bases, as those aren’t typical of a slugger.

However, Encarnacion’s low strikeout rate gives him far more balls in play than a free-swinger, so even though his fly ball rate is high there are plenty of opportunities for hits. That is, a strikeout has a zero percent chance of becoming a hit, and Encarnacion limits those. His BABIP isn’t high (.247 in 2013, .275 career), so his average becomes mostly a result of putting balls in play.

As for the speed, Encarnacion is deceptively not-slow. I hesitate to say fast, but this is a player who has always shown some ability on the basepaths. He ranked sixth among first basemen in Speed Score this season (and over a three-year sample) and he’s 49-for-60 stealing bases for his career. Basically, he retained the athleticism of a third baseman even with the move to first.

These are areas that should continue to be strong points for Encarnacion. With his arm no longer limiting his playing time and his plate discipline elite for a slugger (he struck out at a lower rate than any player with 20 home runs), only three concerns remain:

Will he still steal bases?
I don’t see why not. He’ll be 31 for 2014 but looked fine in this regard in 2013, and there is no managerial change suggesting a change in basepath approach.

Will he continue with the same swing mechanics?
The change turned him from a 20-home run DFA-candidate to a 35-home run slugger. If it ain’t broke…

Will his wrist injury sap his power?
Encarnacion had wrist surgery in mid-September, and these injuries tend to raise a red flag, especially for power hitters. While Encarnacion’s numbers took a slight dip late in the season, he was still hitting well up to the time that surgery was deemed necessary (this was not a force-induced injury, he had been dealing with wrist soreness for a while). As for whether the power will come back, teammate Jose Bautista had a similar injury in 2012 and saw a dip in power this year, but that was from elite to merely very good. Encarnacion has a full offseason to heal and bring the wrist along slowly.

So if the average and speed are real, and the jump in power is from an appreciable change in swing mechanics, there’s little not to like about Encarnacion. He was a top-three first baseman for the second straight season and will have third base eligibility in some leagues. It might seem weird now, but Encarnacion is a terrific fantasy asset.

Get some comfortable shoes. You’ll be walking the parrot plenty again in 2014.


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