The past few weeks, as I'm sure y'all have, I've been thinking about the way Edwin Encarnacion has turned around his season. Now that Brett Lawrie is up (and producing!), it seems that we can officially close the book on the EE at third base experiment. Given that Edwin drove in the game-winning run yesterday afternoon, now's as good a time as any to take a look at the ups and downs of his season.
After a somewhat unlucky 2010 season (.235 BABIP), it looked like there might be some potential for Encarnacion to be a real producer this year. In just 367 plate appearances last season, Encarnacion hit 21 homeruns on his way to above-average production at the plate (.244 / .305 / .482; wRC+ 110), in spite of his atrocious BABIP. His glovework, while still unspectacular, looked better (both anecdotally and statistically) and it was a surprise (at least, to some of us) when the Jays let him go for nothing to the Athletics, who then (also surprisingly) non-tendered him. This offseason, when the Jays signed him to a nice little deal with an affordable team option for 2012, many of us here at BBB were glad, but did not understand why it had already been determined that he wouldn't play third. He'd missed last spring due to an unfortunate fireworks incident and, given the strides he'd seemingly made last season, it only made sense to give him a shot to win the job out of the spring. Even more bizarrely, after spending spring training at first base, the day before the season, it was announced that he'd be starting the season at the hot corner.
It didn't play out well. Edwin looked truly awful, making error after error. In just 25 starts at third this season, EE has committed 8 errors, "good" for a -41 runs / 150 games by UZR. Now, of course, he would not have maintained that kind of horrific play over the course of a season, but he was not allowed to, anyway. It is likely that Edwin carried his fielding woes to the plate with him, struggling to the tune of a .257 / .283 /. 365 line in April. Even after being moved into the DH and 1B slots, his poor play continued, with fans still complaining about his defence (though now at first) and a .236 / .257 / .333 batting line. While ZiPS was not convinced that Edwin's play wouldn't improve some, it was convinced that he was not going to be an above-average hitter the rest of the way, prompting Dave Cameron to write an article suggesting that it was time to cut ties on 27 May. At the time, Encarnacion had produced an historically bad -1.1 fangraphs WAR (fWAR) in just 145 plate appearances. Perhaps Edwin saw that as a wakeup call, as, almost immediately thereafter, his bat woke up. Since then, Encarnacion has absolutely mashed the ball and shown the plate discipline he lacked earlier in the season, batting .320 / .391 / .563, with 11 HR, 17
HR2B, and 23 walks in 230 plate appearances. He's at 1.2 fWAR now, so he's been worth 2.3 fWAR player since then. Assuming a full season at 600 plate appearances, that suggests Edwin has produced at the level of a 6 WAR player. In 2010, 6 fWAR would have tied him with Shin-Soo Choo as the 17th-best player in baseball.
What is really astounding about these numbers is that what we're essentially seeing what Encarnacion could have been doing last year. Comparing his rate-stats from his resurgence in 2011 to his full-season stats in 2010 we see his homerun-rate has actually been a bit lower than it was last season (4.8% compared to 5.7%) but his walk- and strikeout-rates are trifle better (BB-rates of 10.0% vs. 7.9% and K-rates of 14.3% vs. 16.3%). He's compensated for the slight drop-off in homeruns by hitting more doubles, leading to a slightly higher ISOp (.243 vs .238), but part of this can be accounted to his drastic increase in BABIP (which has almost certainly led to more doubles falling in, as well as singles squeaking through). Basically, the Edwin Elpidio Encarnacion we're seeing during this "hot streak" is not all that different from the Edwin Elpidio Encarnacion we saw last year. What's really amazing (and encouraging!) is that the true Edwin likely doesn't lie right in the middle. He's been a bit fortunate these past few months, sure, but he was more unlucky last year than he's been these past couple months. Of course he'll drop off some, but don't be surprised if he continues to surprise you.
Thanks to Ted Leo and the Pharmacists for today's post title.