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Edwin Encarnacion's Problem with Breaking Pitches

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Edwin Encarnacion was great 2014, but he had real trouble with the breaking ball

Alex Goodlett

In a general sense it is pretty tough to complain about Edwin Encarnacion's performance in 2014.

The reason that it's difficult to make any kind of case he underperformed is that he produced pretty much at the exact same rate as he has since his 2012 breakout:

Year

AVG

OBP

SLG

BABIP

ISO

wRC+

WAR

2012

.280

.384

.557

.266

.277

150

4.0

2013

.272

.370

.534

.247

.262

144

4.1

2014

.268

.354

.547

.260

.279

150

3.6

His quad injury was definitely a factor in keeping his counting numbers down, but his rates were pretty healthy. In the grander scheme of things he had pretty much exactly the season you'd expect. That being said, 2014 did feel a little different.

One thing that stood out was his incredible May where he hit 16 of 34 home runs and produced an astonishing .281/.369/1.132 line, even with a minuscule .195 BABIP. As a result of this historic outburst the rest of the season felt underwhelming at times as a result.Encarnacion was superhuman for a brief window in time, and then decidedly human, although still very effective, for the rest of the year.

The 31-year-old slugger also faced some injury difficulties that took him a while to recover from. It's always hard to quantify exactly how much an injury is affecting a player, but the .170/.241/.340 Encarnacion put up in his first 14 games back from his DL stint suggest it's possible he was rushed back, or at least struggled with his timing.

Perhaps the biggest factor that cast a shadow over Edwin's 2014 was the regression in his control of the strike zone. Prior to this year I thought there was a chance that his increasing ability to take walks and avoid strikeouts could lead to unprecedented production, but that wasn't exactly the case as his BB/K fell to earth.

Year

BB%

K%

BB/K

2012

13.0%

14.6%

0.89

2013

13.2%

10.0%

1.32

2014

11.4%

15.1%

0.76

His numbers this year remain excellent for a guy with his kind of power, but they aren't nearly as special as what he did in 2013.

So, why did Encarnacion strike out more and walk less? The answer lies with how he handled breaking balls.  This year he saw pretty much the same pitch mix at always:

Ed

However, he decided to swing for breaking pitches significantly more often than he has since breaking out

Ed 2

Not only was he swinging more often, he was also missing more often.

Ed 3

None of this is to say that he became Juan Francisco overnight, but he clearly had more difficulty when it came to sliders and curveballs.

Taking a look at his Zone Profile it's clear that the big issue was missing on breaking balls low and away. The following image show his whiff rate on breaking pitches in 2012 and 2013 to demonstrate his post-breakout baseline:

Ed 4

There is a slight tendency to miss on breaking balls below the zone, but it's nothing too severe. This year Encarnacion has serious problems on offerings low and away .

Ed 5

It's hard to know what to make of this information. After all, good breaking balls are usually designed to get hitters to whiff on pitches down and away. In the past Edwin hasn't had too much trouble with these pitches, but this year he's struggled.

Edwin Encarnacion was basically as productive in 2014 as in the two previous seasons, but he looked more mortal at times, due to injury and more frequent lapses in strike zone judgement.

If the Jays are going to take the next step in 2015 they might need the version of Encarnacion that is immune to injury and impervious to the strikeout. Cross your fingers folks.