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Edwin Encarnacion's lack of luck

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Edwin Encarnacion has scorched the ball so far in the playoffs. At least results-wise, you wouldn't know it, especially after the two losses in Rogers Centre, but Encarnacion has definitely been hitting balls hard. Let's take a closer look at the balls Encarnacion has hit in play.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Edwin Encarnacion is very much a pull hitter. He has amazing strengths at the plate: he's got a rare combination of big-time power, an ability to make contact far better than most power hitters, and a great eye at the plate to top it all off. What Encarnacion does not do is hit the ball to all fields. Yes, he has the power to hit a home run to the opposite field, but he definitely prefers to pull the ball, as he has amazing pull power and wants to use it to hit doubles and home runs.

During the second win over Texas, everyone's favourite ALDS broadcaster, Harold Reynolds, talked about the Blue Jays making adjustments to the outside pitch, hitting it the other way. What mister Reynolds forgot to mention was that Josh Donaldson and Chris Colabello, who hit opposite field home runs, as well as Russell Martin, who hit an opposite field double to trigger Reynolds' narrative machine, are already the three Blue Jays hitters with the most balanced approach. Devon Travis, too, will use the whole field, but Devon is sadly absent from this series. For pull hitters Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki, and to a lesser degree Kevin Pillar, this narrative does not seem to hold up.

Here's Edwin Encarnacion's spray chart for this postseason, from Baseball Savant:

EE's batted balls in the postseason

Two things I want to talk about are highlighted in this image, the groundballs and one low line drive to the left side of the infield, and the three deep flyouts to center field. With the exception of one ball hit to the shortstop, all these highlighted balls in play were hit 99 mph or harder.

If we use Baseball Savant and look for balls hit harder than 96 mph in the playoffs so far, Encarnacion leads the Blue Jays by far with eleven such instances. Bautista and Colabello have five. Donaldson has only three, but has hits on all three of those hard hit balls. All of Pillar, Tulowitzki, Martin, Colabello, Bautista and Donaldson have hit .600 or higher on balls hit at least 97 mph. Encarnacion? He's hit just .273 on balls that could have left the ballpark with the right angle and direction. That, to me, signals some tough luck for Edwin.

Part of the explanation for this tough "luck" can be seen here, in a screengrab of MLB Network's defensive alignment widget showing how the Texas defense plays Encarnacion with no runners on:

EE defensive shift

As you can see the shortstop is pretty close to the third baseman, who in turn is guarding the line. The second baseman is on the left side of second base, leaving no hole up the middle for Encarnacion. Just to compare, here's what they did with Josh Donaldson at the plate:

Donaldson defensive alignment

This type of defensive shift isn't anything new, as I was able to find an ESPN piece on the Oakland A's shifting Encarnacion as far back as 2012. With Encarnacion hitting the ball to the third base side of the infield more than any other Blue Jay, the ability for the third baseman to cover the line, and the shortstop not leaving much of a hole to shoot for; it is understandable how Edwin Encarnacion, not the speediest of players, hits into so many outs even though he hits the ball hard. When he hits the ball hard and low, he hits it in predictable locations. Luckily, the Rangers can predict Encarnacion hitting one into the seats all they want, they won't catch the ball there. Unluckily, Edwin hasn't hit a dinger yet this postseason.

Here's Edwin Encarnacion's spray chart on groundballs and line drives from the regular season:

Edwin Encarnacion's groundballs and line drives

The area circled with yellow is the balls that have been fielded by second basemen. As you can see, at least some of the time there is no hole up the middle to shoot for, as the second basemen have been making plays quite far to the left of the second base bag. Whether by choice or because he simply can't, Edwin has not changed his approach for several years. No matter what Harold Reynolds says, I don't think Edwin is going to try to shoot every ball the other way. He's likely to try and hit it hard, and if it goes opposite field, Encarnacion will take that. But in all likelihood it won't be by design.

Perhaps you remember than in the first spray chart of this article I also highlighted three hard hit balls to center field. These are balls that traveled over 370 feet, but because Encarnacion got under them a little bit, and also didn't pull them towards the smaller parts of the ballpark, these balls were caught easily by the center fielder. The strange thing here is that Encarnacion had all of two of these types of flyballs in all of the regular season, but then hit three in just two playoff games in Rogers Centre. In the regular season, Jose Bautista hit into thirteen outs that went farther than 365 feet. Josh Donaldson had nine. Russel Martin had seven. Edwin Encarnacion? He had just four. A more unlikely slugger to come up just empty is hardly imaginable, and yet Encarnacion has been tormented by near misses.

--------> This is where I would embed video of Encarnacion's near-walkoff home run in game 2, but it still hurts too much <---------

Here's hoping for a big first playoff home run for Edwin Encarnacion in game 5 of the ALDS. Let's go, Edwin!