Welcome to the brand new series called Bear or Bull. In this series, we will be talking about animals and how they relate to baseball players. No, really, we are. Otis Nixon is a cheetah! No, not like that. More like, if by animals I mean market trend descriptors. Yes, that totally makes much more sense. No, not really. Basically, I’ll be spotlighting players every week and creating a framework of where they are trending, a big picture analysis type of thing. Think Sky’s Creeper of the Week, but for multiple seasons, mixed with a hint of Grey’s Buy/Sell with a touch of my manly musk and prowess. We’ll do some light bio work, have some lol’s, make some GIFs, and assess where this player is and where this player is going. In the end, you’ll learn whether or not I’m Bearish (not zesty) or Bullish (yes please) on the player. Personally, I’d always want to be the bear. A polar bear actually. All I would do is hunt for seals and fish, drink a bunch of Coke, and never fear anything. Well, except global warming I guess. And maybe acid reflux.
Edwin Encarnacion was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 9th round, 274th overall in the year 2000. Traded a year later, with Ruben Mateo, to the Reds for Rob Bell, he made a steady climb through the minor leagues, hitting well at every stop. In 2005, he hit 314/388/548 in 78 Triple-A games, which spurned a promotion to the Majors, but only for a quick cup of tea. Its healthier than coffee, so there. Considered one of the top prospects that the Reds had since Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns, he was given the everyday job in 2006 after the Reds traded Joe Randa to the Padres and a strong performance in spring training. He finished the year with a solid slash of 276/359/473 with 15 homeruns, but also committed 25 errors at 3B. 2007 began disastrously for Encarnacion, as he hit 221/294/260, leading to the loss of his spot in the lineup to, of all people, Ryan Freel, who then eventually vacated that spot to Josh Hamilton. Sent back to Triple-A with the ire of then manager Jerry Narron, Encarnacion’s 2008 saw the return of steady, yet unspectacular production. He hit 251/340/466, but still was considered a defensive liability at 3B, committing another 23 errors. The talent was always there, or so everyone always said. Encarnacion, by most scouts measure, was an 80 power guy, with good pitch recognition and maybe a 50 hit tool. And to his credit, many Cincinnati fans felt he had been mishandled and not given enough of an opportunity. That showed as much in 2009, with Dusty Baker’s toothpick starring as the new sheriff in town, and Encarnacion quickly starting the season hitting .209 with just 5 homeruns, he was promptly shipped to Toronto for Scott Rolen. Here’s what GM Walt Jocketty had to say: “He (Rolen) brings leadership. He’s a veteran. I think he’ll add a lot to this club. He’s a good RBI man and a Gold Glove at third base.” If you need help deciphering that, they basically wanted a mature, productive guy who could field. Rolen proved to be a pretty good player until injuries took their toll in 2011. But the trade was perhaps the best thing to ever happen to Encarnacion.
Lucky enough to be one of the few that gets a nickname with both letter(s) and number(s), like RG3, or myself, JW1, E5 has been around for quite some time, as I just illuminated. (Though the creation of said nickname was not formed out of adoration. Just look-up scoresheet terminology if you aren’t getting it.) But he really only gained notoriety with last season’s campaign of ‘ef that ball out of the park’. So what differentiates the young 3B who was once thought of as a top prospect, but because of mismanagement, or never living up to expectations, or perhaps even being mislabeled, who settled as a 20 homerun and nothing else guy, turn into a 1B that outproduces Albert Pujols? Well, I’m glad you asked. But first, give me a minute to cure the carpal tunnel syndrome I just got from typing such a ginormous run-on sentence.
It’s all about the swing baby. Is that a saying? No? Well, it should be. Since GIFs and me are like this, and for those of you who can’t see what I’m doing right now, which is all of you, I’m twisting my middle and forefinger together in a toight like a tiger manner. Let’s take a GIFiculous journey of what exactly Encarnacion’s swing looked like pre-awesome (2011) and present-awesome (2012, 2013).
Edwin Encarnacion’s Swing, 2011
Edwin Encarnacion’s Swing, 2012
Edwin Encarnacion’s Swing, 2013
A human representation of what that baseball felt when coming into contact with Edwin Encarnacion’s bat.
Also a human representation of failing at life.
See anything different? I certainly do. If you didn’t that’s fine. If no one told you, I also write stuff around these parts. Two elements of his swing changed. First, he now keeps both hands on the bat through the entire swing, including the follow through. According to reports, this change was taught by Luis Mercedes, a former OF big-leaguer, not a southern luxury sedan, during Toronto’s 2011 spring training. Mercedes thought this action would help shorten the swing, which was, according to him, too long and undisciplined. With a more compact swing, you can gain more control in the zone, especially with pitches on the inner-half of the plate. That’s what I say. I get credit for that. Second, and most noticeable, is the progressive elimination of his long, almost Karate Kid style leg kick. As you can see in his 2011 swing, Edwin had that large and stuttered leg kick thing going, that began right at the start of the pitcher’s windup. In 2012, he starts his kick later, and comes down faster as the bat moves towards the plate. Also, the stutter doesn’t last as long. Now, in 2013, it’s almost been completely completely phased out. Less time to start hip-rotation allows a cleaner and quicker travel distance to the plate. By shortening his swing, he’s allowing additional amount of time to read the pitch, valuable to any hitter. With both of these changes, it’s reasonable to conclude that the swing is easily repeatable as well.
All of these changes show up in the stat-sheets, lest you think I’m just going to drop anecdotal evidence on you. In 2012, Encarnacion posted the lowest overall swing rate of his career (41.6%), while still holding his career average contact rate (82.1%). He also raised his pitches seen per plate appearance from 3.74 in 2011 to 4.19 in 2012. Mix all these things into a bowl, add some Caesar Dressing, because there simply is no other rational choice, and you have a player who ended up hitting 16 more home runs then his previous career high, and hitting those homeruns 15.8 ft further (413.2 ft total), on average, than his career number of 397.4 ft. By the way, the speed off the bat, which yes, is a real stat, I didn’t make it up. If I did, I would have made a Jennifer Lawrence stat and called it a day. But the SOB has been trending up as well. Suffice to say, everything, power wise, is heading in the right direction. And in this ruthless game of fantasy baseball, I so now declare immunity to normal regression! And +5 to magic missile. Basically, the amulet of +23 to father’s love you acquired after slaying/waiving Colby Rasmus three turns ago will not help you.
There are certainly good examples of players blooming late in their careers, one only needs to look over Encarnacion’s left shoulder to see Jose Bautista standing there as a prime example. You can tread cautiously if you want, but I’m going all in. There is just too much evidence to show last season was not a fluke, and while this won’t last forever, nothing great ever does. Given E5′s improvements in both plate discipline and power from legitimate adjustments, combined with hitting in the middle of a pretty gnarly lineup, I think the baseline, bare minimum if healthy, for this year, should be 85/35/95/270/5. But I think he’ll hit closer to 100/40/115/275/5.
Big picture wise, while he’s not on the right side of the aging curve, turning 30 is not the end of the world. But the future does get fuzzy and more worrisome for sluggers past the age of 30. We could go over the fall of Richie Sexson, Mo Vaughn… even Albert Pujols doesn’t make it rain like he used to. It is a risk, no doubt. But everything in fantasy baseball is a risk. I like the plate discipline, which often helps older players adjust to aging curves. I like that Toronto has opened a window to compete for what should be at least two more years. And I like the fact that Encarnacion’s health has been stable for his entire career. And, obviously, he’s open to making adjustments if need be. Moving on from 2013, for the next couple of years, I could see the baseline being slightly downgraded to around 75/30/90/265/3, which is still pretty darn good in today’s run environment. And remember, this is just a baseline. I’m still expecting at least 110 homeruns over the next 450 or so games of his career, health permitting of course. And multiple 40+ homerun seasons are not as unfathomable as you think.
Most importantly and conclusively, I declare this new and improved E5 is here to stay, at least in the mean time. Last year was not a fluke. And this year will be just as special. So sit back and enjoy owning him. If available in trade, pounce on him. And if you are in a keeper, love him. So what say me?