Jason Collette of Rotowire.com and Cory Schwartz of MLB.com and I all have an unhealthy love for Edwin Encarnacion (fittingly, Cory outbid me for Encarnacion last year in Tout Wars – I was the runner up bidder. Cory, by the way, was sitting immediately to my left at the draft while Jason was sitting immediately to my right recording the results, real time, for the internet audience). For years the three of us pushed people to draft EE, and for years we looked only mildly intelligent. However, with one fell swoop EE made us all look like geniuses with not only his best season but one of the better all-around seasons by a third baseman in the 21st century. What can Edwin do for an encore, and will Jason, Cory and myself be pushing him as hard in 2013 as we have the past few years?
Looking just at the results, EE had a HOF type season for a third sacker as he hit .280 with 42 homers, 110 RBIs, 93 runs scored and 13 steals. In the history of baseball there have been six seasons of .280-40-110-90-10 at the third base position (Alex Rodriguez did it twice, then single season efforts from Ken Caminiti, Dick Allen, Mike Schmidt, Chipper Jones and EE). Honestly there have only been five such seasons by full time third sackers as EE appeared in only one game at third base in 2012 (he was eligible at the position in fantasy after appearing in 36 games at the hot corner in 2012). So while putting him in that group is sort of cheating, it doesn’t take away from a spectacular season for the fantasy game in 2012. Let’s look at his skill set and see where we should set expectations for a guy who, in his 8th season, exploded onto the scene.
EE is never going to be a batting average booster. His .280 batting average in 2012 was the second best mark of his career, he hit .289 in 2007, and only once from 2008-11 did he hit even .270. Why? Pretty simple really. He’s just not a great hitter – the 2006 season was the last time he posted a line drive rate of 20 percent, and his career BABIP is .280. Neither of those two numbers is anything close to being something to be proud of. On the plus side EE usually doesn’t give away too many at-bats, he’s only struck out 100 times once and his K-rate has been under 16.5 percent the past three years (a solid number in today’s game). Last season was the first time that he really took to the walk as his 13 percent walk rate was well above his nine percent mark entering the year. If he continues along those lines his outlook would remain strong (his 0.89 BB/K ratio from 2012 dwarfs his previous career best of 0.60).
Moving on from the average, what about the power output? Always a fly ball hitter, one of the other reasons his average has never risen to the level of excitement, EE owns a 45 percent career fly ball rate (about 10 percent above league average). In ’12 Edwin had a 49.5 percent fly ball rate, the third highest mark of his career, and that certainly played a part in his homer explosion. There are two other major factors. The most obvious being an 18.7 HR/F ratio, fifty percent better than his 12 percent career mark entering last season. So Encarnacion hit more fly balls than normal and those fly balls reached the seats more often than at any previous time in his career. Add in the fact that he appeared in 151 games, a career best and his first season over 140 games since 2008, and you have another pertinent reason for his growth – he was on the field more than ever before (his total of 644 plate appearances was 62 more than ever before). That certainly helps one to produce in the counting categories.
Let’s keep things simple here. For seven seasons EE teased. In year eight he became a superstar. What that means is that for 87.5 percent of his big league career he has been solid, and 12.5 percent of the time he has been elite. Teammate Jose Bautista followed a similar path and backed up his breakout season with another impressive campaign (he was on his way to a second strong follow up before injuries limited him to just 92 games in 2012). Will Edwin be able to follow that same path? Remember the following before you go all in with EE in ’13.
He had never hit 27 homers before going for 42 last year.
He had never driven in 80 runs before going for 110 last year.
He had never scored 80 runs before going for 93 last year.
He had never stolen more than eight bases before going for 13 last year. He stole a grand total of 12 bases in the previous four seasons (2008-11).
Heading into the 2013 fantasy campaign Edwin Encarnacion’s value is limited off the hop – the only position he will qualify for is first base. That really hurts his value. Add in the fact that he took such a substantial step forward in year eight that it must at least be considered that 2012 will go down as a career best effort. The pendulum hasn’t swung completely, I’m not going to suggest avoiding Edwin after pleading for people to draft him for five years, but I will exercise a word of caution with Edwin. I find it hard to believe he will be able to replicate his 2012 numbers. If you draft him hoping for 80 percent of last year’s production I’d be OK with that, but you will almost certainly have to draft him earlier than that projection would lead you to considering the hype he will likely draw at the draft table.
By Ray Flowers