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Edwin Encarnacion: Is Success of Toronto Blue Jays’ Slugger Sustainable?

Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion is enjoying an outstanding breakout season. Encarnacion currently holds the 7th best OPS in all of baseball and sits tied for 5th in home runs.

When both are healthy, he and Jose Bautista power one of the most potent offensive duos in all of baseball. In fact, when Bautista went down with his wrist injury, the Blue Jays were the top scoring team in the major leagues.

But Bautista hasn’t been healthy, and now, it appears he will be out for the rest of the regular season with a lingering wrist injury. So can we expect Edwin to keep it up next season? Of course, that is the burning question right now.

In order for the Blue Jays to become contenders next season, they’ll need both Bautista and Encarnacion to play to their potential. They’ll need their sluggers to continue to be one of the best duos in all of baseball.

Is Edwin Encarnacion’s success sustainable? The numbers say yes. Let’s take a look at why that is.

The first thing that we might look at during a breakout season for any given player is their average on balls in play (BABIP). Are they merely the beneficiary of increased luck? Are more balls squeaking through the holes than in previous seasons?

In Encarnacion’s case, the answer is no. His BABIP for the season is .283, which is exactly the same as his career average of, well, .283. So although Encarnacion is hitting for a better average than he has in his career (2012 average of .293 versus career average of .265), he is not doing it because more balls are falling between fielders. He is doing it because he has been tearing the cover off of the ball.

One thing that has changed for Edwin Encarnacion has been his walk rate, which is up to 12.1% from a career rate of 9.3%. Encarnacion has been more patient at the plate, evidenced by his improved plate discipline statistics. Encarnacion is swinging at just 24% of pitches out of the strike zone, a marked reduction from the last two years, where he has swung at 29.3% and 30.5% of pitches out of the zone. He is swinging at fewer pitches, enduring fewer first pitch strikes, and swinging and missing less often.

In addition to changes in his plate discipline, Encarnacion has also benefited in the power department from a mechanical adjustment made this past offseason. Encarnacion is now following through with both hands, as opposed to his characteristic one-handed follow through of the past.

Because of this new follow through, Encarnacion is hitting for more power than he has in the past. Though his line drive rate is down, his fly ball rate is up substantially, and his ground ball rate has also declined. He is hitting far more home runs per fly ball (18.3%) than he has for his career (12.9%).

Though home run per fly ball rate (HR/FB) can fluctuate from season-to-season, this is a statistically significant difference for Encarnacion. This tells us that it is very unlikely (less than a 5% chance) that the difference in HR/FB rate is merely a random fluctuation.

It is easy to just look at the increases in home runs, batting average, and on-base percentage and come to the conclusion. However, if we dig deeper into Encarnacion’s season, we can see that the improvements are not a fluke.

Qualitative changes to Edwin Encarnacion’s approach and swing have manifested in quantifiable results.

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Charles Davis is a baseball writer for RantSports.com with a specific focus on the Toronto Blue Jays, their farm system, and prospects league-wide. Read his articles here and follow him on Twitter @CPDavis90.