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Nowhere to hide: Edwin Encarnación adds pop to deep lineup

Edwin Encarnación hits a lot of bombs. You probably already know. Heck, you probably know that the newest Yankee leads the American League in homers (22); he’s 13th in wRC+, a handful of spots below his fellow bash brother, Luke Voit. Encarnación is the kind of player whose consistent very-goodness goes under-appreciated. He’s rarely been the best hitter on his team; he’s made three All-Star teams and never finished above tenth in MVP voting. And yet, he has more than 400 career bombs and scratched out quite a career.

I’m in the Southwest Ohio area. I distinctly remember Encarnación breaking in with the Reds. He was never a terribly graceful third baseman, and in 2005-06 didn’t flash a lot of power or walks. Being the then fire-breathing young baseball writer I was, I declared him a bust. (Mark that one as a loss, boys.) Encarnación ended up dunking all over me; he developed elite power, his walk rates improved as he aged and moving to the AL (where he always belonged) allowed him to flourish as a 1B/DH. I was right on one of the three.

His tenure in Toronto came at a great time for him and the team. Encarnación’s bat played a big role in the Blue Jays run back to the playoffs; in seven full seasons north of the border, Encarnación mashed a 138 OPS+. Pretty darn good. It can be easy to forget — baseball is always moving forward — but those Toronto teams were good, and he was part of the core.

Then, he headed to Cleveland and slipped from his perch — 122 OPS+ in two full seasons — before ending up in Seattle. It certainly looked like Encarnación had entered a slippier phase of his career. No-glove, no-run players at his age pretty much have to bash to be useful, and his 2018 was only okay: 115 OPS+, walk rate dropped, strikeout rate climbed. In particular, he struggled more with breaking and offspeed pitches; more whiffs, lower xwOBA. That ain’t exactly enticing out of a player edging ever closer to 40. The trouble is, how do you know if he was bothered by a nagging injury, struggled with a mechanical issue or was simply not the same anymore? (Folks might be asking this about Joey Votto right now.)

So far in 2019, it looks like last year was perhaps an outlier. Those swing and miss issues have thus far evaporated, and with it, the power and on-base numbers have returned. Encarnación, even with all the swings he’s taken, remains a serious threat in any lineup. Oh, and now he’ll be paired with some of the few sluggers who might surpass him: Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez. (Plus, frankly, Voit.)

Yikes. I do feel sorry for the baseballs. The Yankee lineup is borderline absurd — ask Blake Snell — and Encarnación only pushes it further into the Twilight Zone.

Adam Adkins also writes about baseball at AdkinsOnSports.com. His most recent Ode to a Pitcher breakdown covered Justin Verlander.

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