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Fantasy baseball players knew Edwin Encarnacion had power, but nine homers in his first 101 at-bats?
During his Cincinnati Reds days, and even early on as a Toronto Blue Jays pickup, his raunchy defense held him back from consistent ABs. The artist formerly known as "E5" has slotted at first base and designated hitter in TO, allowing him to focus on hitting, but it runs deeper than that.
Much like another recent enigma-turned-elite club member, Jose Bautista, Encarnacion has been a dead-pull hitter; that has not changed, as most of his 2012 damage has been done to left field, albeit with more potency to center over the last two seasons.
Hitting coach Dwayne Murphy played to Bautista's same-field mentality by having him start his swing earlier. From some video comparisons, it looks as if he's maximizing EE's pull by having him ever ... so ... slightly increase his open stance, along with keeping the bat as vertical and as long as possible before the hurler's delivery. In September 2011 video, the lumber was closer to a 45 degree angle pre-pitch, and his left leg was more toward the pitcher.
Encarnacion's 20.5 percent HR/FB, per Fangraphs, is a bit high but not out of his realm of possibility; he's been a predominantly fly-ball hitter for most of his career. He has been markedly better against righties than lefties, and his lineup and home park breed bat success. He might control the cleanup spot soon if John Farrell ditches the scuffling Adam Lind.
Of course, there are ways his new stance can be manipulated by opponents. Pitchers should start throwing him more stuff on the outside corner; will he adjust as well as Joey Bats did?
Though he's swinging less often and at fewer "bad" pitches, more unsettling are that more than half of his batted balls are lofts and that his BABIP sits at .306. Fly-ball leaners often have lower in-play clips than liner or grounder extremists, so you should some negative regression as he creeps back toward his career .269 batting average, especially if he doesn't register more oppo-field hits.
Even with his likely slumps, you'll take that with his pace for 30 homers, which is looking pretty darn good. It was a possibility heading into the season, and it's not a fluke. Toronto might have bred another stud.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, he appears on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Thursdays and Sundays, and every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.
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