Hold him tight and don’t let him go. How’s that for hard hitting analysis?
Many of you who drafted Encarnacion with a late round pick in 2012 are being treated to playoff trips, and possibly even championships. After all, one player can only make so much of a difference, but when a player taken outside the top-200 becomes a top-10 overall player (#7 to be exact), you feel that in the standings. As I’m typing this, Encarnacion is one HR and one RBI short of a 40-100 season, and that doesn’t even take into account his .279 average and 13 SB. He’s been a stud at a position that started off shallow and thinned out even more due to injuries. So give yourself a big pat on the back for having the extraordinary foresight to draft him and let’s move on to what happens next.
The first big ticket item, which will affect Encarnacion’s value in 2013 and beyond, is his eligibility. The 3B eligibility was great while it lasted, but it’s over now, as he only logged 1 appearance at the position in 2012. That means he’s relegated to 1B/Util duties going forward. Now, if you are in an auction format or a keeper format where you lose the equivalent draft pick, this doesn’t really matter to you – he was drafted so low in March that he’s a no-brainer to keep even with the loss of eligibility (for example, I have him at $8 in a 16-tm keeper league). But in a straight keeper or dynasty format, this matters. And this isn’t a blip on the positional radar, he’s not getting this eligibility back.
The second big ticket item is how much we’re buying his breakout. I’ll give you a hint: I’m buying his breakout. It’s easy to compare this situation to what happened with teammate Jose Bautista, but there are some important nuances between the two. One is the pedigree. Encarnacion was the #2 prospect in the Reds system, #6 prospect in the International League and #56 prospect in baseball – all according to Baseball America in 2005. Jose Bautista was the #5 prospect in the Pirates system in 2006, but was nowhere to be found in any other lists (though he was named best power hitter in the Pirates system that year). Essentially, E5′s breakout didn’t really come out of nowhere. The other important distinction between them is that Bautista’s career high in HR before he broke out was 16. Encarnacion hit at least 16 HR in 4 of the 6 seasons in which he received more than 250 plate appearances.
The other great thing to look at with Encarnacion is that he improved as a hitter as the season went on. Yes, the biggest power outburst came in April and May, when he hit 17 HR, but it’s not like he’s been a singles hitter since then (22 HR since June 1, cough, cough). The most important thing, which will be a huge help in every other category is that his plate discipline greatly improved as the season progressed. Here are some numbers:
E5’s strikeout rates by month, starting with April: 16.0%, 17.5%, 11.8%, 12.7%, 11.6%.
E5’s walk rates by month, starting with April: 6.9%, 9.2%, 11.7%, 20.6%, 12.7%, 18.6%.
His career best walk rate and very nearly career best strikeout rate also means that his .279 average came in spite of a .263 BABIP (which is below his career BABIP of .279). So, while some of the HRs from this season may turn into regular old fly balls next season (he may not be able to sustain the 18% HR/FB rate), an uptick in his BABIP would give him a good chance of at least repeating, if not improving on his batting average.
So even though losing 3B eligibility will hurt his value going forward, there’s certainly a ton of value in a potential .280-30-100-10 player at 1B, with upside to boot. The list of first basemen I’d want over Encarnacion for next year and the near future is short, and likely only consists of Pujols, Votto and Fielder. So if the owner in your league doesn’t believe in E5, take advantage. Another 8 HR April and the window will have closed.
[Editor's Note: While finishing up this post, Encarnacion hit his 40th HR, a 3-run bomb off King Felix. The man's power knows no boundaries. Also, I don't have an editor.]