Indians

Cold Takes Exposed: Edwin Encarnacion Edition

Let’s be clear here. We are not doing this to be mean. We all have stated items that we regret in the heat of the moment. This bit is meant as a tongue-firmly-in-cheek of laughing about over-reactions to something that was known before the season started, yet doesn’t stop people from getting all frazzled by it.

The Cleveland Indians did not participate in Round 1 of the 2017 MLB Rule IV Draft on Monday. The Toronto Blue Jays had stamped slugger Edwin Encarnacion with the Qualifying Offer. When the Tribe signed him this past offseason, they forfeited their first-round allocation making the cost of the Encarnacion more than the average of $20 million per year especially as the Indians first-round picks have hit the past few seasons.

Despite being warned that the designated hitter was known to be a slow starter in April, the heavy price tag left many Tribe fans wanting to see an instant impact. Those fans were left in despair as Encarnacion struggled to elevate out of first gear through the first month. MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian was out early on April 11 attempting to quell those masses.

Manager Terry Francona followed it up that same day with a long diatribe about trusting Encarnacion’s track record due to the growing consternation about strikeouts and ground into double plays.

They did not help everyone’s mindset.

Just two days later, WFNY ran a detailed look about how some of his trouble’s were more due to luck than a bad process by breaking down an at bat pitch-by-pitch. Here was the conclusion:

The 2017 MLB season is still in its infancy. Past Terry Francona Cleveland ballclubs have struggled out of the gate as he has yet to finish an April with a winning record. He has yet to finish a season in Cleveland with a losing record. Encarnacion has also had his share of April struggles as he slashed .239/.303/.394 in April from 2014-2016. He has finished those seasons at .269/.361/.544. The weather will warm, and the bats will warm with it. Until then, the Indians will need to continue to find ways to scrape out wins so that they are in position to trampoline over division rivals who have been surprisingly competitive in the incredibly early stages of the season.

Merritt Rohlfing at Let’s Go Tribe was among the first to dissect the early season struggles in more detail. While an increased strikeout rate was observed to be troubling, the overall conclusion on April 19 was as follows:

he’s swinging out of the zone more, while being a bit more tentative when the ball is hittable. From this I can’t help but infer that he is pressing a bit, perhaps trying to do too much, to live up to the contract all in one month and simply get his team off to a good start. After all, he joined the Indians to win games and championships, not just for money.

Alas, the calls for patience could only do so much. Some calls from fans were measured though worried such as this April 17 message.

Many others were umm… let’s say, not so measured. Please remember Michael Martinez would be the likely substitution here on April 11 or on April 16.

Bastian continued to preach patience on May 1 as he brought up stat-tables to show how his start compare to those of recent seasons.

There were even some signs of life from Edwin’s bat the first week of May as WFNY detailed.

The sample size is exceedingly small, but the month has been so poor for the Indians that only three regular hitters are above 60 wRC+ (which is a line to indicate 40% worse than the average MLB hitter). Yan Gomes (.385/.500/.538, 197 wRC+), Edwin Encarnacion (.333/.429/.500, 164 wRC+), and Carlos Santana (.300/.344/.500, 133 wRC+) have flourished. Everyone else has been allergic to production.

The week was short-lived though and the middle of May brought out many who were fed up with what they deemed excuses.

And worried it was no longer just a slow start.

Some thought they had the answer to cure his troubles at the plate.

Others were confident they could step to the mound and dominate one of the most feared professional hitters in baseball.

Or left wondering when Francona would bench him.

Remember some wanted to offer him some hitting advice? Well, there were others willing to go further. Why not change Encarnacion into an Ichiro Suzuki type hitter?

Or were just tired of waiting for the fun to start.1

WFNY’s Mike Hattery heard these cries and decided to separate the true concerns from the self-correction pieces. His conclusion summed up thusly:

The strikeout rate is certainly a justified concern regarding Encarnacion’s aging skill set but the inputs would point to pitchers taking a radically different approach to pitching to him which will require adjustments by the hitter. Encarnacion is seeing seven percent fewer strikes than he has seen his entire career and completely different mix of pitches. For a player with Encarnacion’s history of success and capability to make adjustments, patience with said adjustments is important and well earned.

So, the fanbase held on desperately to some hope:

Though there was some cold water applied by MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince and Cleveland.com’s Zack Meisel.

Some fans took a look at these numbers and freaked out.

In a fantastic twist of irony, it was none other than Cleveland.com’s Paul Hoynes who was covering the May 24 game against the Cincinnati Reds that reinvigorated Tribe fans into the type of hitter that Encarnacion could be.

“He’s such a good hitter. If he gets going, he’s going to cover up a lot of stuff that might be going on in other parts of the game for us. They brought him in for good reason. He’s going to help us out a lot. I think he showed what he can do tonight.”

Encarnacion hit two homers and scored the winning run on a wild pitch as the Indians beat the Reds, 8-7, Tuesday night at Great American Ballpark. Encarnacion hit a two-run homer in the third and a bases-empty homer in the fifth.

“I feel really good and I feel better every single day that’s going by,” said Encarnacion. “Thank God.”

Yes, Hoynsie continued the upbeat messaging on June 2 as Encarnacion was on an 11-game hitting streak.

But, lest you think that Hoynes would not give you the hard truths, there was his June 8 column. Sure, Encarnacion has been hitting solid in June and his numbers do not seem much different overall from what Napoli provided through 57 games last year, but those pesky RISP numbers mentioned above were acting like gremlins on his standard counting numbers.

A big difference offensively has been the lack of production in the middle of the lineup from Encarnacion compared to what the Indians received from Napoli. Encarnacion is hitting .230 (45-for-196) with 24 runs, four doubles, 10 homers, 22 RBI. He has 30 walks, 61 strikeouts and a .745 OPS.

Napoli hit .234 (48-for-205) with 38 runs, 10 doubles, 14 homers and 42 RBI through 57 games last year. He had 20 walks, 83 strikeouts and a .802 OPS.

Last year in Toronto, Encarnacion was hitting .248 (54-for-218) with 24 runs, 13 doubles, 11 homers and 44 RBI after 57 games. He had 52 strikeouts, 22 walks and a .781 OPS.

It is OK, Hoynes must have just missed this piece at WFNY that detailed how well Edwin had been hitting May 14 through the end of the month.

Edwin Encarnacion’s eight-game hitting streak is not as impressive as what Brantley has going, but the Tribe having the slugger dig himself out of the early season rut might have been the salve the team needed. His .255/.317/.564 slash line doesn’t jump off the page until you do the double-take at the slugging percentage. Yes, Encarnacion has broken out the parrot trot five times in his last 46 at bats! He still has as many strikeouts (14) as hits (14) in the period. But when half of those hits go for extra bases, he is going to help the team score runs.

Throughout the season, the local scribes have been preaching patience about Encarnacion. A majority of fans probably were understanding though there was a vocal contingent who allowed their frustrations to bubble up quickly. The fact of the matter is that since May 16 (his last 21 games), he is batting .329/.378/.658 with seven home runs, four doubles, and 14 RBIs. There is still an average of just under a strikeout per game, but when his hard contact is finding holes in the defense (or going over the wall) no one cares.

Even the fans who were patient have noticed a change in other fans’ reactions.

OK, well there are still some to be convinced.

Now, about Yan Gomes’ slow April…

  1. I absolutely included this next tweet for the thread attached to it. []