Blue Jays’ Edwin Encarnacion & Possible Regression

With the Blue Jays facing a decision about his future in Toronto, could Edwin Encarnacion be heading for a decline in performance?

The Toronto Blue Jays are on the clock. Their slugging 1B/DH, Edwin Encarnacion has set a deadline for negotiating his future with the club. Currently, he is set to make $10M in 2016, at the end of which he will become a free agent. That is, unless the club can manage to work out a reasonable extension for him before the season starts.

But, where do you set his value? Over the last 4 seasons, he’s been a 4 WAR a year player. Fangraphs.com puts the value of those seasons at $120.5M, or an AAV of $30.15M. The club has been getting a major discount on him for years. We can call it yet another brilliant move on the part of former GM, Alex Anthopoulos. But, it might all come to a crashing halt if the club doesn’t pony up.

Edwin has averaged 35+ HR and 106 RBI over the last 4 seasons. He’s also a .275/.370/.549 hitter. The value he presents to the club has been immense. Once he was cast off and brought back again, his production took off. The move away from third base allowed him to focus on his hitting. And, it has paid off with plate after plate of chicken wings.

If we set aside, for a moment, the part of the conversation that ties his fate with that of Jose Bautista, we have to ask ourselves what would we do if we were running the Blue Jays. Of course we want him back. Removing him from the lineup would create a giant hole not easily (or cheaply) filled. So, we have to expect to fork over the kind of money that a producer of his caliber should reasonably expect. Edwin doesn’t come across as a greedy SOB who is just out for every last dollar. But, he also has to be smart about his future. Wherever his comfort zone is, we have to expect that it will net him a significant raise.

But, if you’re the club (who is facing another expensive decision with Bautista) and their analytics department, you would be looking for every angle possible to pinch those pennies. Well, Jeff Zimmerman of Fangraphs.com may have provided one recently. In an effort to predict regression from hitters, he came up with a list of those who are due to take a step back in 2016. Guess what. Edwin is on that list.

Basically, based on 2014 and 2015 numbers, Zimmerman looked at whether there have been declines in Pull%, Contact% to note a change in wRC+. His explanation is much better:

“…[based on the values]…(weighting of Contact%, requiring both Pull% and Contact% negative, and using only non-injured players), declines in wRC+ were noted for the players with different levels of Decline (2.5*change in Contact% + change in Pull%). Also, the average amount of decline of wRC+ for the average age of player (29-years-old) examined was ~4 wRC+, for context.”

Zimmerman found that Encarnacion saw a change in Pull% (-5%) and Contact% (-4%) for a total decline of -15%. Given that he is entering his age 32 season, we should reasonably expect that there very well could be some regression. But, 15%? That sounds like a lot. Especially when you take into account how consistent he seems to have been over the last 4 seasons. If you look at his wRC+ numbers since 2012, you wouldn’t really notice anything unsettling: 150, 146, 151, 150.

But, there is more to back up the regression that Zimmerman is talking about. Aside from the other changes noted above, over the last 4 years, EE has seen an increase in soft hit balls (13.8% to 20.2%), a decrease in medium hit balls (49.9% to 44.3%), he saw a drop in hard hit balls last season at 35.5% (down from 38.1% the year before). His ground ball rate is also increasing. Contact outside of the zone has also decreased for him. And his swinging strike rate is increasing.

Does all of this mean that the Blue Jays may try to take a yard sale approach to signing Encarnacion? Well, they could. But, these changes are subtle when you compare them to the overall, more sexy, numbers that agents typically use to drive their client’s cost up. All of this certainly should not be used to suggest that the Blue Jays simply let him walk away. But, if they are going to try and limit their spending, pointing out slight regressions might be a desirable tactic.

 

Shaun Doyle

Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.