Juan's Slipping Clutch

Juan Encarnacion in the clutch is a very different player here in 2006 compared to 2005.

Folks might think any discussion of his hitting problems is just piling on embattled Cardinals outfielder Juan Encarnacion. So, if you're offended by a look at the numbers or dismiss them as a small sample size, that is ok. Just stop reading here and move on to a more pleasant topic. But, if you stay around, you'll see it may not be as bad as it currently seems.

In his initial eleven regular season games as a Cardinal, rightfielder Juan Encarnacion has struggled mightily at the plate. In the first ten games, he was given an ample opportunity to grab the #2 spot in the line-up, but was moved the #5 on Saturday before being given a day off on Easter.

Runners left on base
Encarnacion started off especially badly, with 15 runners stranded in his first three games, including an incredible nine against the Phillies on April 5. In the nine games following, Juan left 18 more on base, including six on Saturday. All told, Encarnacion stranded 33 of his 34 runners.

For comparison, during that same period, Jim Edmonds left 23 runners on base of his 33 (ten games). Albert Pujols stranded just nine of the 24 men on base when he came to the plate. (Of course, not all scored, but at least the innings continued for others.)

Runners in scoring position
It goes without saying that if runners are being left stranded, clutch hits are not coming when needed. Of all the Cardinals, Encarnacion has had the most opportunities with runners in scoring position, 16. He converted just one, for a .063 mark and did not walk even once.

As a team, the 2006 Cardinals are hitting .266 with runners in scoring position. Scott Rolen has six hits in 15 chances (.400) and Yadier Molina is 4-for-7 (.571). Skip Schumaker is 1-for-9 (.111) while Jim Edmonds is just 2-for-13 (.154).

No other Cardinal has had more than six official at-bats with runners in scoring position. However, in an indication of what may come in even greater doses this season, Albert Pujols has been walked more than half of the time. He is an out-of-this-world 4-for-6 in this situation, with seven free passes. While only one of Pujols' walks is officially labeled "intentional", there is no doubt most of the others were of the "intentional unintentional" variety.

The past
Looking at a larger sample size, the 2005 season, here are some comparables.

Runners in scoring position – 2005
Encarnacion (Marlins) – 50-for-151 (.331)
Pujols – 46-for-140 (.329)
Edmonds – 38-for-128 (.297)
Reggie Sanders – 20-for-74 (.270)
Larry Walker – 24-for-88 (.273)
Cardinals team – 414-for 1426 (.290)

In conclusion
So, there you have it. As anyone can clearly see, Juan Encarnacion has had a terrible start of the 2006 season by any measurement. However, just last season, he delivered in the clutch for a higher average than both the departed outfielders and even slightly higher than the great Pujols!

It's only April 16. Let's try to remain patient for a while longer as the real Juan Encarnacion is located and his problems are diagnosed and solved. Then, maybe we'll even catch a glimpse or two of that wide grin offered in the photo above!

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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