CLEVELAND – Edwin Encarnacion is not stepping into the batter’s box with the intent to swing early in the count.
In fact, only 31 of Encarancion’s 148 plate appearances (20.9%) this season have a duration of two pitches or less. In this small sample size, the 34-year-old slugger is batting .300 (10-for-30) with three home runs, four RBIs and one hit by pitch.
When those encouraging stats are stacked up against a .220/.367/.364 slash line and .103 (3-for-29) batting average with runners in scoring position, there is reason to delve deeper into the analytics and see exactly what Encarnacion is doing wrong. After all, the three-time All-Star had a prosperous 2016 campaign in which he led the major leagues with a career-best 127 RBIs.
“When you have a tough first month, you’re not going to get it all back in a week,” said manager Terry Francona. “It’d be nice, but sometimes guys get into it bit-by-bit. Sometimes guys have one swing and they find it. He’s still taking his walks which is good.”
Francona is right on the money when it comes to Encarnacion’s plate discipline as he features a career-high 16.9% walk rate and career-low 20.5 O-Swing%, a percentage that measures how many times a hitter chases a pitch out of the strike zone.
On the contrary, Encarnacion is also averaging a career-high 28.4% strikeout rate and 12.1% swinging strike rate, a mark that measures how many times a hitter whiffs on any given pitch.
In simpler terms, the biggest free agent signing in the history of the Indians franchise is laying off balls and missing strikes – he’s walking and striking out more than ever before.
“He’s probably not completely locked in which you can tell,” Francona said. “But he’s still really dangerous.”
Once again, Francona’s assertion is right on par with the way Encarnacion has performed over the course of April and early May.
Encarnacion is rocketing the ball when making contact as shown by his career-high 45.5% hard-hit percentage. It’s difficult for this solid contact to pay dividends when the bat is only coming off his shoulder at a career-low 39.1% clip while he’s only making contact at a career-low 69.1% clip.
This uncharacteristic tentativeness leads many to believe that Encarnacion is feeling the high expectations of the city of Cleveland on his shoulders.
“I don’t think he feels pressured,” said Francona of potentially moving Encarnacion out of the four-hole. “I thought about doing a lot of things, but unless I have a really good reason of moving guys, never been a real big fan of shaking it up. I think it’s sending the wrong message. Try to be patient and do what I think is right.”
Based on his hard contact rate and early-season success on batted balls during pitches one and two in each of his at-bats, there is reason to think Encarnacion is on the brink of breaking out of his passivity and returning to the form that had the Tribe pulling $60-million out of their wallets.
“With Edwin, you keep running him out there,” Francona said. “You know it’s going to happen and when it does, it will give us a different gear.”
John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.