Trusting the process and letting the season run its course is key when it comes to Edwin Encarnacion’s production.
Just take a glance at his career slash lines by month…
While his current averages of .207/.341/.367 dip below nearly every one of these monthly totals, he showed something this weekend that leads manager Terry Francona to believe he is primed to break out of his early-season slump.
“I think he really has swung the bat better,” said Francona in light of Encarnacion’s 3-for-12 showing with one double, one home run and three RBIs against the red-hot Astros.
Encarnacion is starting to make the necessary adjustments in order to become the lethal hitter that featured a league-leading 127 RBIs in 2016 and 193 home runs during his previous five campaigns, the second highest total in the big leagues (197, Chris Davis).
Here is a chart detailing every pitch delivered to him on Sunday, a day in which he went 2-for-4 with three runs, one double, one RBI and one walk...
On first glance, it appears there are few telling signs pointing to Encarnacion's improvement at the plate.
He had seven swinging strikes (pink dots), a reoccurring problem that goes back to his career-high 11.6% Swinging Strike percentage this season, a mark that gauges how many times his bat misses the ball.
He also took 10 balls on pitches out of the strike zone (blue dots), an encouraging sign that goes back to his career-low 21.4% O-Swing percentage, a mark that gauges how many times he swings on pitches outside the strike zone.
Encarnacion only offered at four of the 14 pitches outside the imaginary boxed zone, leading to many favorable counts…
Result: Leadoff double on a 3-1 count
Pitch velocity: 94.2-mph four-seam fastball
Exit velocity: 103.4-mph
Distance: 333 feet
Launch Angle: 15 degrees
Hit probability: 64%
On this particular occasion, Encarnacion lays off a first-pitch curveball down in the zone (bottom left dot), third-pitch four-seam fastball up in the zone (top left dot) and fourth-pitch slider away in the zone (far right dot). This superb discipline on three drastically different pitches forces Joe Musgrove to throw a meatball of a four-seam fastball right down the middle for Encarnacion to crush.
Here is another promising example from Sunday’s contest…
Nothing fancy here. Encarnacion is simply using his plate discipline to his advantage by not swinging at pitches out of the zone and taking a cut on offerings in the zone. This five-pitch walk reinforces his career-low O-Swing% as he refuses to lift the bat off his shoulders on borderline deliveries from Musgrove.
Although there is only one strike in this plate appearance, Encarnacion does show a bit of aggression as he takes a hard cut on a 91.8-mph sinker (green dot) down-and-in. The foul ball traveled at a whopping 107.4-mph and may have struck fear into the opposing hurler given the three wild balls that proceeded the scorching foul ball.
As stated in an article published a few weeks ago, Encarnacion has shown an uncharacteristic passiveness at the plate by swinging the bat at a career-low 39.8% clip (Swing %). In addition, he is swinging at 65.4% of pitches in the strike zone, his lowest mark since 2014 with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Not only is Encarnacion is showing an aggressive edge by swinging at a 1-0 sinker and fouling it off at 107.4-mph, but this also may be an indicator that he is seeing the ball better and finding the barrel.
“I certainly think there’s more in that tank,” Francona said. “Sometimes it doesn’t take one swing or one game. He’s getting a lot closer and even balls he’s pulling foul – he’s putting the barrel on pretty good.”
The foul ball he referred to after the game was likely the example shown above.
Capping off Encarnacion’s solid afternoon was another at-bat that exemplified patience and discipline mixed in with pure hitting ability off Ashur Tolliver…
Result: RBI single on a 2-2 count
Pitch velocity: 90.6-mph four-seam fastball
Exit velocity: 88.3-mph
Distance: 209 feet
Launch Angle: 6 degrees
Hit probability: 48%
While this is not the best example of good contact, Encarnacion lays off a tough slider inside (far left dot) and four-seam fastball outside (far right dot) to gain another favorable 2-0 count. Tolliver resorts to throwing another three four-seam fastballs, one of which Encarnacion drives to left field to yield a valuable insurance run with the bases-loaded.
As long as Encarnacion stays persistent in laying off pitches out of the zone and swinging at pitches in the zone, he should see his numbers climb at the historic rate he has become accustomed to over his 11 years of major league service time.
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.