Toronto Blue Jays: An Optimistic Preview of Edwin Encarnacion's 2011 Season

Thomas Pinzone Correspondent IFebruary 11, 2011

NEW YORK - AUGUST 03:  Edwin Encarnacion #12 of the Toronto Blue Jays in action against of the New York Yankees on August 3, 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Jays defeated the Yankees 8-2.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

One of the more talked about Blue Jays topics this off-season has been Edwin Encarnacion. Despite less than stellar offensive production from him since joining the team there's a good deal of optimism about his hitting across most of the Jays blogs, both by the writers and in the comments section. The split between his fielding ability however is much more divided.

Some believe that Encarnacion made real progress in the field last season after working with Jays coach Brian Butterfield. The defensive metrics support that theory but Encarnacion only played third for 841 innings. Small sample sizes are harder to trust when it comes to fielding metrics as opposed to hitting and there's 5300 or so innings that say Encarnacion is worth -11.5 runs per 150 defensive games played. His UZR/150 was -2.3 in 2010 and defensive runs saved actually gave him a +3 for the season.

His 2010 defensive numbers were easily the best of his career but just because they're the most recent sample doesn't make them the best sample. When his defensive value was estimated the other day, he was pegged for  -8 runs over 150 games. Even that has a fair bit of optimism, but in the spirit of the season let's go ahead and buy Encarnacion putting up a -2 UZR/150 next season.

That six run adjustment alone jumps his projected fWAR from 2.1 to 2.7. Yesterday's projection however is much more reasonable, and this is not meant to replace that. But the real sticking point that makes Encarnacion intriguing for the coming season is his bat bouncing back to where it was with Cincinnati from 2006-2008.

It's rarely a good idea to look three to five full seaons back into a player's past and think they rekindle that level of production. That's exactly why the projection system's out there don't do it. Below is a table with Encarnacion's average production from 2006-2008, his average in his last two seasons, mostly with Toronto, and both his Bill James and Marcels projections for 2011.

Marcels '11.2449.4.201.334
James '11.2589.3.219.350

Before we breakdown the table, the reason for going so far back into Edwin's past is that he's still just 27 years-old, about to enter into his most likely two or three seasons of peak production. This isn't hoping a thirty-something, over the hill, vet can rekindle his glory days. For all anyone knows we have yet to see Encarnacion's glory days. That's the spark for the optimism.

The table shows very clearly why the Jays dealt for him in the first place, a twenty-five year old with a three year average wOBA of .352 is a desirable type of talent to target. His power has increased since 2008 but his walk rate has actually dropped and his average has plummeted. That actually can't be attributed to the change in parks, Cincinnati's home park is a slightly better place for a right handed batter to hit than Rogers Center,according to StatCorner.

The extra power hasn't saved Encarnacion's overall production with a wOBA of only .335 the last two seasons. Without being completely sure how either system works it is obvious that James' projection takes more of his early numbers into account or it's just very optimistic in general(which isn't a stretch, just look at Jose Bautista's projections).

Marcels oddly enough is pretty close to his actual production from 2009-'10 with regards to his batting average, isolated power and wOBA but decidedly optimistic with his walk rate. The walk rate is almost exactly the same in both projections. That's easy to explain because he's had a walk rate above 10 percent in two of the last three seasons, one gets grouped with '06-'08 and the other with '09-'10.

They both expect him to keep his ISO over .200 but James' oddly enough expects more power like recent times than Marcels. That's the complete opposite of how the two systems treat his batting average, Marcels' is right in line with his .243 average the last two years while James' .258 average basically splits the difference between his early .272 and more recent .243 batting averages.

To sum up all the confusion on how these two systems work, Marcels is more pessimistic and James is pretty close to expecting a return to Encarnacion's .352 wOBA from 2006-2008. If we substitute the Marcels projections used yesterday for James' outlook and take a glass is three quarters full when it only appears to be half full look to Encarnacion's defense we see his value at third jump from 2.1 to 3.5.

That's a good size jump, 3.5 fWAR at third base in 2010 would've put him in the upper half of all of baseball's third baseman. This isn't to say that should be expected of Encarnacion this season but probably represents the ceiling of his potential performance. In a pure DH role replacing his Marcels projection with James' boosts his value there as well, from .9 to 1.7 fWAR. Faith in the boost to his value as DH requires less optimism naturally, because the question of his fielding ability is removed.

Both, all of them really, of the projection systems used get some guys right on the money every year and they get some guys very, very wrong, positively or negatively, as well. It's not easy to figure out how they work, but it isn't tough to tell which one the Blue Jays are hoping turns out to be right.