Regardless of how they do against the Rays on Sunday, will go into the break with no worse than the second best record in all of Major League Baseball. They’re sending five players to the All Star Game itself, with two as starters. Almost any way you slice this thing, the Yankees are in a strong position and that’s despite zero innings from their best starter and (possibly?) best reliever heading into the year, as well as multiple DL stints from one of their best sluggers. To help make up for the latter of these–and because he fell into their laps–the Yankees traded for Edwin Encarnacion.
When they got him, EE was slugging .531 with 21 homers on the way to a .369 wOBA and 131 wRC+. Now, though, his line sits at .219/.331/.497 with a .346 wOBA and 120 wRC+. That’s a big drop off stemming from a relatively weak line of .140/.234/.386 with the Yankees–.263 wOBA, 59 wRC+. A big reason for this drop in production has been a drastic rise in strikeouts.
With the Mariners, Encarnacion struck out exactly 19% of the time. With the Yankees, however, that’s jumped up to 31.3%. Having a high strikeout rate isn’t necessarily bad, but in this case, it’s tanked his production overall, despite a .246 ISO.
If we take a look here, maybe we’ll get some answers. Compared to his time with Seattle, he’s swinging at slightly fewer pitches out of the zone by a little more than 1%. His in-zone swing rate, though, has jumped up quite a bit from just over 65% to just over 72%. Now we’re getting somewhere, but this is only part of the answer.
Along with that jump on in-zone swings comes a big dip for in-zone contact compared with what he had in Seattle. With the Mariners, he was making contact on 81% of the in-zone pitches he saw. With the Yankees, that’s dropped down to 76.1%. Pair this with an increase in pitches he is actually seeing in the zone–from 45.2% pre-trade to 49.4% post-trade–and it’s pretty evident where that rise in strikeouts is coming from.
Given that his numbers in that category–in-zone contact rate–have never been that low–86.9% for his career, no lower than 85% ever–this could be the sample size noise of one season, which would be encouraging and possibly suggest a rebound. We should note that his 81% in-zone contact rate with Seattle, while still leading to production, was the lowest it had ever been in his career, until this new mark with the Yankees. A spike in whiffs on pitches in the zone is certainly worrisome for anyone, but especially so for someone as old as Encarnacion is.
On the plus side, despite the whiffs and the poor BABIP–just .121 (!) with the Yankees–there is some hope for a rebound. His xwOBA is .362, about what he was hitting with Seattle and his xwOBA on contact is .406, so perhaps there’s a ‘progression’ to the mean coming if he starts making more contact in the zone.
The low price the Yankees paid for EE makes this trade worth it, even if he doesn’t full rebound to his Seattle numbers, let alone his career numbers. Hopefully, that rebound is coming and we’re not seeing the last traces of a great power hitter.