What’s behind Edwin Encarnacion’s ‘unbelievable’ May power surge?


(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Edwin Encarnacion’s name now sits alongside some of the great power hitters in MLB history – Mickey Mantle, Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire — as the only batters to have 16 or more home runs in the month of May. The Toronto Blue Jays infielder is now just one shy of Bonds for the Major League Baseball record.

“Unbelievable,” Encarnacion said. “If you asked me, am I going to hit 16 homers in one month? I’m going to say no. I never thought I’d hit 16 homers, but when you have the timing like I have right now, you have to keep going, keep swinging hard like the way I’ve been doing.”

Encarnacion is coming off a solid 2103 campaign in which he hit 0.272/0.370/0.534 with 36 home runs and finished 14th in the AL MVP voting. He got off to a slow start this season hitting just two home runs in 104 at bats in March/April but has just decimated the baseball in May, hitting 0.284/0.350/0.789 with 16 homers in 109 at bats.


Edwin Encarnacion, 2014 home runs (Source: ESPN)

Some of the increased power could be due to the changes to his swing he made  in 2012.

Watch the front foot and you see a much more modest timing mechanism. Watch the hands and now you see a two-handed follow-through. The first adjustment was to keep Encarnacion from being behind on pitches. These days he’s more balanced earlier on. The second adjustment was to cut down on the swing length and improve bat control. While some feared this would cut into Encarnacion’s power, it’s quite obviously done the opposite, as he’s not lacking for strength and now he’s better able to consistently hit the ball where he wants to.

“[Former major league outfielder Luis Mercedes] said my swing would be more short and quick if I used both hands,” Encarnacion said at the time. “My swing is more compact. I can be more inside the ball and be more consistent.”

The 31-year-old has been more consistent in seeing flyballs as his batted balls in play during May and more of those left the yard.

But could it last?

According to research done at Fangraphs, it takes just 175 plate appearances for a hitter’s fly ball rate to stabilize and 100 plate appearances for the HR/FB rate. Encarnacion has already reached 237 plate appearances, so we could see his overall fly ball rate (51.1 percent) and homers to flyballs (20.2 percent) stay within this range, which could mean a monster season.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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