Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

news

MLB News

Indians view Edwin as more than power hitter

Club believes slugger's consistency will continue as he turns 34
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- Edwin Encarnacion is a rare breed of power hitter. Not only can the newest member of the Indians launch home runs at a high rate, but he has also shown the ability to control the strike zone well enough to avoid the feast-or-famine streaks that often plague sluggers.

It is Encarnacion's style of hitting -- combined with his power potential -- that helped convince the Tribe to hand the first baseman a three-year, $60 million contract on Thursday. There is always risk involved with a lucrative deal, but this includes an extra layer. On Saturday, Encarnacion turns 34 years old, meaning the Indians are gambling that his approach can overcome his age.

CLEVELAND -- Edwin Encarnacion is a rare breed of power hitter. Not only can the newest member of the Indians launch home runs at a high rate, but he has also shown the ability to control the strike zone well enough to avoid the feast-or-famine streaks that often plague sluggers.

It is Encarnacion's style of hitting -- combined with his power potential -- that helped convince the Tribe to hand the first baseman a three-year, $60 million contract on Thursday. There is always risk involved with a lucrative deal, but this includes an extra layer. On Saturday, Encarnacion turns 34 years old, meaning the Indians are gambling that his approach can overcome his age.

"He's been an incredibly productive player," general manager Mike Chernoff said. "Often, you hear about players who are power hitters and how they may age, and how those skills may progress over time. With a guy like Edwin, he has such great command of the strike zone and he's such a great hitter. He's not just a power hitter. It gives us a strong belief that the consistency can last."

Hot Stove Tracker

Over the past four years, Encarnacion has posted a 15.3-percent strikeout rate and produced 17.3 offensive Wins Above Replacement (per Baseball-Reference.com). For comparison, Mike Napoli, who served as the club's power-hitting first baseman last season, had a 28.8-percent strikeout rate with 7.6 WAR over that same time period. Napoli belted 34 homers in 2016, but he struck out 194 times. Encarnacion had 42 homers with 138 whiffs (a career high).

The Indians had interest in bringing Napoli back on a one-year deal, but he remains a free agent and is out of the mix in the wake of Encarnacion's arrival. Cleveland benefited greatly from Napoli's presence in the lineup and clubhouse, but the club shifted gears due to the all-around offensive potential that Encarnacion offers, and it believes a hitter such as Encarnacion can continue to be a force at an advanced baseball age.

With that in mind, let's take a look at some similar sluggers from years past, and how they fared in their Age 30-33 seasons compared to 34 and beyond. The post-33 sample will have a maximum of three years, because that is the length of Encarnacion's guaranteed pact. If you filter out the hitters with at least 120 homers and no more than 400 strikeouts in the Age 30-33 seasons, you get a list of 24 names.

Video: Encarnacion to provide boost to Indians' 2017 lineup

For this comparison, we'll go with the hitters whose Age-33 campaigns came in 2000 or later. That narrows the field to Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Albert Pujols, Carlos Lee, Jason Giambi, Mike Piazza, Gary Sheffield, Luis Gonzalez and Albert Belle.

First, here is how Encarnacion has fared over the past four years:

ENCARNACION

Age 30-33 seasons
Years: 2013-16
PA/season: 622
At-bats/HR: 14.1
Slugging: .541
OPS: .905
K%: 15.3
BB%: 12.4

Interestingly enough, Belle had a .541 slugging percentage and .911 OPS in the seasons in question. He was one of the most feared hitters in baseball at the time and enjoyed a run as one of the Indians' premier sluggers during the franchise's glory days in the '90s. His 1997 to 2000 seasons came after his tour with the Tribe, and Belle did not play again due to hip woes that cut his career short.

Video: Indians make Encarnacion signing official

Here is a look at the rest of the hitters in the sample:

BAUTISTA

Age 30-33 seasons
Years: 2011-14
PA/season: 564
At-bats/HR: 13.9
Slugging: .542
OPS: .939
K%: 15.7
BB%: 16.1

Age 34-35 seasons
PA/season: 592
At-bats/HR: 15.6
Slugging: .499
OPS: .871
K%: 17.7
BB%: 16.7

PUJOLS

Age 30-33 seasons
Years: 2010-13
PA/season: 616
At-bats/HR: 17.2
Slugging: .530
OPS: .897
K%: 10.8
BB%: 10.4

Age 34-36 seasons
PA/season: 669
At-bats/HR: 18.5
Slugging: .468
OPS: .786
K%: 10.9
BB%: 17.3

LEE

Age 30-33 seasons
Years: 2006-09
PA/season: 634
At-bats/HR: 18.7
Slugging: .529
OPS: .883
K%: 9.0
BB%: 7.5

Age 34-36 seasons
PA/season: 639
At-bats/HR: 34.1
Slugging: .410
OPS: .732
K%: 8.8
BB%: 8.0

GIAMBI

Age 30-33 seasons
Years: 2001-04
PA/season: 593
At-bats/HR: 14.2
Slugging: .564
OPS: .992
K%: 16.7
BB%: 17.5

Age 34-36 seasons
PA/season: 476
At-bats/HR: 13.5
Slugging: .521
OPS: .932
K%: 19.7
BB%: 18.1

PIAZZA

Age 30-33 seasons
Years: 1999-2002
PA/season: 563
At-bats/HR: 13.6
Slugging: .576
OPS: .952
K%: 13.7
BB%: 10.4

Age 34-36 seasons
PA/season: 414
At-bats/HR: 21.7
Slugging: .455
OPS: .808
K%: 14.9
BB%: 11.6

SHEFFIELD

Age 30-33 seasons
Years: 1999-2002
PA/season: 618
At-bats/HR: 14.9
Slugging: .564
OPS: .981
K%: 10.3
BB%: 14.9

Age 34-36 seasons
PA/season: 679
At-bats/HR: 15.9
Slugging: .550
OPS: .947
K%: 10.5
BB%: 12.6

GONZALEZ

Age 30-33 seasons
Years: 1998-2001
PA/season: 691
At-bats/HR: 17.4
Slugging: .566
OPS: .959
K%: 10.6
BB%: 10.9

Age 34-36 seasons
PA/season: 588
At-bats/HR: 20.9
Slugging: .509
OPS: .903
K%: 11.4
BB%: 14.7

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Cleveland Indians, Edwin Encarnacion