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March 4, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Some Love for E5

by Jason Collette

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We all have those one or two players that, one way or another, always end up on our fantasy rosters in some capacity. For many years, that short list for me has involved two players: Wilson Betemit and Edwin Encarnacion. I long thought Betemit could have the type of season he did in 2010 when he had a .313 TAv and finally had a WARP of at least 1.0. Unfortunately, it took him seven seasons to accomplish the feat and 2010 was the first year I did not acquire Betemit on draft day.

I first wrote about Encarnacion back in 2005 as I was looking for a cheap shortstop option that season (though it's hard to picture now, Encarnacion played a little bit of shortstop in the minors). He was cheap alright–a .255 TAv and a 0.5 WARP was not what I expected. However, over the next three seasons he was a productive bargain before falling off the radar in 2009 due to struggles both at the plate and in the field. Despite that season, yours truly shelled out $16 for him in the AL Tout Wars draft in 2010, in one of those typical last man standing battles at a position. He did not earn that money due to his poor batting average and .305 OBP but his 2.1 WARP was double his value from any previous year.

I am not the only one excited about Encarnacion’s value this season as ESPN’s Matthew Berry and MLB.com’s Cory Schwartz have also acted as his biggest cheerleaders on Twitter this off-season. Unfortunately for me, Berry is also in Tout Wars, so we will likely once again get into a stare down during the Encarnacion bid.

Did you know that in 2010 Edwin Encarnacion:

  • Had a .236 Isolated Power in 2010 that was the second highest amongst all third baseman in baseball with at least 300 plate appearances, trailing only teammate Jose Bautista?
  • Had a 787 OPS that was better than the OPS put up by Ian Stewart, Mark Reynolds, Michael Young, and Aramis Ramirez last season.
  • Has a career .280 BABIP but was at just .235 last season in a season in which he hit .244

Encarnacion certainly has his faults that affect his playing time in fantasy baseball. For one he has only played 181 games combined in the past two seasons thanks to injuries. His embarrassing nickname of "E5" is not an undeserved one thanks to his horrendous defensive work at third base. It is that awful glove that hurts him most and why he will likely spend most of 2011 playing positions other than third base, thus losing future eligibility at the position. His OBP is in a five-year decline from .359 in 2006 down to just .305 last season in Toronto, where the team tried to one-up each other with home runs under Cito Gaston’s “grip it and rip it,” approach.  Still, Encarnacion will be just 28 years old when the 2011 season begins.

Encarnacion has only had as many as 500 at-bats in two of his five full seasons at the big league level since being traded from the Rangers to the Reds.  When examining his player card, we see a few different trends in his stat line. His OBP is in a five-year freefall, from .359 in 2006 down to just .305 last season—that affects how many runs he can score. That is due to the fact he gave back some of the walks he earned in 2008 when he had an 11 percent walk rate; he went back to his standard 8 percent in 2010. The 2008 season was the second time out of the last three that his ISO was at least .215. If you include partial seasons, he has been at .197 or higher in four of his six seasons at the major league level.  His current PECOTA forecast (adjusted for playing time by the Depth Charts) shows some very lofty numbers:  28 home runs, 83 RBI, 78 runs scored, and a .280 TAv. Yes, he comes with some risks but is he any more toxic than someone like Adrian Beltre who has a much higher ADP than Encarnacion these days?

Until Adrian Beltre moved into Fenway Park for his free agent year, he and Encarnacion were pretty much neck and neck as offensive players. Consider the fact that from 2006-2009, Encarnacion was worth five more runs than the average player while Beltre was one run worse than the average player. The change in scenery for Beltre allowed him to surge past Encarnacion last season after the two had produced rather similar numbers albeit in different types of environments.  Beltre moves from one hitter’s park in Fenway to another in Rangers Ballpark but the PFM as him at 22 home runs, 85 RBI, 80 runs scored, and a .252 TAv. Looking back up at what the PFM has for Encarnacion, one would expect these two players to be rather close in the latest Average Draft Position reports but that could not be further from the truth.

Beltre is going off the board as the fifth-best third baseman with an ADP of 52 in the latest reports from Mock Draft Central. Meanwhile, Encarnacion is the 21st ranked third baseman behind the likes of Jose Lopez, Ty Wigginton, Casey Blake, and Chris Johnson, and has an ADP of 368. The earliest Encarnacion has been taken is at pick 203 which makes him a late 16th round pick, still ten rounds later than where Beltre is being drafted. Last season, coming off of the bad years in Seattle, Beltre still had an ADP of 200 this time of year as people were optimistic about how he would fit into Fenway after leaving Safeco, a park where right-handed power goes to die.

Now, Encarnacion has a breakout power year in limited playing time, and while the PFM shows a lot of respect for his work, Encarnacion continues to be overlooked by the average fantasy player.  Despite being in the league for what seems like forever, he is just 28 years old and now can focus mainly on his hitting as he is not going to be asked to do much in the field this year other than play some first base against the tough lefties (okay, maybe the not-so-tough lefties, too) that Adam Lind struggles against.

Maybe this is more the fan in me than the analyst, but I like Encarnacion’s chances of hitting 30 home runs in 2011 more than I like Jose Bautista's chance at 40. The PFM is on board with Encarnacion getting close to that total, and I have him pegged as one of the few players to increase their homer totals by 10 from the year before. As long as certain other cheerleaders don't get in the way on draft day, I'll be taking my chances on Encarnacion.

Jason Collette is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

Related Content:  Edwin Encarnacion

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