It’s been nearly three weeks since I looked into the early struggles of Edwin Encarnacion immediately following his trade to the Yankees. As of July 7, the league’s home run leader had managed just a .547 OPS with a 31.9 percent strikeout rate over his first three weeks with his new team.
In my post, we came to the conclusion that Encarnacion’s noticeably higher strikeout rate and an opposite field percentage of nearly 30 percent showed that the slugger might have been hunting for Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right field, despite being a lethal pull hitter for much of his career. As a result of his new oppo-hungry approach at the plate, Encarnacion saw a massive spike in pop-ups and swing and misses, which led to a wRC+ of just 39 through 65 at-bats.
Fast forward another three weeks, and Encarnacion is back to being the big baseball basher that he was with the Mariners at the start of the season. In his last 58 plate appearances since the All-Star break, Encarnacion has ripped nine extra-base hits, including four home runs, adding up to a wRC+ of 158 and an OPS of 1.016. His strikeout rate has also been cut almost in half, down to 17.2 percent since the break.
What’s been behind this turnaround? Has Encarnacion simply settled into his new surroundings? Or, has he learned to stick to what makes him great despite the layout of his new home? Encarnacion never directly expressed that he was hungry to feast on the short porch in the Bronx, but his 33.3 percent of batted balls to the opposite field (compared to 19 percent for his career) sure seemed like that was his goal when he first arrived. Since the break, his oppo percentage has dropped all the way down to 19.1 percent, and his pop-up percentage has dropped as well, perhaps because he’s not looking to place the ball in an area that he’s not used to hunting for.
As Encarnacion has returned to his pull-happy power stroke, his HR/FB rate has increased by eight percent since his first three weeks with the Yanks, and his soft contact percentage has dropped as well. It also shouldn’t be surprising that all four of his home runs since the break have been to left field, which is much more in line with his career spray chart.
Instead of popping balls up to the infield (his infield fly percentage has dropped five percent since the break), Encarnacion is back to hitting balls over the fence. All he had to do was aim for a different direction, the one that he has been used to hitting dingers in for his entire career. Encarnacion is in exclusive company as a slugger who has smacked 30 home runs or more in eight straight seasons, and a hitter that talented and powerful shouldn’t change his approach because of a new home ballpark. It’s good to see that the 36-year-old has gone back to what makes him great, and the Yankee offense is even more powerful as a result.