The Yankees made a big splash long before the trade deadline with the acquisition of Edwin Encarnacion, the league leader in dingers at the time of the deal. Considering the Yanks got Encarnacion for Juan Then, and kept him away from the Rays and Red Sox in the process, the deal was a massive victory.
That hasn’t played out on the field as of yet, as Encarnacion has struggled for the most part since he arrived in the Bronx. The 36-year-old came from Seattle with an .888 OPS, but through Friday’s action, his OPS as a Yankee sat at just .677, while batting .140. Encarnacion’s wRC+ this season is still a respectable 127, but since the trade, it’s been cut almost in half, at just 75 through the early parts of his pinstriped tenure.
What’s behind the rough transition to New York? Well, Encarnacion is clearly swinging and missing at a much higher rate, as his strikeout percentage with the Yanks so far is 32.2 percent, compared to his career average of 17.2 percent (his K rate last season was 22.8 percent). Encarnacion’s BABIP as a Yankee is just .138, as the slugger has struggled to make any kind of quality contact, mainly because he seems to be coming up empty more than ever.
When Encarnacion has been making contact, it hasn’t been of the loud variety, as that BABIP reflects. His hard contact percentage as a Yankee (30.3 percent) is almost as much as his soft contact percentage (27.3 percent, compared to 18.6 for his career). A lot of that soft contact has been up in the air, as his pop up percentage in June was up six percent from May.
What does that pop up percentage tell us? It might become clearer when looking at his spray chart, which is much different as a Yankee than the rest of his career. Since the trade, Encarnacion has hit 30.3 percent of his batted balls to the opposite field, not far off from his 39.4 percentage to the pull side. Over his career, those numbers are 49.9 percent to the pull side and just 19 percent to right field. Is Encarnacion trying to alter his approach and feast on the Yankees’ short porch in right field?
Through his first four games as a Yankee, all at the Stadium, Encarnacion hit two home runs, and they’ll be fairly easy to pick out on his home run spray chart heading into the final series before the All-Star break. Hint: they’re the only ones hit out to right field.
Maybe those two home runs over the short porch made Encarnacion hungry to take advantage of his new home, and it’s gotten him away from his normal pull swing, which produced a ton of home runs over his successful career. It’s great to use the homer-friendly dimensions at your disposal, but if that’s what Encarnacion is trying to do, he’d likely be better off sticking to what made him so dangerous this year until he gets an outside pitch that he can poke towards the Judge’s Chambers.
Encarnacion has been a prolific hitter for years in this league, and in all likelihood, he will make the necessary adjustments and be the force that the Yankees traded for. Who knows, maybe it even started on Thursday, when Encarnacion yanked a laser of a home run into the left field seats at the Trop to get back to his pull-happy home run swing and give the Yankees what turned out to be a huge run in an 8-5 win in extras.
If Thursday is the beginning of a return to the norm, Encarnacion has to cut back on the strikeouts and bring them back closer to his career average. If he is hunting for oppo tacos and making himself more susceptible to strikeouts, then the Yanks would likely prefer he returns to the approach that made him the American League’s home run hitter. Hopefully Thursday was the mark of the beginning of that process.