The Yankees have been hit by injuries like no other team in the big leagues this season. However, they also seem to be getting healthy at the right time, as the playoffs are just around the corner. Some late scares aside with Gleyber Torres and Gio Urshela, the AL East champs are about to welcome back a couple of players who were on the shelf with injuries.
One of them is Gary Sanchez, who suffered a left groin strain on September 12. The catcher said that he is aiming to return for the last series of the regular season. The other one may not be as flashy, but he is as reliable as they come: Edwin Encarnacion.
Although he is not much of a defensive contributor at this point of his career—to be fair, he never was—his bat is a much needed source of power, patience, and stability in the Yankees’ lineup.
Before straining his left oblique, Encarnacion seemed to be heating up: he was 8-for-22 with three home runs and eight RBI in the last five games prior to his injury. He spent a couple of weeks on the shelf, but manager Aaron Boone said he is likely to return tomorrow.
A steady source of power
Acquired via trade with the Seattle Mariners this summer, the designated hitter and sometime first baseman has done nothing but mash in his time in the Bronx. Although his walk rate has decreased since coming to town (his mark for the season is 11.9%, compared to 8.6% with the Yankees) he has provided his usual power with 13 taters and 11 doubles in just 197 plate appearances.
At 36 years old, Encarnación’s decline phase has been smooth and is evident only in his batting average. At his peak, from 2012 to 2017, he hovered between .260 and .280, and now he is closer to the .240-.250 range. But man, he still hits the ball hard.
Consider his average exit velocity over the last five seasons:
While the chart looks funky, there’s only 1.6 mph difference between the peak and valley. That’s consistency right there.
Additionally, Encarnación is actually barreling the ball at a higher rate than any point of his career in the Statcast era. His healthy 12.6% mark is an improvement over the 12.3% one he put up in 2016.
The one thing that has changed in his batted ball profile has been his launch angle: from 2015 to 2019, he ranged between 15.7 and 18.1 degrees, but he has increased to 22.5 degrees in 2019.
A powerful combination
Encarnacion’s hard-hit rate of 42% and his xwOBA of .359 (with an actual wOBA of .367) are proof that he can rake with the best of them, and that he is yet another powerful and patient hitter in a lineup full of them. Home-run power and the ability to take walks make a fantastic combination in October baseball.
One of the things that make Encarnacion such a good addition to the Bombers’ lineup is that he is effective against every type of pitch, something that is highly uncommon, especially with inexperienced hitters.
Encarnacion has a .363 xwOBA against fastballs, .360 against breaking balls, and .367 against offspeed pitchers. That, also, is consistency, and it helps balance the lineup and make it less vulnerable.
Having a healthy Encarnacion would go a long way into making the Yankees’ lineup longer and stronger. Opposing pitchers would have to deal with one additional slugger, as if they didn’t have enough to cope with DJ LeMahieu, Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torrer, Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner, Gary Sánchez, Didi Gregorius, Luke Voit, and company.