Edwin Encarnación’s struggles may force a change at DH

In last night’s game against the Minnesota Twins, Edwin Encarnación singled to right field off pitcher Jose Berrios. Perhaps the fly ball would have been caught by a better defensive right fielder. Max Kepler, who had a very costly defensive gaffe already in the series, tried to make a sliding grab and came up short. Typically singles to the opposite field are not marvels of achievement. Especially when the exit velocity was only 86.7 mph off Encarnación’s bat and had an expected batting average of .290. What’s remarkable about this base hit was it came off a 95.5 mph fastball from Berrios. Only the third hit this season from Encarnación off a pitch faster than 93 mph.

When the White Sox signed Encarnación, it made sense. They witnessed what a slugger in his late 30’s can still do by watching Nelson Cruz torment them. In fact, Cruz is still torturing White Sox pitching in 2020 at 40 (in five games, Cruz is hitting .526/.591/1.158 against the Sox). Despite only playing in 107 games in 2019, Encarnación continued his streak of 30-homer seasons. The White Sox were hungry for more power this offseason, and Encarnación was supposed to fill a need.

After 36 games, Encarnación has contributed to the home run column with six of them, but he hasn’t done much else. His slash line is a woeful .170/.257/.404, and because he’s struggling, the White Sox team DH numbers are terrible again.

SeasonWhite Sox DH Slash LineWhite Sox DH wRC+
2016.250/.304/.39188
2017.222/.286/.43791
2018.234/.305/.454107
2019.197/.275/.34264
2020.137/.230/.32352

Why is Encarnación struggling in 2020? Thanks to Baseball Savant, we can extract all of the pitch data that Encarnación has seen this season and the results against those pitches.

In total, Encarnación has seen 450 pitches in 2020. It’s been a heavy dose of four-seam fastballs and sliders against the slugger. Almost 57 percent of the pitches Encarnación has seen have been those two varieties.

Since 2015, Encarnación has seen a decrease in fastballs seen as pitchers have thrown more breaking pitches. Last year, the results for Encarnación were pretty even.

Pitch (2019)xBAxSLG
Fastballs.242.537
Breaking Pitches.275.543

In the small sample size season of 2020, Encarnación’s expected batting average and slugging numbers against breaking pitches are way off track. 

Pitch (2020)xBAxSLG
Fastballs.220.555
Breaking Pitches.093.255

Problem #1: Encarnación is not hitting breaking pitches. With a whiff rate of 38.0 percent, surprisingly, Encarnación doesn’t see more sliders and curves. Even when he does make contact, it’s incredibly poor. The average exit velocity for Encarnación against breaking pitches is 83.2 mph. That’s a difference of almost 6 mph from his 2019 results. The league batting average on balls hit at 83 mph was .226, with a wOBA of .227. 

Problem #2: Encarnación is not hitting 93+ mph pitches well. 

While Encarnación is not hitting breaking pitches, he’s having a tough time with velocity. Looking at his 2020 pitch data, Encarnación has seen 113 pitches with a release speed of 93 mph or greater. Out of those pitches, Encarnacion only has two base hits: a home run and a single. 

Eighty-nine of the 107 pitches did not result in the plate appearance ending, and those results are described as “Null.” 

  • 35 pitches called for a ball
  • 27 fouls
  • 20 called strikes
  • 11 swinging strikes

Encarnación has reached base twice thanks to the opposition’s errors, but his slash line on pitches with a release speed of 93-plus mph is .150/.292/.300. He has one home run with a release speed of 93 mph or more, which came against Detroit Tigers reliever Gregory Soto. The pitch was a 96-mph sinker that Encarnación took out for a 407-foot home run. 

Encarnación’s other five home runs and four doubles all had a release speed of less than 90 mph. 

* * * * * * * * *

We would chalk up these results in a 36-game sample size as a slow start in a regular season. Encarnación is currently on a 27-homer pace for a 162-game season, and that’s what everyone was expecting when the White Sox signed him. However, the 2020 season only has 24 games left. It’s hard to justify continuing giving at-bats to Encarnación, hoping that he figures it out. Just a game out of first place in the American League Central, the White Sox need to ensure they don’t have a black hole in the middle of their lineup. 

But the trade deadline has passed. Zack Collins was optioned to Schaumburg, meaning Rick Renteria is back to only having two catchers on the roster. It’s risky to have Yasmani Grandal and James McCann in the lineup as catcher and DH if one suddenly gets hurt mid-game. One solution would be having Jose Abreu DH more, but he’s having the best defensive season of his career and might be a Gold Glove contender. 

The other option is to buck the trend of manipulating service time of position players and call up Andrew Vaughn, but that idea seems an incredibly risky proposition. Vaughn does have a lot of promise but only has 245 plate appearances in the minors and never faced even Double-A pitching. His slash line with Winston-Salem Dash is also not impressive (.252/.349/.411). 

According to Rick Hahn, Vaughn did look good in summer camp and has been impressive in Schaumburg, which is perhaps a hint at the idea of Vaughn helping in 2020. 

It would benefit Encarnación and the White Sox if the veteran slugger figured out his struggles. Counting on Vaughn to join the team and reverse the alarming hitting trend from Sox designated hitters is a tall task. Then again, the White Sox can’t continue having Encarnación bat fourth or fifth in the lineup. Tough to imagine the White Sox having a designated hitter problem when leading the American League in home runs and team OPS, but that’s the situation right now. Maybe it’s time to try something new. 

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Josh Nelson

Josh Nelson is the host and producer of the Sox Machine Podcast. For show suggestions, guest appearances, and sponsorship opportunities, you can reach him via email at josh@soxmachine.com.

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soxfan

Try something old. Get Collins back and start McCann and Grandal. Abreu DHing doesn’t help the offense or the defense, and Vaughn is a complete unknown. We know McCann and Grandal are competent hitters, and if a suboptimal bench assignment is the price you have to pay to get Encarnacion out of the lineup then so be it.

Shingos Cheeseburgers

What sucks is that you could have largely prewritten this article in March and just filled in the specific numbers in September. Power hitting MLB acquisitions just wither once the put on a Sox cap.

The young core right now is good (maybe really good!) but there’s absolutely no reason to think the front office can competently build around that core on the offensive side.

LuBob DuRob

Yep, seems like the way to go. I’d move him down the lineup. Give him another week or so. After he continues to be befuddled by fouling off pitches he used to hammer, bring back Collins and go with the guys who can actually have good at bats this year.

lifelongjd

^^^^This

EE is a proven slow starter. Move him down to 6/7 in lineup. Grandal too. Eventually at least one should start producing as expected.

Since these games in September actually count, I think betting on EE warming up and improving his at bats is safer than bringing up Vaughn, who probably would put up similar if not worst numbers.

Eagle Bones

Did anyone ever really thing that was likely to be picked up? I mean unless he had a bomb season and / or Vaughn got hurt or traded, that option always seemed more like a contingency plan than THE plan.

mikeyb

Go sign Puig.

Eagle Bones

If he’s healthy and they can confirm with Abreu and others that he’s not going to cause any issues in the club house, I’m all for this.

joewho112

Oh right. I forgot about that team of unsigned guys. Who else is on that team?

HallofFrank

Gimme Vaughn. Sure, he’s unknown and may struggle, but I doubt he’ll be *worse* than Encarnacion. Even if he’s just as bad, he’ll make the lineup better by just being in the bottom part of the order.

More importantly, it’s the best move for 2021. If the Sox don’t call up Vaughn, is the DH situation going to improve much in 2021? He’d probably get a month (+) in the minors next year, which means a stop gap DH and then a rookie who will need to adjust. The more looks he gets this year, the better the DH spot next year—and the added benefit of upside this year.

LuBob DuRob

Is the plan for Vaughn to be a regular DH? Split time at 1b with Jose? I don’t see it, but maybe next year Jose is looking older and they can begin a transition. I still think Vaughn’s the most obvious trade piece and doubt they expose him to ML pitching.

knoxfire30

Vaughn for Mini Yaz in the off season? Yaz will be 30, giants arent close to contention in a normal season and belt is 32 and only signed thru 2021 plus the NL keeps the dh… sox solve RF with a guy who is good in CF and should be great in RF, lefty bat, high obp etc etc Also keeps the sox DH spot open for Eloy eventually long term.

HallofFrank

The “maybe next year Jose is looking older” plan isn’t a very inspiring one. I should hope Vaughn’s playing time isn’t dependent on Jose being bad. If it were up to me, I’d start with Vaughn at DH and Jose at 1B, and maybe get Vaughn a start or two per week at 1B. Then, if Vaughn does increasingly look better at 1B as Jose ages, make the transition.

Vaughn is one of the prospects I’m least interested in moving. I’d rather move Madrigal and maybe even Kopech. Vaughn is just such a well-rounded, disciplined hitter, and the Sox have plate discipline issues right now. He is going to mash for a long time—I’d much rather it be on the Sox than somewhere else.

metasox

Vaugh continues a very RH lineup. Assuming the rest of the lineup is essentially the same, if the Sox are shopping for a DH, would think they would try to find a LH bat.

egib52

I agree with bringing up Vaughn. The problem with this season is that he is not getting any competitive at bats. At least if you bring him up he can play some and get a feel for MLB pitching. If he is over-matched, at least he will have some things to work on in the offseason.

shaggy65

The risk of having your back-up catcher DH is always overblown. IF the starting catcher gets hurt (which happens once—maybe twice a season) then the DH can still catch. It just means that now the pitcher moves into the lineup. So now you have one or two plate appearances at the end of the game to cover with pinch hitters. Considering the NL has done that for 120 years, I think we could manage for one afternoon.

In other words, James McCann should be batting EVERY DAY! Worst case sceanrio—you are pinch hitting with EE and right back where you started.

joewho112

Right with you. I’m not going to punt a lineup spot everyday because there’s a 1 in 50 chance it MIGHT cause a couple sub-optimal at-bats

GoGoSoxFan

This.
Back in 2016, after I had posted a rant about Robin Ventura’s refusal to use his second catcher as a DH or PH, I looked up the number of times a catcher left a game due to injury in 2015. If I remember correctly Texas was the only team who had a catcher injured twice that season and the vast majority of teams had none. I agree 100% that losing the DH for a couple of at bats maybe once a year is a risk worth taking.

MarketMaker

Abreu winning a Gold Glove would be a very Jeter-esque accomplishment.

MarketMaker

I wonder if MLBers talk about how the Sox are a good place to grab an end of career payday when you’re washed up.

knoxfire30

The best option is probably McCann, but that does require Collins coming back unless we trust Yolmer as an emergency backup. My guess is the sox keep hoping for EE to go on one of his two week binges they are kind of pot committed on him this year especially with the deadline passed.

Jim Margalus

Are they? It seems like if you sign a 37-year-old for a one-year DH contract, there’s at least some kind of tacit acknowledgment that they might have to cut bait midseason. It’s the same thing they ran into with Yonder Alonso last season.

knoxfire30

Those two players track records arent the same.

And its not mid season, at mid season you still had a trade deadline where you could of maneuvered the roster to try and add a DH bat, they passed on that opportunity.

On September 3 EE’s upside is still their best bet to win it. I dont see how Vaughn, Collins, or whoever are gonna take over with 24 games to play and be anything more then what EE is currently giving you.

We arent trying to beat a 170 ave by having someone come in and hit 200, we want someone to go on a 275ave, 400 obp, 8 homers in 24 game type tear, no one offers that opportunity more then EE despite how slow a start he is having.

Jim Margalus

What if the replacement is from the Grandal-McCann-Abreu odd man out?

knoxfire30

Yea, that’s definitely an option. I think they give EE 10-12 more games then stretch drive they go to that if he is still laboring around the mendoza line and not showing signs of life.

MarketMaker

Ask yourself this: if you were the Sox and EE was freely available, but had been having this season for another team, would you pick him up and give him regular ABs?

EE is not even a platoon threat right now, but it’s time to mitigate some risk. Drop him in the lineup, bench vs. hard throwers and maybe righties. Make him force his way back into the lineup rather than hoping he comes back to life.

mikeyb

He has a .661 OPS. I’m not even particularly high on Vaughn, and I think he could give you more than what EE is currently giving you.

Jim Margalus

A couple other numbers I said I’d be following when they signed Encarnación:

Infield fly ball rate:

2018: 11.0%
2019: 18.0%
2020: 20.7%

And walk-to-strikeout ratio:

2017: 0.78
2018: 0.48
2019: 0.56
2020: 0.27

MarketMaker

Yeah, that infield fly rate is critical. Was my stat to watch as well.

Sadly, everything about his profile is disastrous right now. His K% is at career highs, the BB% is the lowest it’s been in a decade, the BB:K is the worst of his career by far, the infield fly rate is astronomical, his LD% is at career lows, his GB% is at career highs, he’s selling out to pull everything and yet his exit velocity is awful and his soft% is super high. And now he’s getting hurt on fastballs and sliders, which is about as common a repertoire as a pitcher can have.

This is exactly what washed looks like. He might have a deadcat bounce here, but I wouldn’t count on it and I wouldn’t even consider signing him at any rate next year. There were some red flags coming into the season, as Jim pointed out, but there was at least a case to be made that he’d stave it off for another year or two.

As Cirensica

I think EE will remain consuming PAs until the end of the season. Despite of his struggles, he is still a HR threat. As many here have mentioned, put him lower in the lineup. Definitely not above Robert. Until he figures it out. Then move him up a little. Use McCann/Grandal in some games with Abreu DHing to give EE a break. Benching EE is not going to help him. For that, The White Sox is better off DFAing him.

Greg Nix

The Statcast numbers are even more brutal than the picture you paint, Josh.
– 3rd percentile in Exit Velocity
– 1st percentile in xBA
– 8th percentile in K rate
– 9th percentile in xwOBA

Your DH hitting the ball softly and infrequently is… not great.

awkwardsilence

Give Yermin Mercedes a week worth of at bats. Don’t think he would be worse than Collins or Vaughn.

Right Size Wrong Shape

I forgot about him.

metasox

Have there been any reports on him or Hahn mentions? He would address a third or emergency catcher – if that is needed for flexibility – and be fun to get a look at.

John SF

I was really confused about how something about Mercedes hadn’t been mentioned by anyone yet. I was starting to imagine maybe I dreamed him up in some fever dream.

DFAing EE might be necessary, but I don’t know how anyone can jumó straight from there to “call up Vaughn.”

Unless the Sox really don’t think Mercedes has any talent, and they want to jump past him to someone who might surprise everyone.

But, between Vaughn and Mercedes, only one of them *currently* has a bat that scouts describe as major league read— and it’s not Vaughn.

Also, Sheets has a bat that is nearly ready for MLB. I’m really surprised he hasn’t been called up to Schaumburg already. His quality approach could have given all those pitchers something more to challenge them, and it would have helped his development too.

Elena

What if we sat EE, moved the ailing Moncada to DH until his legs become more certain and put Yolmer at third base. Defense is perhaps enhanced with Yolmer at third and Moncada has been hitting better than EE and he may better recover by not playing the field.

Pablo Manuel

IMO they just need to move down EE in the lineup.

Regarding Zack Collins, do you think Zack really is a good catcher?
I would prefer they sign a 3 years contract with McCann and trade Collins, ReyLo and Sheets for a SP.

joewho112

I don’t think anyone is claiming Collins is good. Just that he give Ricky the peace of mind to DH McCann.

As Cirensica

Having Mike Trout can give Ricky some peace of mind
Having Gerrit Cole and Walker Buehler surely also provides Ricky some peace of mind
If we could have Josh Hader and Liam Hendriks then Ricky can have peace of mind

The point is, sometimes “peace of mind” is a luxury and a good manager finds ways to adapt/manage the “peace of mind” mental stage. Sometimes, not taking a risk is taking them all.

joewho112

None of those are the same thing as what we are talking about. This isn’t the whet stone to grind your ax upon

As Cirensica

I see your point. Thanks. Please disregard my comment.

metasox

I would assume McCann is looking for a starting catcher gig

lil jimmy

That is the one thing people don’t consider. Of course he’d rather start.

Eagle Bones

That package is going to bring back one hell of an SP.

Pablo Manuel

maybe a bullpen arm?

Trooper Galactus

For which you might as well just keep Lopez.

Eagle Bones

Lopez demoted, Flores called up. I’ll give them credit for not just continuing to run him out there I guess. Unfortunately they don’t really have a good backup plan right now.

https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2020/09/white-sox-option-reynaldo-lopez.html

asinwreck

Eaton’s Law: All three pitchers acquired for Spanky cannot pitch for the White Sox at the same time.

Trooper Galactus

Yeah, for those who think this is a good thing, I think you may be in for a shock when Flores meets big league hitters.

HouseOfTheRisingSox

Had to. Bullpen needs another arm with all the use and with two off days next week, don’t need 5 starters. Plus he’s been brutal.

Eagle Bones

Couple thoughts here:

1. While the thought of Vaughn coming up and immediately stabilizing the DH spot is really fun in theory, I don’t think I as a fan, with little to no information about his current status and progress, can advocate for that. The Sox might have more info and think that’s a good idea, and if they do make that call (which seems unlikely) I’ll be excited and eager to watch. However I have trouble seeing that happening. If they’re gonna make that move, they’d better do it fast to give him some time to get at least somewhat adjusted before the playoffs.

2. I think the best short-term fix is to get McCann in there more. I wouldn’t do a full swap, but maybe a 50/50 split for him and Encarnarion for a week or two. And as others have said, move Encarnacion down in the lineup when he’s in there. Also, sorry Jose, but I think you’ve gotta be a bit of a team player and be willing to spend a little more time at DH to make that Yolmer at C possibility a little less likely.

Side note: I must be missing all of these great plays Abreu is making at first? I did see a nice over-the-shoulder catch in foul ground the other night, but I’ve seen a bunch of misplays as well and still pretty limited range. I know he prefers to not DH, but think he needs to suck it up a bit and be willing to DH a bit more for the good of the team.

3. If things continue to look really bad for the next couple weeks, I might consider cutting bait and bringing up Collins to at least have that extra catcher and provide a lefty bat to play off of McCann. I doubt they’d cut him that late in the year (I don’t seem to recall them having much of a track record of “disrespecting” vets like that), but it might be the best strategic move.

Right Size Wrong Shape

Regarding Abreu’s defense, I do think he’s been better. But overall I don’t think he’s good. He makes a lot of bad decisions – going after balls he should let the second baseman get and being overly aggressive on balls he should flip to the pitcher. And his footwork at the bag is bad.

Jim Margalus

I listed some of his defensive highlights in this post.

stevieb1953

It’s not just Encarnacion that’s been struggling at the plate lately. Grandal and Moncada as well as Mazara have been as well. IMO Ricky should shake up the batting order and think about trying Madrigal leading off followed by Anderson Abreu, Jimenez, Robert, Grandal/McCann,Encarnacion, Moncada and Mazara. That puts speed and on-base people where we need them opfront and gives out power bats a chance to drive them in.

iowasox1971

I agree that Encarnacion is being unfairly targeted. As you point out, he’s not the only guy playing far below expectations. Grandal has been just as big of a disappointment; he’s being clearly outplayed by the catcher we already had. Mazara still doesn’t have a homer this season and Moncada has fallen off a cliff after a pretty good start, with his defense now sagging as well.

I do not like Grandal hitting so high in the order. I think he hits OK for a catcher, and has decent power and can get on base, but he’s still a career .240 hitter who’s rather slow. Did he bat so high in the order on his other teams?

I would use this batting order: Robert, Moncada, Anderson, Abreu, Eloy, Grandal, Encarnacion, Mazara and Madrigal. Also, I would have Robert, Anderson and Madrigal running more once they get on base, with Moncada joining that group once he gets fully healthy. When you have true base-stealing threats on, then the following hitters see a lot more fastballs. Also, getting guys in motion makes us less dependent on the home run.

I know my lineup has all right-handed hitters in the three through five positions, but that’s tough. By forcing Grandal into a higher position than he deserves, we are outsmarting ourselves and playing into the opposition’s hands.

asinwreck

This needs to be posted repeatedly a few hours before each game in the hopes EE resents it enough to hit a homer in anger each day.