ESPN Insider Dave Cameron wrote last week about speed being the Toronto Blue Jays' secret weapon. Their not-so-secret weapons are the 1-2 punch of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in the middle of the batting order.
Encarnacion had a breakout season in 2012. He changed his hitting approach (keeping both hands on the bat through his swing) and did a better job laying off pitches outside the strike zone, leading to a career-high 42 home runs.
The power wasn't a complete fluke; Encarnacion had hit 26 home runs with the Reds back in 2008 and 21 with the Blue Jays in 2010 in just 332 at-bats. he can turn on any fastball and is primarily a pull hitter: Only three of his 42 home runs went to right field or right-center.
But how much of Encarnacion's power surge was the new approach at the plate and how much of it was luck? His home run percentage on flyballs was a career-high 18.7 percent, but only 3.6 percent higher than in 2010. Projections systems have Encarnacion at around 30 home runs, but the systems factor in only the numbers, not the mechanisms for achieving those numbers. In Encarnacion's case, the improvement may be real.
What do you think? I'll be a little more optimistic and set the over/under at 33.5 home runs.
As for Bautista, his production for 2013 is a question of health. He hit 54 home runs in 2010, 43 in 2011 and 27 in 92 games in 2012 before undergoing surgery on his left wrist (check out Stephania Bell's injury analysis on Bautista here). Stephania writes:
Any wrist injury is always a cause for concern with a power hitter, but not all wrist injuries are created equal. The key to retaining power is regaining adequate motion through the wrist to allow the hitter to maintain his normal swing. ... Bautista's injury was not to the tendon itself, but rather to the protective sheath around it. After the original injury last year, the torn tissue would aggravate his wrist as he attempted his batting motion. Repairing the tissue removes the source of the problem. If he has been able to recover the motion to swing the bat freely -- by the sounds of things, he has -- then the potential for him to return to his prior level of play is high.
Entering his age-32 season, the projection systems range from 31 to 39 home runs for Bautista. His home run percentage on flyballs was 20 percent last year -- not far off his 2010 and 2011 percentages of 21.7 and 22.5. What did drop a little last year was his walk rate -- from 20.2 percent in 2011 to 14.8 percent. (With more help around him in the lineup, Bautista's intentional walks fell from 24 to 2; hitting .241 instead of .302 also led to fewer free passes.)
Let's split the middle on the projection systems and put Bautista's over/under at 36.5 home runs. Too low?
I'm inclined to take the over on both. Which means it could be a very good year in Toronto.