CLEVELAND — Edwin Encarnacion is a rare breed of power hitter. Not only can the newest member of the Indians launch home runs at a high rate, but he has also shown the ability to control the strike zone well enough to avoid the feast-or-famine streaks that often plague sluggers.
It is Encarnacion’s style of hitting — combined with his power potential — that helped convince the Tribe to hand the first baseman a three-year, $60 million contract on Thursday. There is always risk involved with a lucrative deal, but this includes an extra layer. On Saturday, Encarnacion turns 34 years old, meaning the Indians are gambling that his approach can overcome his age.
“He’s been an incredibly productive player,” general manager Mike Chernoff said. “Often, you hear about players who are power hitters and how they may age, and how those skills may progress over time. With a guy like Edwin, he has such great command of the strike zone and he’s such a great hitter. He’s not just a power hitter. It gives us a strong belief that the consistency can last.”
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Over the past four years, Encarnacion has posted a 15.3-percent strikeout rate and produced 17.3 offensive Wins Above Replacement (per Baseball-Reference.com). For comparison, Mike Napoli, who served as the club’s power-hitting first baseman last season, had a 28.8-percent strikeout rate with 7.6 WAR over that same time period. Napoli belted 34 homers in 2016, but he struck out 194 times. Encarnacion had 42 homers with 138 whiffs (a career high).
The Indians had interest in bringing Napoli back on a one-year deal, but he remains a free agent and is out of the mix in the wake of Encarnacion’s arrival. Cleveland benefited greatly from Napoli’s presence in the lineup and clubhouse, but the club …