Edwin Encarnacion is 35 years old. But that doesn’t mean as much as you might think.
The Tribe is counting on another homer-heavy season from Edwing. They’re favorites to win the AL Central for the third consecutive year, and his right-handed power in the heart of the order is a crucial asset for the team. But at 35, can he really remain as productive as he’s been in recent years? I dug into Fangraphs to find out.
Skills That Stand The Test Of Time
Throughout the course of his career, Encarnacion owns a .265/.354/.499 batting line, with a walk rate of 11.1% and a strikeout rate of 16.5%. That doesn’t necessarily reflect his more recent performance, but my intention for this exercise is to look at his career as a whole and hypothesize what type of performance we’re likely to see from him in this, his age 35 season. In order to do that, I looked at players with similar career stats who were late bloomers. I considered a “late bloomer” to be someone who didn’t put up a 3-fWAR season until at least age 27. The player who a) best fit this description and b) owned the most similar offensive career profile to Encarnacion was none other than former Tribe-killer Paul Konerko.
Konerko owned a career batting line of .279/.354/.486, with a 9.7% walk rate and a 14.6% strikeout rate. That’s not an exact match for Encarnacion, but it’s closer than any of the other late-bloomers I was able to find.
The Konerko comp is pretty good news, actually. In his age-35 season (2011), the former White Sox slugger hit .300/.388/.517 with 31 homers and 105 RBI while walking in 12.1% of his plate appearances and striking out in 13.9%. That performance was good for 2.7 fWAR, a 0.8 fWAR decline from his 2010 season. Given his recent trends, it’s fair to expect that Encarnacion will strike out more often than that (and consequently have a lower batting average), but overall this seems like a fairly reasonable expectation for the Tribe DH.
There were some other comparable players I came across. Among them, Nelson Cruz, Carlos Beltran, Fred McGriff and Ellis Burks enjoyed productive age-35 seasons. Matt Holliday and Scott Rolen declined considerably but were still above replacement level, while Mark Teixeira completely fell off a cliff.
Obviously it’s impossible to know for sure how the aging curve will hit Encarnacion. But plate discipline as a skill generally tends to age well, and comparable players have retained at least respectable power through age 35 more often than not. Anyone expecting to see the Parrot more than 40 times this season will probably be disappointed. But somewhere in the range of 30-35 homers with an impressive on-base percentage seems like a reasonable, tempered expectation. Look for Encarnacion to provide solid value from the DH position for the Tribe this year as they push for that elusive World Series title.
Photo courtesy of Erik Drost, via Flickr.