We’re Not So Different You and I: Kendrys and Edwin
The 2017 MLB season continues to progress and we now find ourselves just past the 1/3 mark on the season. This is an important yearly milestone to recognize as it is the point where most individual player stats stabilize and we all stop talking about “small sample sizes”. Given the timing, now seems like a good time to look at one of the more interesting player swaps that happened over the offseason and decide who’s “winning” it right now.
To offset the free agency departure of Edwin Encarnacion to the Cleveland Indians this offseason, Toronto enlisted the services of Kendrys Morales. On paper, it seemed highly unlikely that Morales alone could fill the void left behind by Encarnacion. But when you take a closer look at the numbers, Morales and Encarnacion are very similar players with the only notable difference being that Morales bats from both sides of the plate. Despite their comparable production, Encarnacion is still widely seen as the better player, earning just under twice as much as Morales.
Let’s start with the basics, Edwin Encarnacion is slashing .231/.343/.405 with 10 home runs and 22 RBI in 231 plate appearances. Kendrys Morales is slashing .260/.315/.475 with 11 home runs and 31 RBI in 222 plate appearances. those are pretty close, even their BABIP is only four points apart: .280 and .276. Which one is which? Does it matter?
Digging a little bit deeper doesn’t help, as both men have a near identical wRC+ of 105 (Edwin) and 108 (Morales), and their overall value is almost identical and just above replacement level with WARs of 0.0 (Encarnacion) and 0.1 (Morales). Projections expect both men to improve a little but not for any real separation to take place. The only major difference in their peripheral numbers stands in Win Probability Added. Edwin is worth -0.10 of a win on a given day while Kendys is a full half-point better at 0.53.
Too add to the eerie similarity of these two players, they’re even only 5 months apart in age.
So, what have we learned so far? That these two men are so evenly matched that the only thing that separates them is charisma, an iconic franchise home run, and thirty million dollars.
How about things that are more fun to talk about. Is there some X-Factor that we can hold on to so that we can declare some semblance of a winner here?
Encarnacion got off to a bit of a cold start, ask any Blue Jays fan and they’ll tell you this is nothing new. Edwin has traditionally started the regular season cold, gets hot around now, then manages to pick up some sort of nagging injury. If he stays healthy after the All-Star break, he’s always a candidate to finish strong.
Morales, on the other hand is quietly just being himself, a solid, middle of the order bat. However, this is where we find the biggest difference between these two. Edwin is currently playing on a good team. A good team that has a very strong chance of a repeat trip to the World Series. Cleveland currently sits one game back from the over-performing Twins and four games above .500 while the Blue Jays are in the AL East’s cellar at three games below .500, a side effect of their abysmal April. The Jays are on an upswing though, and the rising water might serve Morales well. As the rest of the lineup starts performing to expectation, Morales’ contributions may start to make a greater impact.
So who wins here? Was Toronto right to let Encarnacion walk? Could Cleveland found the upgrade they needed in Morales? We need to come to a conclusion and it’s hard to make a determination with such similar offensive production coming from these two.
The deciding factor? Salary.
Encarnacion is set to make $60 million over the next 3 years with Morales making $33 million over the same time frame. There’s your separation. Some people call Morales a “Discount Edwin” but the way I see it, Encarnacion is really just an “Overpriced Kendrys Morales.”