Is Edwin Encarnación The New José Bautista?

Jose Bautista #19 and Edwin Encarnacion #10 of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrate Encarnacion's home run against the Seattle Mariners during MLB action at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

Quick, who's been the Blue Jays' best hitter!

Hint: He's an ex-third baseman whose career seemed to have dead-ended in his late 20s, only to somewhat miraculously become one of the American League's premier power hitters.

Got it?

No, you probably don't. But your confusion is perfectly understandable. Because Blue Jays have not one, but two players who fit that exact description. While nearly every other team in the majors has precisely zero. Because it's really rare.

But the Blue Jays do have two, and one of them -- Edwin Encarnación -- is their best hitter this season. Or has been, anyway. The other, of course, is José Bautista. He hasn't been real good this season, but we might assume he will be. Which leaves me to marvel at the Blue Jays' front office, which keeps giving chances to players after they seem to deserve them, only to be rewarded in the end.

In these two cases, anyhow.

Through the 3rd of September in 2009, Bautista's career numbers included a 236/328/384 line, and he was nearly 29 years old. Remember, players typically peak in their late 20s; if they're not any good by then, there's an overwhelming chance they'll never be much good.

Since 9/3/09, Bautista's gone 272/398/593. In 2010 and '11, he was as productive as any hitter on the planet this side of Miguel Cabrera.

Through the All-Star break in 2011, Encarnación's career numbers included a 258/331/449 line; he was 28 and seemed to be getting worse, as his best seasons had come years earlier.

Since the 2011 All-Star Game, Encarnación's gone 283/362/541, and he's been particularly good this season, ranking second in the American League in both home runs and RBI.

Encarnación supposedly made one adjustment in the middle of last season, and another before this season. Just as Bautista reportedly made a big adjustment toward the tail end of the 2009 season. Also, it probably didn't hurt that the Blue Jays finally got Encarnacion off third base, where he'd earned the nickname "E-5".

When a player's numbers take a big jump, we must remain vigilant. Random variation is good at fooling us. But José Bautista didn't go from marginal major leaguer to superstar because of random variation. Sometimes -- not often at all, but sometimes -- players really do change. The tricky part is figuring out when. We definitely crossed that line with Bautista at one point, probably in the second half of the 2010 season. We're probably not there with Encarnación yet.

We'll check back in another month or two. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have just promoted 37-year-old Vladimir Guerrero to Class AAA. If the Jays can get him fixed up -- well, him or Adam Lind or Travis Snider -- then they'll really have something.

***


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