It’s Parrot Season in Cleveland

On Opening Day, Edwin Encarnacion made his presence immediately felt with his new team. With Cleveland down a run, one out in the eighth, and Matt Bush on the mound, Encarnacion homered to tie the game in Arlington. It was his second hit — in just his fourth plate appearance — for his new team. By WPA, it was the biggest play of the game to that point (it would end the day as the second-biggest). By the time he came up for his fifth plate appearance, Cleveland had pulled ahead by three runs, and they would go away winners. Unfortunately, Encarnacion wouldn’t hit another homer for 13 games. In the 12 games between those homers, he would hit just .182/.308/.205 (48 wRC+) in a 53-PA stretch that had some Cleveland fans feeling a whole lot of buyer’s remorse.

Fortunately, Encarnacion hasn’t maintained that horrid performance all season. In fact, as the calendar has flipped to June, he’s been on fire. His 228 wRC+ for the month is tops in the majors, and his 132 wRC+ for the season is now 32nd among qualified hitters. In case you hadn’t noticed that he was heating up, he punctuated the hot streak yesterday with two homers off of Twins starter Kyle Gibson, accounting for the only three runs Cleveland would require to secure both the win and also four-game road sweep of the Twins. He then tacked on an RBI single and a sac fly just for fun, which made him responsible for driving in all five Cleveland runs on the day. Not bad. And the home runs were pretty, to boot, both landing in Target Field’s second deck.

Encarnacion allows his parrot to perch after his first homer on Sunday.

At the season’s outset, Encarnacion was a little timid. He swung at fewer than 40% of the pitches he saw, and he wasn’t connecting on pitches out of the strike zone. For the month, his 41.3% out-of-zone contact rate was the eighth lowest in the game among qualified hitters. To say this is uncharacteristic for Encarnacion would be an understatement. For his career, he makes contact on 65.8% of pitchers outside the strike zone, and he has regularly been in the high 60s-70% range. Sure enough, his O-Contact% rose in May to 56.1%, and it’s a very nice 69.0% for June. The key here is that he isn’t swinging at more pitches outside the zone, he’s just been making contact on more of them, which suggests he is zeroing in.

Conversely, while he’s not connecting on more pitches within the strike zone, he’s swinging at more of them. Maintaining the same zone contact rate while swinging at a higher percentage of those pitches is also pretty great. His overall contact rate has increased from 67.2% in April to 75.1% in May to 79.0% for June. With that, his strikeout rate has dropped from 33.0% to 21.2% to 12.1%.

It hasn’t just been Encarnacion, of course. Jose Ramirez has been great all season (23rd in wRC+), and his 187 wRC+ for the month is also worthy of praise. For the past seven days, he’s been even hotter than Encarnacion, running a 325 wRC+ to Encarnacion’s 260. Plenty of their other position players have really heated up as a whole in the past week as well. It’s small sample size city to be sure, but in the past seven days, Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, Erik Gonzalez, Jason Kipnis, Austin Jackson and Bradley Zimmer all ran at least a 147 wRC+. Roberto Perez ran a 91 wRC+, which doesn’t sound like much, but for him it’s pretty incredible, as it only brings his season wRC+ up to 20. (Side note: Perez is apparently safe in his job with this putrid batting line, but with phenom Francisco Mejia rocking Double-A, hopefully it’s the last season in which Cleveland fans need to watch him hit grounder after useless grounder.)

The second home run of the day for Cleveland’s bird enthusiast.

The hot hitting has been a big factor in Cleveland’s five straight wins to end the week. But until they rattled them off, the team had played pretty middling baseball. They were, in fact, right in the middle win-percentage-wise, at 31-31. Even though the bullpen hasn’t shrouded themselves in glory this month, you can’t really point a finger at the pitching staff. Mike Clevinger has filled in credibly in the starting rotation, and as a team, Cleveland has both recorded the fifth-best WAR and allowed the fifth-fewest runs.

The offense has been another matter. The team is just 18th in runs scored, and their 102 wRC+ (excluding pitchers hitting) ranks 14th. It’s been an up-and-down ride. In April, they ranked ninth as a team, before slipping to 22nd in May. Now, for June, they’re back up to eighth. But it hasn’t always been easy. Francisco Lindor has slumped badly since the season’s first month, and Carlos Santana remains his usual maddening self. For the month, both he and Daniel Robertson rank among the bottom 30 in wRC+. As such, Ramirez’s consistent hitting, and Encarnacion rediscovery of form has been important. Add in Zimmer finding his legs and Kipnis getting back to the business of being Kipnis, and suddenly Cleveland fans have a difficult decision about when they want to take their bathroom breaks.

Edwin Encarnacion has been one of the best hitters in baseball for more than half a decade. Moreover, he’s been consistent in his greatness, which is a difficult feat to accomplish. So when he started the season poorly with his new team, it was cause for concern. Now, though, he’s swinging at better pitches and making better contact, and when he does those things, the results are good. If you went to bed on the eve of the season and woke up today, you’d think everything was in order in the American League Central. It hasn’t really played out that way until this past week, but now here we are, with Cleveland back in first place, on the wings of an Encarnacion hot streak. It’s parrot season.





Paul Swydan used to be the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com and The Boston Globe. Now, he owns The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Acton, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan. Follow the store @SilUnicornActon.

17 Comments
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FrodoBeck
5 years ago

Both videos for me are playing as simply Encarnacion taking his parrot for a jog. Not that I don’t enjoy watching it, but I don’t think that’s what I’m supposed to be seeing

Monsignor Martinez
5 years ago
Reply to  FrodoBeck

I think they are what you’re supposed to see based on the title, but yeah, I’d like to see the HR’s as well.

Matthewmember
5 years ago
Reply to  FrodoBeck

Are you kidding? I came to this article JUST to see him walk the parrot. And I was not disappointed.

RonnieDobbs
5 years ago
Reply to  Matthew

Seconded

Josermember
5 years ago
Reply to  FrodoBeck

The link “both landing in Target Field’s second deck” right before the embedded parrot trot takes me to MLB’s highlights showing both shots in their entirety, from pitcher’s hand to upper-deck spectator’s.