Sunday, July 20, 2008

Edwin Elpidio Encarnacion (Triple E???) and his Iron Glove

After watching his performance at the hot corner on Sunday, any remaining shred of confidence I had in his defensive abilities has vanished. Granted, at this point, I didn't have much left, but he is clearly never going to be even a league average third baseman.


Against the Mets on Sunday, Edwin made an error that ultimately cost the Reds the game. Edwin threw the ball away in the 10th inning, which led to two unearned runs and a loss for the Reds.

Obviously, his poor defense really hurt the team in the 10th, but Edwin also made at least two poor plays earlier in the game that put the Reds behind the eight ball. Neither will show up in the box score, but both were detrimental to their efforts to win the game.

In the top of the 2nd, the Mets had Mike Pelfrey at second and Jose Reyes at first. Argenis Reyes grounded to Edwin at third, who made a poor to Phillips at second. Phillips managed to hold the bag for the force out, but any chance at a double play was lost. That brought David Wright up to the plate with two outs and a chance to drive in a run. Edinson ultimately got the out, but it was an opportunity that the Mets likely should not have had.

In the top of the 4th, Edinson struck out Mike Pelfrey to get things started. Jose Reyes then stepped up to the plate and lined the ball into the right-center field gap. Griffey wasn't quick to the ball, but got it in to Brandon Phillips who made a weak two-hop throw to Edwin at third. Despite the slowness of Griffey in getting to the ball and the weak throw by Phillips, the Reds still had a good chance to nail Reyes at third. Unfortunately, even though the throw was on time, Edwin didn't come up with it and Reyes was safe.

Reyes ultimately scored on a sacrifice fly from David Wright, so the poor defense cost the Reds a run. Unfortunately, on this play, there were three weak links in the chain, but Edwin isn't free from blame. If he caught the ball, then Reyes would have been out and the game never would have gone to extra innings.

The box score doesn't show all the damage that Edwin causes, but it's more than we might think.


At this point, the realization that Edwin is a huge liability with the glove should be dawning on everyone, and yet our front office just labeled him "untouchable." We have been patient in waiting on his development, but he is already 25 and showing no signs of improvement.

John Dewan developed a fielding metric called the Plus/Minus system, which he first unveiled in The Fielding Bible. It is the metric that I like best and it is defined as follows:

"Plus/Minus, which represents the number of plays the player made, above/below the number that the average fielder would make, according to the video scouts at Baseball Info Solutions. We rate corner infielders for their handling of bunts, and middle infielders for their work on the double play. We rate outfielders for how often they threw out baserunners (“Kills”) and how often they allowed them to take the extra base. “Rank” shows the player’s ranking in a particular category among qualifying players at his position (usually around 30). Pitchers and catchers are not included."

In that spirit, let's take a look at Edwin's performance. In 2006, Edwin posted a -15 in 931.1 innings. In 2007, Edwin posted a -15 in 1168.0. In 2008, Edwin has posted a -12 in only 748.1 innings. It's debatable whether he is getting worse, but at the very least he's not getting any better.

In addition, the Plus/Minus system also grades a third baseman's performance on bunts. In 2006 Edwin was ranked 27th, in 2007 he was 19th, and so far in 2008 he is 25th.

Including today's error, Edwin has 12 throwing errors on the season and 16 overall. Joe Crede has more errors overall (19), but no third baseman has more throwing errors.


It's difficult to understand the impact of a player's defense on a team's W/L performance. So, Dewan provides two rules of thumb for translating the plus/minus stat into runs and then wins/losses.

1) "To estimate runs prevented, use a number that is a little less than half of the plus/minus figure."
2) "The value of a win is at about 10 runs."

So, if Edwin is a -15 at third, then that means that he allows ~7 runs, which means that his defense costs the Reds 0.7 more losses than the average third baseman. That doesn't sound so bad, but if you factor in what an elite defensive third baseman would bring to the team, then it looks a bit worse.

If you take one of my personal favorites, Brandon Inge, who is an elite defensive third baseman, he was a +27 in 2006 and a +22 in 2007. Just for simplicity sake, let's say he is a +24 third baseman. If you combine Inge's +24 with Edwin's -15, then you get a swing of 39.

Using the same two rules of thumb, that is a 19 run difference and a 1.9 difference in wins.

Now, Edwin is a better hitter than Inge, but is he 1.9 wins better with the bat? Maybe so, but he gives back much of the gains from his offensive production with his shoddy glove work.

If we want to keep Edwin's offense, then we need to move him to a less damaging position, because we just can't succeed with his glove at third. That said, if we do move him down the defensive spectrum, then the value of his production is lower, so it may be wiser to just trade him away for a player who better fits our needs.


  1. An excellent analysis of EE Lark. It provides clear numbers that show he is not capable of playing 3B for a team that has playoff aspirations.

    He's a nice player that hasn't really improved and will become overly expensive next year. All you have to ask is "would St. Louis keep a player like him once he becomes arbitration eligible". Of course not. We should be able to pick up a solid defender at third for the price he will soon command.

    If we can't trade him, I hope he works out as a corner outfielder.

  2. Thanks, Redvol.

    At this point, I think it's crystal clear that he cannot play third. The Reds have some difficult decisions to make, but keeping Edwin at third really shouldn't be an option.

    There still isn't any perfect defensive metric, but almost universally Edwin fares poorly under all of them.

    His bat is coming alive again, which makes him an intriguing offensive player, but he needs to be moved to a new position or a new organization. Long-term, I think he's a first-baseman, but maybe he has the ability to play left for a couple years.

    Sadly, I doubt the Reds do anything but plug him in at the hot corner for the foreseeable future.

  3. Its not his glove that is iron. Its his arm that is rubber.

    He led the team in average last year and he just hit his 23rd home run last night (a grand slam). He's a long way from being the biggest problem the Reds have.

    I live in Nova Scotia so I don't get to see EEE's errors (they aren't highlights on Gameday). The numbers suggest he can catch the ball, at least when its hit at him.

    To me that screams: "Teach him how to throw!" Volquez learned to throw at 25, so its not without precedent. Or, if EEE has a physical problem make a leftfielder or first baseman out of him.

    The Reds need to improve in many areas including defence. They are not going to progress, though, by giving up on a good young player who happens to have a flaw.

  4. Hey, JZZ. Thanks for the comment. It's nice to hear from Nova Scotia and I wish I could agree with you. While it's true that Edwin has a rubber arm, he also just does not have good range.

    On the season, he is now a -23 on the season under the Plus/Minus system, which rates his 32 among qualifying third basemen. He's a -9 to the right, -7 straight on, and -7 to his left. He's a -22 on groundballs and a -1 on balls hit in the air. In short, he stinks on every type of ball that comes his way.

    It's not just that he throws the ball into the seats every other play, but that he doesn't get to as many balls as he should. In addition, John Dewan grades him as a C+ on bunts, which only rates him as 18th among third basemen.

    The Hardball Times "Revised Zone Rating" also rates Edwin's range very poorly. He ranks last among ALL qualifying MLB third base with a .608 mark.

    Anyway you slice it, he's a very poor defensive player. Frankly, his bat IS intriguing and you could justify moving him to first. That said, what happens to Joey Votto and first round pick Yonder Alonso? Perhaps you could move him to left, but I'm not sure he'd be any better than Dunn out there.

    Not to mention, I'm very high on Danny Dorn and am really beginning to like the idea of Chris Dickerson out in the outfield. The Reds need to get better overall on defensive and I'm not sure putting Edwin in left helps us accomplish that goal.

    Unfortunately, the Reds continue to have too much talent at the low end of the defensive spectrum. I like Edwin's bat and if they can find a way to minimize the harm caused by his glove, then they should definitely keep his bat around.

    That said, I'm not sure they can improve his defensive production by moving him to a new position without significantly reducing the value of his bat. At this point, it may be best to just deal him away for a player whose skills fits in better with the Reds needs.

    Anyway, my $.02. Thanks and don't be a stranger!!