Edwin Encarnación had been overshadowed by bigger-name free agents throughout the Hot Stove season, but he had the Christmas Day headlines all to himself. That’s when reports emerged of the 36-year-old slugger reaching an agreement with the White Sox on a one-year, $12 million contract with a 2021 team option. There had not been much buzz over the market for Encarnación, possibly because he will turn 37 in January and his main appeal is as a designated hitter. Perhaps he also received less attention because of missing the vast majority of the final two months of the 2019 season due to a fractured right wrist and a strained left oblique.
Despite missing a substantial chunk of the season, Encarnación smashed 34 home runs. This was two more than he hit for the Indians in 2018, and his .287 ISO was his highest ever. Encarnación wasn’t hitting the ball harder — his 94.4 mph exit velocity on flyballs and line drives (EV FB/LD) was within 0.2 mph of his averages from 2017 and 2018 — but he was hitting it a lot higher. His 22.5 degree average launch angle was more than four degrees higher than any of his previous averages during the Statcast era, and his 50.6 percent flyball rate was a career high.
Though his injuries did not put a damper on his home run production, Encarnación was relatively light on run production. His 86 RBIs were his lowest total since 2011, and only one other time during that span did he fall short of 100 RBIs. He scored 81 runs, which was seven more runs than he scored in 2018, but it was only the third time he missed the 90-run threshold since 2011. Yet, even if Encarnación merely reached his total of 579 plate appearances from 2018, he would have had a 90-run, 100-RBI season if he kept up his pace.
It didn’t hurt that Encarnación made 197 of his 486 plate appearances with the Yankees — one of 2019’s most potent offenses — and now he joins what should be a vastly improved White Sox lineup. With the signing of Yasmani Grandal and the trade for Nomar Mazara, the White Sox were already primed to finish much higher than 24th in runs scored per game, as they had in 2019. Whether Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal begin the season in the majors or debut several weeks later, as has been conjectured, Encarnación figures to be part of an above-average offense in 2020.
In moving to Guaranteed Rate Field, Encarnación gets a home park that is reputedly good for home run power, but it has been fairly neutral for right-handed hitters and roughly on a par with T-Mobile Park. That’s not a bad thing, though, as he was on a 40-plus homer pace while with the Mariners. That was in the wake of back-to-back 30-plus homer seasons in Cleveland, where he had to contend with a tough home run park for righties.
There is nothing about this signing that suggests that Encarnación is due for a dropoff. All that may stand between him and a .240 batting average and 35 home runs is age-related decline and health issues. Owners will likely discount him for these risks on draft day, but his potential to finish as a top 15 first baseman will make him viable as a mid-to-late round pick in 12-team leagues.
The day before Encarnación reached his agreement with the White Sox, Kole Calhoun signed a two-year, $16 million deal with a 2022 team option with the Diamondbacks. Over his final two seasons with the Angels, Calhoun took on a different profile — one that looked much like Encarnación’s. After averaging 92.0 mph in EV FB/LD in 2016 and 2017, Calhoun hit with more power, averaging 94.4 mph in 2018 and 95.0 mph in 2019. That extra thump did not translate into more home runs at first, as he hit 19 homers in 2018 just as he had done the year before. The increased exit velocity coincided with a drop in his pull rate on flyballs, but Calhoun increased that rate from 15.6 percent in 2018 to 28.5 percent in 2019. A career-high 33 home runs resulted, but for the second year in a row, he hit below .160 on ground balls and below .240 overall.
While Calhoun was only one home run shy of matching Encarnación this past season, he needed the full season to approach that level. Calhoun is not as prone to hit flyballs as Encarnación has been, and given that his 2019 pull rates on flyballs and on all batted balls were the highest of his career, he could be due for some power regression in 2020. At least he is making a lateral move in terms of home run park factors for left-handed hitters. Even assuming that MLB uses the same ball in 2020 that they did in 2019, we should view anything above 25 homers to be a bonus for Calhoun.
He may be coming off a season where he was a top 50 outfielder in standard Roto leagues, but there is no compelling reason to draft Calhoun in 12-team leagues in 2020. His situation in Arizona is no better than the one he is leaving behind in Anaheim, and his 33-homer season could have been an aberration. If Calhoun goes undrafted, it makes sense to monitor his early power production and pull rate, as he could be a hitter to target on waivers. For the most part, though, he should only be on the radar of owners in mixed leagues with at least 14 teams.
Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.