108 Life after loss: The Morales era begins in Toronto
By Tyler King
Canadian Baseball Network
There are moments in every person’s life that tries the will, moments where they must learn to let go.
Like the death of their first pet, for example. Or blowing out the bonfire of candles on their 30th birthday.
But despite the traumatic nature of such events, nothing compares to when the star slugger of their favourite MLB team signs with somebody else ...
On January 5, 2017, fans of the Toronto Blue Jays were left mourning the loss of three-time all-star and two-time 40 home run man Edwin Encarnacion, as he signed a three-year 60 million dollar deal with the Cleveland Indians.
(If this sounds like the beginning of an obituary, it’s because, well, just let me grieve in peace).
Although fans had been warned throughout last season to brace themselves for the departure of their beloved “Eddie”, the shock was still inevitable when the news become official, especially considering how it all happened.
You already know all the story lines: Shapiro moved too quickly on Steve Pearce, Eddie’s agent screwed up, the moon landing is a hoax ...
But there’s also another storyline that is only now beginning to get some traction, one that lacks the emotional, conspiracy-laden biases of the previous ones:
The Jays just happened to get a really good player who could replace Encarnacion. And they got him much cheaper.
That’s right Jays fans. If this article began as a funeral for Encarnacion, it’s going to end with his rebirth in the form of one of the most underrated hitters in baseball -
If you were to examine the Jays current roster objectively - which unfortunately means you cannot take into account all those joyous, parrot-walking memories - the Jays honestly did not lose much by swapping Encarnacion with Morales.
(There. I said it. And yes, I meant it.)
In fact, the two hitters are eerily similar in almost every meaningful way.
They are both 6’1, 225-230 lbs.
Morales is 33-years-old. Encarnacion is 34.
They both made their MLB debut when they were 22.
And oh ya, they’re both pretty good hitters.
I probably don’t need to remind you of the kind of career Encarnacion has had. He’s played in over 1,500 games, hitting 310 home runs in 5,406 big league at-bats. He’s also hit .266/.352/.498 with an .850 OPS over his 12 seasons.
So yes, no surprise there - he’s a powerful hitter.
But Morales is no slap-single either. The new Blue Jays slugger has played in 1,030 games, hitting 162 home runs in 3,716 at-bats. He’s had five seasons with 20 or more home runs (whereas Encarnacion has had seven).
Morales, however, does have the slightly higher career average, hitting .273/.331/.465 with a .795 OPS.
Even though they both MASH, the biggest difference still clearly lies in that overall home run total; although you’ll be happy to know it’s probably not as cavernous as it appears on paper.
For a more accurate comparison of homers, Eddie has averaged a long ball every 17.44 at-bats, whereas Morales has averaged one every 22.94 at-bats. That puts both in a category with some of the more elite power hitters in baseball (Bryce Harper averages a home run every 19.3 at-bats).
And not to bring this whole thing up again, but hitting in the friendly confines of the Rogers Centre is very different than hitting in some other parks, like the dauntingly spacious Kauffman Stadium, where Morales spent his last two seasons playing with the Kansas City Royals.
In 2016 there were 203 home runs hit inside the ol’ Skydome (2.51 HR per game), compared with only 155 at Kauffman Stadium (1.91 per game). That equates to roughly 13% more big flys hit in Toronto than in Kansas City.
I don’t think anybody would complain if Morales hit 13% more home runs in 2017. Especially considering he hit an already impressive 30 dingers last year.
Now he still remains a far cry from the 42 bombs Eddie hit in 2016. But don’t forget that Morales is now going to be surrounded by guys with the names Bautista, Donaldson, Tulowitzki, and Martin. (I’m thinking he just may get a few more pitches to hit.)
If we’re being greedy, hopefully the protection afforded by the Jays lineup will also lead to Morales drawing a few more walks. Because, in one of the few areas where the two players differ, Encarnacion’s pitch selection has, for the most part, been better than Morales’s.
In both 2015 and 2016, Morales had more than 100 strikeouts and less than 60 walks. Over his career, he’s averaged a strikeout every 5.1 at-bats.
For Encarnacion, 2016 marked his first season with more than 100 strikeouts since 2008, when he was still a relative no-namer with the Cincinnati Reds. Now a bonafide star, he’s drawn more than 60 walks in five straight seasons.
But if spring training means anything (and trust me, I know it doesn’t), Morales and the Blue Jays will be just fine.
In his first 19 spring at-bats Morales has hit .474/.545/.895 with two home runs and two doubles. Perhaps more encouraging is that he’s only struck out three times.
So perhaps when the calendar turns to July this summer you just might realize you didn’t even notice Encarnacion was gone (provided you close your eyes every time the infamous 2016 Wild Card walk-off highlight is played, ‘cause’ that’s a tear-jerker).
And whether you think Eddie is replaceable or not, one thing’s for certain ...
If $60 million over three years was a steal for Encarnacion, then $33 million over three years for Morales was flat-out robbery.
Follow Tyler and #Section108 on Twitter: @TylerJoseph108