Cabrera. Trout. Encarnacion? Encarnacion.
The debate over the most valuable Fantasy Baseball player the rest of the season is a valid one. We have Miguel Cabrera as the top guy with a nF score of 10.37, meaning that a team of entirely Miguel Cabreras would score 10.37 more runs per 27 outs than the average MLB squad (as well as scare the bejeezus out of White Sox fans). Mike Trout is as close as can be, though, with a projected nF score of 10.36.
But then in that No. 3 spot you might expect... Chris Davis? Nah, he's No. 10. Consensus No. 2 fantasy draft selection Ryan Braun? Nope, No. 7. A pitcher like Clayton Kershaw or Matt Harvey? No. 5 and No. 8, respectively.
It's Encarnacion and his 9.37 nF score that takes the cake, and if there's any way for you to have him on your fantasy team right now without trading Cabrera or Trout, pull the trigger. And we've got the numbers to explain why.
No One Man Should Have All That...
Through 71 games and 314 plate appearances, Edwin Encarnacion already has 19 homeruns, tied for the third-most in the majors. And the scary part? That's actually down from his production last season.
In 2012, Encarnacion hit homeruns on 6.5 percent of his total plate appearances, and 16.8 percent of his total fly balls went out of the park. This season, those percentages have decreased to 6.1 percent and 14.5 percent, respectively. While some people may see a decrease, I look at that and say, "Wow, these current numbers might actually be sustainable considering his performed even better last season!"
The homeruns are an obvious benefit, though. With power alone, Encarnacion was already a top 20 fantasy guy entering the season. What really drives his value through the CN Tower actually isn't his power at all. It's his line drive ability on balls in play.
You may not remember this, but before last season, Encarnacion was known as a line drive type of guy. Between when he entered the league in 2005 with Cincinnati to 2011 with the Blue Jays, Encarnacion never hit fewer than 20 percent of his balls in play as line drives. Considering the MLB average during that time was around 19 percent, that means Encarnacion was consistently making solid contact throughout the course of his career.
However, that all changed when Encarnacion made a deal with the devil before the start of the 2012 season. He sacrificed line drive hitting for power, and although his homerun rate rose 3.3 percent, his line drive percentage dropped to 17 percent and his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) dropped 26 points. Fantasy owners absolutely took the homeruns, but his average suffered.
But in 2013, the year of Our Encarnacion, he has learned to do both. Not only is the power still there, but Encarnacion's line drive rate is all the way up to 23 percent, his best since his rookie 2005 season. This isn't a Hannah Montana "Best of Both Worlds" situation - both worlds here are actually good things.
Except that, unfortunately for Encarnacion owners, the stats haven't reflected that line drive prowess... yet. His .251 BABIP is his lowest since 2010, unexpected for a player with such a high line drive rate. Even though Encarnacion's 12.4 percent strikeout rate is the lowest of his career, that unlucky BABIP has kept his average down at .269, down 11 points from last season.
So what happens when those line drives actually begin finding holes? Encarnacion will not only be a power threat, but he'll supply a solid batting average and increased RBI and run opportunities as well. It's not too often you find a true five category threat, but that's what we expect Encarnacion to be over the rest of this season.
Both the homerun projections and RBI projections are the second-most among all MLB batters, only behind Miguel Cabrera in both cases. His 52 projected runs are ninth overall, tied with Paul Goldschmidt for the most among first basemen. But with the possible exception of how badly Encarnacion is beating Davis and Votto, you probably already expected these things.
What you might not have expected is that .282 average. Given Encarnacion's strikeout rate trending downward (19.8% in 2010 to 16.4% to 14.5% to 14.6% to 12.4% this year), it makes cognitive sense that his batting average would be higher than in years past. That line drive rate, though, is just extra gravy. His .282 projected average is 11th-best among first basemen with at least 300 projected plate appearances the rest of the way, topping even Mark Trumbo, Freddie Freeman, and Anthony Rizzo.
It may take a while to get used to Encarnacion as the projected best first baseman in fantasy baseball, but you'll get there. And hopefully for you, it's sooner rather than later, because Encarnacion is set to take off.