Justin Smoak is Eclipsing Encarnacion

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TORONTO, ON - JULY 26: Justin Smoak #14 of the Toronto Blue Jays hits a game-tying two-run home run in the ninth inning during MLB game action against the Oakland Athletics at Rogers Centre on July 26, 2017 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

There’s no question that Edwin Encarnacion left a major hole in the Blue Jays lineup when he signed with the Cleveland Indians in December of last year. The fan favorite knocked in 42 home runs, 127 RBI, and put fans in seats at the Rogers Centre with his “Edwing” parrot home run celebration knack for coming up clutch when it was needed most.

Justin Smoak is Eclipsing Encarnacion

When the Jays signed Justin Smoak to a two-year contract last July, fans could sense that Encarnacion’s time in Toronto could be coming to a close. Smoak’s ability to fill the void left by Encarnacion was rightfully doubted. Surely he could not be a viable replacement, right? Smoak batted .217 with a 32.8% strikeout rate in 2016, meaning a strikeout basically every three plate appearances. Smoak, however, has been a beast in 2017, and the All-Star first baseman has stepped up his game to help fill the void, or even surpass Encarnacion’s offensive production from 2016. Can he really have a better 2017 Encarnacion’s 2016 season? Let’s take a look.

Smoak is having a better 2017 season than Encarnacion is down in Cleveland. Smoak has a slash line of .299/.377/.590 going into Wednesday night, while Encarnacion’s sits at .252/.369/.468. Smoak also has 31 home runs and 76 RBI while Encarnacion has 22 home runs and 64 RBI. That should make Jays fans feel a little better about losing Encarnacion, but last year’s Encarnacion vs this year’s Smoak is a little closer.

Smoak could definitely see a decline over the last two months of the season, yet he is on pace to hit around 45 home runs by the end of the season. Encarnacion hit 42 home runs last season. Smoak will not reach Encarnacion’s total of 127 RBI last season, but that is not entirely Smoak’s fault. He’s hitting .315 with runner’s in scoring position┬áthis year, but the Jays as a team are also getting on base less often. Smoak’s .967 OPS is higher than Encarnacion’s .886 last season, or even Encarnacion’s career high of .941 in 2012. Smoak’s .299 average is a huge improvement on Encarnacion’s .263. Encarnacion’s 3.7 WAR in 2016 is trailed closely by Smoak’s 3.5 WAR this season, and there are still fifty games left to play. Smoak might not be a fan favorite like Encarnacion was, but his offensive production has been just as good, if not better that Encarnacion’s was last season.

Outlook

There is no question that Blue Jays fans miss more than just Encarnacion’s offensive production, but Smoak has proven himself to be arguably the Blue Jays’ best player this season, and he is on pace to not only fill the void left by Encarnacion, but to surpass him in some areas.

It is too bad the Jays are not in the playoff picture right now, but Smoak’s bat is keeping them afloat. Blue Jays fans will sleep better in the off-season knowing that Smoak will be in a Jays uniform next season, assuming he does not get traded.

Toronto is hoping for a strong end to the season for a better outlook heading into 2018. Smoak will likely play a large role in the team’s plans moving forward.

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