There simply hasn’t been a whole lot to revel in since the epic mid-May collapse of the 2016 White Sox. There have been slumps, there have been injuries, there have been newcomers who didn’t live up to their expectations, and a whole lot of losses to chalk up in the L column.
White Sox fans have taken pride in Chris Sale’s success this season, Jose Quintana’s silent and strong emergence as an important part of this rotation’s future, and the instant success that rookie Tim Anderson has seen over the past few months.
But one positive aspect that might get overlooked in the discussion of favorable outcomes in the 2016 yearbook is the success of outfielder Adam Eaton.
Eaton has had consistent success in his three seasons since joining the South siders after coming to the team from Arizona, and has posted nearly identical offensive numbers over the last two years. Take a look:
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At the plate, Eaton has been a model of consistency, and considering he is simply a five-foot, 11-inch (listed) 185-pound spark plug whose profile makes him best cast as a the top of the order speedster rather than of a middle of the lineup slugger, his performance year in and year out has been above average, but not really stellar or All-Star worthy. When paired with consistency, above average is not bad at all. It’s something many players strive for. Not everyone turns into Mike Trout.
Eaton has even lowered his strikeout rate by 2.4 percentage points this season, going from 19 percent in 2015 to 16.6 percent in 2016, and his walk rate is now nine percent, a career high.
But the most impressive thing that Eaton has done this season to solidify his status as an invaluable member of the White Sox organization has nothing to do with his consistency at the plate, his lowered strikeout rate, nor his slightly improved ability to take walks.
Defensively, Eaton has risen to new levels of eliteness in 2016. He is currently posting a 27.3 FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Averages) in just this season alone. Over the span of his entire major league career, Eaton had collectively posted an FRAA of -4.7, due to some poor fielding during his time in Arizona that was bad enough that his time spent in Chicago couldn’t get him out of the red.
Eaton is currently ranked No. 1 in baseball by UZR at 24.9, with Kevin Pillar being the second ranked player and a 5.6 differential separating them. Eaton ranks second just behind Red Sox defensive phenom Mookie Betts in Defensive Runs Saved with 23 on the season. The most defensive runs saved Eaton had previously in his career? That number would be 11, which he posted in 2014, his first season on the South side.
We know that defensive statistics at this point can only serve as a baseline to judge a players performance in the field, but just watching Eaton every night, it’s not hard to notice the improvements. The move from center to right certainly helped Eaton let his defensive prowess shine through to its full potential, and had Austin Jackson not suffered a season-ending injury, causing Eaton to have to shift back to center on occasion, who knows how high his defensive numbers would climb as the White Sox everyday right fielder.
“We’ve had to use him in center out of necessity,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura told the media. “But in right field, I haven’t seen anybody that’s better than him this year.” The massive improvement in Eaton’s defensive numbers certainly would agree.
Eaton has expressed his desire to be a Gold Glove winner all of his career, and this season is certainly his best chance so far.
“You work your butt off to be in a position to hopefully be in the top three (Gold Glove finalists) and (you) want to win every year,” Eaton told the media this past week. “It takes effort and focus and some good luck and some great teammates.”
The White Sox secured Eaton’s status as part of the face of the White Sox franchise when they extended him to a five-year, $23.5 million deal with two team options in 2020 and 2021 back in March of 2015. If Eaton continues to demonstrate his consistent offensive ability while emerging as one of the best defensive right fielders in the game, that deal will certainly look like a bargain for the White Sox in the future. It’s already starting to look like one now.
Though this has been one of the toughest seasons the White Sox have faced in years, not only due to the results on the field, but due to the trials and tribulations in the clubhouse early in the season, the lack of success this organization saw when attempting to salvage what started off as a historically great campaign, to dissonance from key figures in recent weeks, this season has had its bright spots. Adam Eaton in right field has certainly been one of them.
Photo courtesy of Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports