The name "Adam Eaton" does not conjure up fond memories for me. As a Phillies fan, I immediately think of the other Adam Eaton, the one who went 14-18 in two seasons, posting a 5.97 and 5.29 FIP in 2007 and 2008. Thankfully, he's been replaced in the major leagues by the new Eaton, a centerfielder for the White Sox. The younger Eaton impressed in a 22-game September stint with the Diamondbacks in 2012, with a .355 wOBA and 115 wRC+; he fell off slightly in his sophomore campaign, as he slashed .252/.314/.360 in 66 games. In 2014, he spent the entire season as a regular for the first time, and impressed with a .300/.362/.401 slash line. There's more to his numbers than meets the eye, though, so we need to delve a little deeper to figure out his long-term value.
The first number that jumps out at me from Eaton's stat sheet is his BABIP. At .359, it was the third-highest in the majors, behind only Starling Marte and Jose Altuve. (Teammate Jose Abreu was fourth.) However, we can't immediately write Eaton off as having had a lucky year, since he consistently posted above-average BABIPs in the minors and Steamer projects him for .317 next year. He also came in 22nd in IFFB%, meaning that he doesn't give away a lot of outs off the bat. While a 1.3% HR/FB is somewhat disturbing, his career mark is 4.2%, which is acceptable. The closest comp for Eaton in terms of batted-ball profile is Elvis Andrus:
|Eaton||20.2 %||59.7 %||20.2 %||1.3 %||3.8 %||12.2 %|
|Andrus||20.5 %||58.6 %||20.9 %||1.8 %||4.6 %||6.5 %|
The White Sox would probably be pretty happy if Eaton turned out to be as good as Andrus, considering he's averaged 3 fWAR/year in his career. While Eaton's glove is unlikely to be anywhere near Andrus's, he has the benefit of being a far better hitter overall, outclassing Andrus by 37 points in wOBA last year.
Let's talk about Eaton's glove. He's sandwiched an abjectly terrible 2013 season (-27.9 UZR/150) around two decent ones (0.2 and -3.8 UZR/150) in 2012 and 2014. DRS is a bit kinder, saying he's been worth 2, -2 and 12 runs in his three seasons, but he certainly won't turn into Juan Lagares anytime soon.
The big change in Eaton's numbers from the minors to the majors is his walk rate. After never dropping below double digits for a season prior to 2013, he's walked 7.5% and 8.0% of the time the last two years. Brooks Baseball categorizes him as having "an exceptionally poor eye" against offspeed and breaking stuff, with an O-Swing% of nearly 50% against such pitches. He's especially vulnerable down low, as shown in this zone profile.
As Eaton matures, he'll probably cut down on chasing pitches and become an even more valuable player. For now, he's a decent centerfielder, above-average with the bat and subpar with the glove. Because his arbitration eligibility's still a year away and free agency isn't an option until 2019, the White Sox will be able to get plenty of bang for their buck with Eaton over the next several seasons.
With another year of data under our belts, we can now definitively agree with BtBS's Chris Moran's assessment of the Eaton trade from last December. The Diamondbacks absolutely came out on the wrong end of that deal, with Mark Trumbo only posting a .308 wOBA and -1.3 fWAR. The player the Sox gave up, Hector Santiago, was okay (4.29 FIP in 127.1 innings for the Angels), but looks to have less upside than Eaton going forward.
And the Diamondbacks? Well, considering they gave up Eaton and Tyler Skaggs (1.5 fWAR in 113 innings for the Angels in 2014), this will go down in history as yet another bizarre Kevin Towers deal. If the White Sox can put some pieces around a solid core of Eaton, Abreu, Chris Sale, and Jose Quintana, we might look back in a few years and pinpoint the Eaton trade as the inflection point in the varying trajectories of the two franchises.
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Steven Silverman is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score and a student at Carnegie Mellon University. He also writes for Batting Leadoff. You can follow him on Twitter at @Silver_Stats or email him at Steven@SilverStats.com.