Washington, D.C. - Adam Eaton ended up playing right field in 2016, he explained on Saturday at Nats’ Winterfest in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, because the Chicago White Sox signed veteran outfielder Austin Jackson to play center.
Simple as that.
Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo explained on Wednesday night after acquiring Eaton from Chicago, that he planned on playing the 28-year-old veteran in center in spite of how well he did in right last season and in spite of how badly he struggled in center in 2015.
Eaton went from a .988 Fielding Percentage (fld%), +11 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and a -3.3 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) in center field in 2014 (earning a Gold Glove nomination), to a .986 fld%, -14 DRS and -10.2 UZR in 2015.
Playing in right in 2016, he had a .990 fld%, +22 DRS and a +22.5 UZR (and another Gold Glove nomination).
Rizzo was asked what gave him confidence going forward that Eaton could still be a solid defensive center fielder.
“Our scouts have evaluated him and we've seen him play quite a bit over the last couple years, including this year,” Rizzo said.
“It was one of the few times in the draft room in the war room where the analytical information matched up with the scouting eye, and it was a decision in the room that was fairly easy for us to make to determine that this was the player at this time.”
Eaton told reporters on Saturday he was happy to get a chance to address what the baseball world has been saying about his defense since the trade transpired.
“It’s funny. I’m glad I can speak because a lot of media has been speaking for me in these last three days,” Eaton said.
“If you look at my year before 2015 — which is what everyone is really, really focused upon — I was a Gold Glove finalist in center field in the AL [in 2014].
“I like to think I’m that player. Two out of three years ain’t bad to be a finalist. But like I said, people really want to harp on 2015 where I was very poor [defensively].
“I think that I’m definitely the ‘14 player. I think that if I’m in right, hopefully I’m the ‘16 player and when I’m in center, hopefully I’m the ‘14. So, like I said, I think I’m very capable of playing all three.”
As for what was different between 2014 and ‘15 in center? Eaton has done some thinking about that apparently.
“Flukes in my opinion,” he said. “I think that there were a couple plays that I should have made that I didn’t in ‘15 and it kind of snowballed a little bit and I just feel like it kind of got out of hand and then once it got out of hand I feel like I played pretty solid defense for probably a month and a half. I went over this a million times because I’ve had it thrown at me so much. But I think there was about a month, month and a half where I played really, really good, and the other months there were inconsistencies. And then in ‘14, for me, again, I think it was the player that I am.”
“Learning from my failures in ‘15,” Eaton continued, “and — maybe not concentrating as much as I should have — allowed me to again have the year I did in ‘16 and come back and be another [Gold Glove] finalist.”
Whatever issues he had in the outfield, he didn’t them take to the plate.
Over his three seasons with the White Sox, Eaton put up a combined .290/.362/.422 line with a 162-game average of 32 doubles, 11 doubles and 11 home runs. He attributed his offensive consistency to the struggles he had to work through early in his career.
“Failing early in my career, to be honest with you,” he said. “If you look at the peaks and valleys, I had big peaks and valleys my first year. My second year actually I had big peaks and valleys. Still had a good-to-decent year, but I had a lot of ups and downs.
“I credit struggling early and being able to learn how to be consistent and trying to bring that game every day.”
Though he declined to comment on the price (Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning) the Nationals paid to acquire him, saying simply that, “It’s not really my job to think about that stuff, my job is to go out and play the game of baseball the best way I can,” he did say that it was good to know Washington wanted him enough to give up three of their top pitching prospects.
“I’m flattered, coming in again to such a great organization that has won... and to be able to contribute hopefully as well as I have in the past, it’s an honor. Not too many people get the chance that I have I guess is what I’m trying to say.”