Adam Eaton led all qualified right fielders in 2016 with his 23.1 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), which, as Fangraphs explains, measures the, “...number of runs above or below average a fielder is in both range runs, outfield arm runs, double play runs and error runs combined.”
Eaton’s 25.5 UZR/150, (which measures the, “... number of runs above or below average a fielder is, per 150 defensive games,”) led all MLB right fielders as well.
Eaton was first in outfield assists among qualified right fielders league-wide, second in Defensive Runs Saved (22 DRS), and his .990 fld% was the seventh-best in the majors.
All of which came, of course, after he struggled in center field in 2015, posting a -10.2 UZR (21st in the majors), -10.6 UZR/150 (21st as well), -13 DRS (also 21st) and .986 fld% (18th among qualified MLB center fielders).
Eaton’s eight outfield assists were the sixth-most in the majors in 2015.
So why, you might ask, did the Nationals make the decision to acquire Eaton with the plan to play him in center field?
“Our scouts have evaluated him,” GM Mike Rizzo explained in December, “and we've seen him play quite a bit over the last couple years, including this year.
“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,” Rizzo said, “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.”
“In the short-term,” Rizzo added, “he certainly is capable of playing center field very well.”
Eaton agreed, telling reporters this winter that he thought too much weight was being placed on his rough season in center in 2015.
“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],” Eaton said.
He was, he noted, also a Gold Glove finalist in 2016, for his work in right field.
“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 [player]. So, like I said, I think I’m very capable of playing all three.”
Eaton’s -3.3 UZR in 2014 was eleventh-best among qualified center fielders, as was his -3.8 UZR/150. His 11 DRS were fifth-best, .988 fld% ninth, and his nine outfield assists were tied for the fourth-most in the majors.
So what was different between his 2014 and 2015 seasons in center in Chicago?
“I went over this a million times because I’ve had it thrown at me so much,” Eaton said.
“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.”