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White Sox Fri Apr 18 2014
Last night, with two men on in the sixth inning and the White Sox down by a run, Adam Eaton demonstrated why White Sox fans are so fond of him.
Eaton hit a little squibber up the first base line. After a moment of hesitation by the Red Sox defense (a runner was heading home on the play), first baseman Mike Napoli flipped the ball over to pitcher Jon Lester, who was running to cover first. Routine play... but Eaton, hustling the whole way, beat Lester to the bag for an infield single.
The new Sox centerfielder has been doing this since he joined the team. This is what he does, this is the type of player he is. He's been characterized as a "grinder," someone who plays the game the right way and someone who exerts maximum effort every moment he's on the baseball field.
Eaton is shaping up to be more than just a grinder for the Sox this year, though.
The problem with the "grinder" tag is that, usually, it connotes a player who is loved by the old school baseball crowd but shunned by the new school - statheads and sabermetricians. Speaking in broad terms, scrappiness doesn't win ball games; pure statistical output does. Grittiness doesn't factor into WAR and VORP. While the old school champions guys who have The Will To Win, the new school chortles.
With Eaton, you get both. Of course, it's an extremely young season, but Eaton has pretty good advanced stats (already a 0.6 WAR and an OPS-plus of 128), and he's shown he can get on base. He has an on-base percentage of .392, and he's walked as often as he strikes out. He likes to take pitches; he's been seeing just over four pitches per plate appearance. Since he has a team-high 74 plate appearances, those are all pretty important numbers for the Sox.
The Sox haven't had a impactful regular leadoff hitter in some time. Scott Podsednik had a nice year in 2005, but Ray Durham was the last reliable OBP machine in the No. 1 spot. Eaton figures to be a mainstay in that spot for the foreseeable future, and he's a change from the stop-gaps the team plugged in there over the last few years (Alejandro De Aza, Juan Pierre a past-prime Podsednik). This should lead to a more stable offense and more consistent production. Eaton's speed on the basepaths won't hurt, either.
While it's too early to accurately project Eaton's numbers for this season, with the small sample size and all, it is known that Eaton has exceptional plate discipline, that he likes to take pitches and that he finds ways to get on base. Even if that includes grinding out infield singles.