The White Sox have sputtered as a team over the past six weeks, but center fielder Adam Eaton has continued to establish himself as a major league player.
Judging by the attendance figures and a relative lack of media coverage, few in Chicago have noticed that Eaton has been one of the best players in the American League since the All-Star break.
In Tuesday's 7-5 Sox win in Kansas City, Eaton went 4 for 5 with a double, a triple, two runs scored and a brilliant diving catch on a sinking liner off the bat of Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer. The performance raised Eaton's season batting average to .303.
But, the thing that stands out most about Eaton is his improvement throughout the year. His first-half numbers weren't bad by any means, but he's taken it to a new level since mid-July. Check out these splits:
First half: .270/.340/.372
Second half: .365/.418/.462
His season splits now stand at .303/.367/.403. This is arguably the best performance we've seen from a Sox leadoff hitter in the past 10 years, and it's definitely the best production the Sox have gotten from a leadoff hitter since Scott Podsednik surprised everyone with a resurgent year in 2009.
If you look at the past decade, you'll see the Sox have had their problems in center field.
Here's the revolving door the organization has had at that position since Aaron Rowand was traded for Jim Thome after the 2005 season:
White Sox center fielders:
2006: Brian Anderson, Rob Mackowiak
2007: Darin Erstad, Jerry Owens
2008: Nick Swisher, Anderson, Ken Griffey Jr.
2009: Dewayne Wise, Anderson, Alex Rios
2012: Alejandro De Aza
2013: De Aza
That's 11 players in 10 years. Swisher and Rios were corner outfielders who were asked to play out of position. Erstad and Griffey Jr. were declining players at the end of their careers. De Aza and Mackowiak couldn't handle the position defensively, and were put in center field for the purpose of getting another left-handed bat in the lineup. Anderson, Owens and Wise stunk and didn't belong out there for any reason.
Eaton is none of those negative things. He has proven he can play the position, and he's proving he can hit major league pitching. Sox GM Rick Hahn can rest easier now knowing he has a 25-year-old player who looks like a long-term solution in center field.
If you look at Sox leadoff hitters from the past 10 years, you'll see that Eaton compares favorably:
2005: Podsednik .290/.351/.349
2006: Podsednik .261/.330/.353
2007: Owens .267/.324/.312
2008: Orlando Cabrera .281/.334/.371
2009: Podsednik .304/.353/.412
2010: Juan Pierre .275/.341/.316
2011: Pierre .279/.329/.327
2012: De Aza .281/.349/.410
2013: De Aza .264/.323/.405
2014: Eaton .303/.367/.403
Eaton's .303 average is second only to Podsednik in 2009. His .367 on-base percentage is easily the best in this group. The .403 slugging percentage ranks fourth on the list, and it's a heckuva lot better than anything the Sox ever got out of punch-and-judy Pierre.
Obviously, the free-agent acquisition of Jose Abreu last offseason was a game-changer for the Sox organization. They now have that middle-of-the-order presence to build a lineup around. But almost as importantly, they solved two major holes -- center field and leadoff hitter -- with the acquisition of one player.
Eaton has established himself as a big part of the White Sox core moving forward.