At FanGraphs last week, Jeff Sullivan noticed that Adam Eaton was approaching double digits in home runs after managing just one measly dinger last season (and he since hit his 10th). The difference was clear from his ground-ball rate, as he separated himself from the slap-oriented leadoff men by showing the ability to get some lift on right-handed pitching, even if Sullivan didn't know how or why:
A lot of groundballs in there. A lot of groundballs, and Adam Eaton. If you take Eaton out of it, the average of the 2014 column is 58%, and the average of the 2015 column is 55%. Just what you’d expect. Eaton, though, has turned himself upside-down. In a way that doesn’t seem explicable by randomness, Adam Eaton is hitting baseballs in the air. He’s never done this before to this extent. I haven’t come across a good explanation, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Eaton might just be maturing, and realizing he has more strength than he’s been given credit for.
His colleague at FanGraphs found one answer. In his Sunday notes column, David Laurila talked to Eaton about the newfound power, and Eaton said it stemmed partially from a difference in philosophies between the Diamondbacks and White Sox:
Eaton homered just once last year – his first season in Chicago – so there’s more to the power surge than freedom and philosophy. There’s also growth and oppositional approach.
"Pitchers are throwing me in a lot more, and I’m learning and evolving as a hitter," said Eaton. "I’m also getting stronger again. In college, I was benching, squatting, doing Olympic lifts. Arizona has a different philosophy of weight lifting and I lost a lot of mass. Over here, I’ve continued to build muscle. That has something to do with the home runs I’m hitting now. At the same time, a lot of it is just getting the barrel to the ball."
If Eaton is cultivating mass, I wonder if that might be the reason why his defense has taken a step backward. You know, maybe his new body for hitting might not be the easiest to maneuver in the outfield. Either that, or last year's performance was the aberration. Thanks to the contract extension, we have a few more years to find out.
Carlos Rodon took the loss against the Angels on Monday, but it was a win for his overall development, as he showed he could be more of a game-manager without his most devastating breaking ball:
"Last time I felt a little more electric," Rodon said. "This time more control of the zone. Getting it over early and letting guys swing."
Indeed, Rodon needed only 30 pitches to get through his first three innings, putting him on course for the longest outing of his career (eight innings), which requiring just his sixth-highest pitch count (104). This was the kind of outing he couldn't piece together against the Rays two starts earlier, when Robin Ventura yanked him after 4⅔ innings. Rodon chafed a little at the early hook, but he hadn't discovered his best slider 81 pitches in, and was left to try to bludgeon his way toward outs.
This time, Ventura had only compliments for Rodon's to-the-point approach, and Tyler Flowers said he was able to lean more on the changeup in the absence of a sharp slider over the first half of the game.
"He continues to show progress each and every time out," said White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers, who was credited by Rodon for calling a great game. "Today we were able to throw even more changeups in there, locating fastballs to both sides of the plate. That's big for him. It opens up the slider-changeup mix later in the count."
Granted, one of those 14 changeups ended up over the wall in right field for the go-ahead homer, but at this point in his career, solo shots are tolerable, because it means his control and command are otherwise effective enough to keep the bases clear (picking off Mike Trout helped there).
The only question about Rodon's performance is velocity, in that he didn't flash the huge fastball or the 93-mph slider like he did against the Angels the start before. He was only down a tick or two, so there's no need for FUD -- it's just a reminder that he's one out away from 100 MLB innings, and we're still learning about how he might show fatigue.
In this case, though, I'm guessing he was never cornered, so he never had to flip the switch for auxiliary power. A few more starts like that, and he'll have no problem reaching the 150-160 inning mark, which was the general idea of his workload entering the season.