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Adam Eaton and Chris Sale, new and improved

White Sox' best players are also among the best in the league early in 2016

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Adam Eaton had just about going everything for him over the first three weeks of the season. While his on-base game lagged a little behind last year's numbers, he kept the same margin over the rest of the slow-starting league, and the seamless transition from center to right shows us what his offensive contributions would've looked like without the facepalms from his defense.

The only thing he lacked was a little bit of pop. Then he hit his first homer in the Sox' 10-1 victory over Toronto on Tuesday, bringing up those slugging numbers.

It's a little too early for Wins Above Replacement to throw its weight around, but it's nevertheless fun to see FanGraphs interpreting Eaton's game in the most exciting way possible. He's tied for fourth in the AL with Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson at 1.2 WAR, which is no small feat considering Eaton's a right fielder, and everybody else plays a more demanding defensive position.

FanGraphs' formula celebrates the outfield shift. UZR didn't care for Eaton in center even when he was a Gold Glove finalist in 2014 (-3.8), so it wasn't a surprise when it hated Eaton's defense like everybody else in 2015 (-10.6).

Now? Eaton is leading all of baseball in fielding runs -- and again, it's adjusted for position.

  1. Eaton, 7.1
  2. Gregory Polanco, 5.6
  3. Brandon Crawford, 5.0
  4. Adrian Beltre, 4.9
  5. Andrelton Simmons, 4.8

I wouldn't expect him to be at (or maybe even near) the top of this leaderboard at the end of the season, as the formula favors up-the-middle players. Among right fielders, though -- why not? The only question about his defense in right was whether runners respected his arm, and he's answered those challenges, too:

If Eaton pairs this kind of defense with his usual highly valuable offensive game, he should continue to keep company in tiers previously thought unreachable.


Then there's Chris Sale, who became baseball's first five-game winner with his eight dominant innings against the Blue Jays, warranting headlines like this one from ESPN:

Sweetspot headline

And the headline doesn't overstate the actual conent, either. David Schoenfeld says he was skeptical that Sale's emphasis on efficiency would work, if only because hitters started figuring out his fastball last year. If he tried to reduce the amount of wipeout breaking stuff, wouldn't that only play up his worst pitch?

Apparently not, or at least not yet:

Considering this turnaround, Schoenfeld takes a cryptic Don Cooper quote from last season ("There were a few things going on with that that I'd rather not even talk about") and wonders whether it meant he was tipping his heat, since health and stamina concerns didn't seem to be present.

In any event, early in this season, two of the White Sox' best players have found new ways to bring even more to the table. There will be some leveling in store, whether it takes the form of pure luck/opportunities or revised scouting reports, but the game's best players usually find ways to make sure the league can't get around to ever truly figuring them out.

They also cover for roster deficiencies elsewhere. When Eaton's playing this well, it doesn't matter that Avisail Garcia can't crack the outfield rotation in attempt to take the focus off his bat. When Sale's pitching this well, fifth starter issues can be ironed out with auditions. That's why it's never wise to trade stars until you can't possibly imagine a winning team around them, because they can make teams look like winners without a whole lot of help.