Only 70 of the 703 triple plays turned in major league history began in the outfield. The one the White Sox completed Friday night is one of those, and wouldn’t have happened without some crisp defense from right fielder Adam Eaton.
Eaton’s play wasn’t flashy, which is hardly a criticism of it. He got a good read and jump on Mitch Moreland’s screaming line drive and was able to snag it in a full sprint, then slammed on the brakes and got the ball back into the infield, where Jose Abreu was waiting to begin a chaotic sequence that ended with the first 9-3-2-6-2-5 triple play in major league history.
Triple play theatrics aside, Eaton’s play in right field has been excellent this season. Friday night’s wild highlight-reel play was just another example of it.
“Any time you’re playing defense at the clip he is, it gives you a boost,” manager Robin Ventura said.
Eaton entered Saturday with the highest Defensive Runs Saved (+7) of any outfielder in baseball and has the third-highest Ultimate Zone Rating (+3.4). A year ago, as a center fielder, both DRS and UZR rated Eaton as baseball’s fifth-worst outfielder (-14 DRS, -10.2 UZR).
Whether or not you completely trust those numbers, they’re the best statistical baseline available for fielding evaluations. And while Eaton rates well in both categories now, it’s only April 23, so it comes with the caveat of a small sample size.
But Eaton passes the eye test in right field, too. He’s getting good jumps on balls and doing everything fundamentally right, all while looking comfortable in his new defensive perch.
“I think it’s been utilized better there,” Ventura said. “He just seems like he gets a better angle at things and comes up throwing and has better aim with it too.”
It’s worth noting that Eaton’s transition to right field had to happen quickly, given an offseason shoulder procedure limited him to designated hitter duties until about halfway through spring training.
Eaton’s success is one of the key reasons why the White Sox defense as a whole has, so far, done a complete turnaround from 2015. One of baseball’s worst defenses is now among baseball’s best, providing a major boost to a pitching staff that entered Saturday with an American League-best 2.34 ERA.
While the White Sox were leading by five runs at the time of Friday’s triple play, Texas was threatening to break things open against Quintana in the top of the seventh. The bases were loaded, and Moreland’s line drive rocketed off his bat.
But Eaton was there, as he has been most of this season. And what resulted was one of the more memorable plays in recent White Sox memory.
“It took me back to my childhood days where we would dream of having a triple play in the backyard,” Eaton said. “So it was a lot of fun.”