The White Sox outfield needs Adam Eaton’s legs back

While some of us hoped the White Sox would super-solve right field with a Bryce Harper, Mookie Betts or George Springer, the emergence of Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert made a high-quality addition less pressing. Assuming Jiménez and Robert progressed in the direction as expected, the White Sox didn’t need excellence in right field, merely adequacy.

But with the White Sox and outside additions, you often have to adjust them down a grade. They usually only get adequacy when they’re seeking somebody above average (Todd Frazier, Melky Cabrera), and when they target adequacy, they end up with a guy who’s on his way out of the league.

Eaton was the latest in a series of such patches for right field, with Jon Jay and Nomar Mazara flopping before him. He was a free agent because the Nationals declined his last team option after a tenure of uneven performances and leg issues, neither of which the White Sox are uniquely qualified to solve.

Both of those characteristics have established themselves in his first month back. His first fortnight made Rick Hahn look brilliant, but the last two weeks have been a mess:

  • First 14 games: .265/.390/.469, 7 BB, 11 K over 59 PA
  • Since: .152/.188/.261, 1 BB, 16 K over 49 PA

I’m cutting the deck in the middle in order to capture bigger samples, but if you’re trying to detect a more precise reason for his slide, I’d point to the game on April 27 where he fell down three times. The following game was rained out, and he hasn’t had a hit since.

  • Before: .253/.337/.443, 7 BB, 16 K
  • After: 0-for-16, 1 HBP, 1 BB, 11 K

In the first few days of this slump, all relevant parties more or less brushed aside the knee-bucklings as a random episode. But he’s taken enough ugly swings, especially on breaking balls down and in, that La Russa finally had to bench him for rest purposes. And apparently he’s committed enough to resting Eaton that he didn’t surface as a possibility for pinch-hitting for Billy Hamilton in Wednesday’s debacle.

Here’s what La Russa said:

“He has body aches. He bruised his knee running into that wall,” La Russa said prior to Wednesday’s game. “His [hamstring] started getting tight, so it’s a good day for him to rest, and then he’ll rest tomorrow. We need to keep him fresh. He’s very important.”

That’s true. In fact, he’s probably too important, because the Sox don’t have much of a recourse if his struggles linger. One relies on Adam Engel to 1) heal up and 2) pick up where he left off, and the longer 1) takes, the harder it is to count on 2). It’s still worth holding out hope because the productive-in-a-platoon version of Engel would at least prevent Eaton from playing against lefties. Eaton is 1-for-15 against them in 2021 after going 4-for-39 against them last year. Both are small sample sizes, but he’s also made stance and swing changes in an attempt to combat the aging process, so I’m treating his same-sided slide as a trade-off.

The other solution is Brian Goodwin, whose minor-league signing was made official today. He’ll report to Charlotte initially as he gets up to speed. Assuming he can reclaim his prior form, he’d be a decent everyday option in right under the circumstances. He’s just not an impact guy, and if he has to take Eaton’s at-bats, then Goodwin isn’t addressing the original issue of too much Billy Hamilton and Leury García. In the very real situation where everybody mentioned in these last two paragraphs is unavailable or unappealing, then it’s up to the Charlotte outfield to present one playable option among Blake Rutherford, Luis González and Gavin Sheets. Sheets has started in right field in each of Charlotte’s first three games, so the Sox are keeping all options open.

There’s no good news here, but there is the idea that playing-time forecasts are going to be sobering in a lot of places. Ken Rosenthal wrote a story for The Athletic about the spiking rate of injuries, especially ones involving some of the body parts mentioned here.

Information provided to The Athletic from an independent firm that studies injury data (which asked not to be named because it is not authorized to discuss its research) shows placements on the injured list increased by 15 percent in a comparison from the first month of 2019, baseball’s last full season, to the first month of ’21 (both years include IL placements from spring training). The increase for pitchers was 22 percent, and the overall increase in soft-tissue injuries, including hamstring and oblique strains, was 97 percent.

The White Sox have contributed to the count plenty, but other outfields have been disrupted. If you were longing for Springer, he’s only played in four games for Toronto, bookended by an oblique injury in the spring and a quad problem now. If you think the White Sox are the only team mourning the loss of a promising young talent, the Twins had to put Alex Kiriloff on the injured list with a recurring wrist injury. And if you’re irritated about the Sox losing multiple key outfielders, Byron Buxton left Thursday’s game with a hip strain, although he’s only day-to-day at the moment.

There’s a chance the 2021 season could be a war of attrition for everybody, so nobody should be throwing in the towel, but this is one area where it doesn’t pay to be proactive. In a perfect world, Hahn would have filled out a punch card and gotten a free sub by now, but cutting into this muscle doesn’t remove the possibility of straining it.

(Photo by Matt Marton / USA TODAY Sports)

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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When/if Engel and Goodwin are ready to contribute at the major league level, I would like to see the Sox go to platoon in both center and right, with Eaton/Goodwin against righties and Leury/Engel against lefties. That would leave two bench places open for Collins and Mendick, with Hamilton and Lamb gone. Then I’d like to see a lineup of
That is still an above average lineup, if Abreu and Grandal come out of their slumps.


Alejandro Kirk will miss a month with a less-serious hip flexor injury. I bring this up because he and Luis Robert have about as distinct a set of body types as exist in MLB, yet both suffered versions of the same injury.

Mentioning this has probably cursed Eaton to suffer a hip flexor injury on top of his existing maladies, and for that I am deeply sorry.


I mean at this point, it’s basically a guarantee that Eaton needs to hit the IL right? So then what? The entire outfield (including bench OF) gets wiped out in one month. That is rough.

Starting outfield of Vaughn, Cease, and Rutherford.


Luis Robert update is about as good as could be hoped for given what we know. This indicates that the attachment to the bone was not compromised.

As Cirensica

NOw, I wonder why this happened the first time and whether or not it can happen again to Robert, and how can the White Sox manage it to avoid recurrence.


Yeah, this is good. I thought the fact that it was grade 3 meant it was fully torn. Apparently it can also mean that it was partially torn in multiple places. This makes me more optimistic about his long-term prospects.

Last edited 1 year ago by Foulkelore

From what I heard, surgery vs. no surgery doesn’t have to do with the severity, but rather what was torn. All level 3 hip flexor strains are a full tear of the muscle, but if the tendon is torn off the bone, or if it’s torn with a piece of the bone, then surgery may be required. But if it’s just the muscle tear, it will heal on its own with rest. And surgery (attach tendon) or no surgery (wait for blood flow to heal muscle) have the same timeline.

I could have a totally incorrect understanding, this is just what I heard on an interview.


Ah, makes sense, thanks.


Watching Eaton fall down repeatedly reminds me of walks with my grandpa near the end, although he had TLR’s slow, ambling gait at the time.

Joliet Orange Sox

My dad near the end also had a slow, ambling gait like TLR but at least my dad was mentally all there.

Right Size Wrong Shape

It makes me think of Mick Ferguson.


It looks like Buxton will miss both series with the Sox. And with Barrios and Maeda starting Saturday/Sunday, the Sox will also miss their top 2 starters in next week’s series.


Is the thinking that not playing a regular season in ’20 is making players more injury prone this season? I would have expected that to be a factor later in the season, not necessarily this early


Also, we’d need the minus button back.


Goodwin in the lineup for Charlotte tonight