Washington Nationals: Injuries to Adam Eaton have sapped his power

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 06: Adam Eaton #2 of the Washington Nationals at bat against the Miami Marlins during the sixth inning at Nationals Park on July 06, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 06: Adam Eaton #2 of the Washington Nationals at bat against the Miami Marlins during the sixth inning at Nationals Park on July 06, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

Washington Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton is hitting for average, but his series of recent leg injuries have made him a liability everywhere else.

When the Washington Nationals shipped three of their top pitching prospects to the Chicago White Sox for Adam Eaton, they knew exactly what they were getting in return. He was a multi-positional outfielder who hit for average with decent pop, good speed, and durability.

Of course, Eaton’s durability staple went right out the window less than a month into his D.C. tenure. He missed most of the 2017 campaign following a gruesome ACL tear, meniscus tear, and high ankle sprain to his left leg in April

Eaton returned to the Nationals lineup to start 2018 but soon returned to the DL to repair a small cartilage tear in the initially injured ankle.

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Eaton made it back to the field in June, and has hit .316 since. Still, while the average has held strong, the injuries have devastated the rest of Eaton’s game, especially his power stroke.

Eaton was never a big bopper, even at his peak, but he had enough power to make opposing pitchers pay if they missed their spots.

From 2015 through April 2017, Eaton racked up 113 extra-base hits, and 30 percent of his hits carried for extra bases. This season, those numbers are down to just nine and 19 percent, respectively.

Dig a little deeper, and the outlook looks even worse. Eaton has four extra-base knocks in the 34 games since returning from the DL in June. Only 11 percent of his hits have resulted in extra bases.

His hitting profile is not the problem. Eaton’s fly ball rate has held steady, while his line drive rates and hard hit percentages are actually higher than in his pre-injury days. He simply does not have the same burst off his back leg to drive balls with authority anymore.

Take a look at this Eaton home run from July 2015 with the White Sox:

Now look at a line drive single to right field from this month, starting at the 29-second mark:

The difference is very slight, but in the 2015 video, Eaton shifts his weight back into his left leg before the pitch, and then drives through the ball with his entire body.

In the 2018 clip though, Eaton rolls his hands back prior to the pitch, but does not put as much weight on his surgically repaired leg.

He still hits the ball hard, but there is no chance he would ever be able to drive the ball, much less hit a home run, with that swing. He is merely a singles hitter at this point.

To be clear, the Nationals’ issues are not Eaton’s fault. His power outage is way down the list of the Nats’ problems.

But it is still something that will have to be addressed going forward. Unless Eaton recovers this offseason – which is entirely possible another year removed from major surgery – the Nationals will be stuck with a limited corner outfielder with no power and reduced speed.

If the Nationals are unable to re-sign Bryce Harper this winter, GM Mike Rizzo will have a 30-year-old gimpy Eaton, a feast-or-famine Michael Taylor, a 20-year-old Juan Soto, and a 21-year-old Victor Robles manning the outfield. There is legitimate talent in that group, but also real bust potential.

As we’ve seen this season, the Nationals need to plan for every scenario as the competition in the NL East continues to rise. They should not give up on Eaton, but the team just has to plan as if he will never make it back to his pre-injury status.

Next. Nats should not trade Harper. dark

Adam Eaton the name might carry more weight than Adam Eaton the player these days, and if that’s the case, the Nationals need to have other moves in their back pocket. That way, a healthy, productive Eaton is a pleasant surprise rather than a requirement for the Washington Nationals success.