Friday, December 11, 2015

Jason Heyward vs. Adam Eaton

Outfielder Jason Heyward just signed an eight-year, $184 million contract with the Chicago Cubs and not even five minutes later I saw the first tweet comparing him to White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton.  And while Eaton is a very good player and I am not trying to offend him, they do not have the same kind of value, Heyward is significantly better.

I have seen people mostly use HRs, runs scored, RBIs and batting average to compare the two players.  First off only half of those statistics have any value when comparing player value so we can immediately knock off runs scored and RBIs because they evaluate a team not a player.

Jason Heyward
HRs: 13
BA: .293
OBP: .359
SLG: .439
wOBA: .346
wRC+: 121

Adam Eaton
HRs: 14
BA: .287
OBP: .361
SLG: .431
wOBA: .346
wRC+: 118

As you can see the people using these statistics are right when they were say the two were very similar at the plate in 2015 but these statistics do not tell the whole story.  Heyward walked 9.2% of the time in 2015, while Eaton walked 8.4% of the time, once again very similar.  Heyward stole 23 bags in 2015, Eaton stole 18, again close, but the comparison basically ends there.

Heyward struck out 14.8% of the time in 2015, while Eaton struck out 19.0%, not very close.  While Heyward has decreased his strikeout rate every year since 2012, when he posted a career high 23.3%, Eaton has increased his strikeout rate from 14.6% to the current 19.0% over the same time period.  This difference in strikeout rate begins with the percentage of pitches they swing at outside and inside of the strike zone which is where Heyward was better.

Jason Heyward
O-Swing %: 25.7%
Z-Swing %: 63.1%
Swing %: 41.7%
Contact %: 84.2%

Adam Eaton
O-Swing %: 29.2%
Z-Swing %: 60.4%
Swing %: 44.0%
Contact %:  83.8%

As you can see Heyward had better plate discipline in 2015 which resulted in a better overall contact rate and while a difference of only 0.4% may not seem like much it helped Heyward finish the season with a strikeout rate 4.2% better than Eaton and a swinging strike rate 0.5% better, despite Eaton seeing 4.6% more of his pitches inside the zone.

Then there is defense which is where Heyward truly shines.   Heyward is one of the best defensive outfielders in the league.  He finishing the season 38 defensive runs saved better than Eaton (Heyward: +24, Eaton: -14), even if he finished 18 defensive runs saved behind Kevin Kiermaier.  Heyward is the much better defensive player in all aspects and it is not even close.

Jason Heyward
DRS: +24 (3)
Arm: 5.2 (9)
Range: 16.2 (2)
UZR: 22.6 (2)

Adam Eaton
DRS: -14 (57)
Arm: -2.8 (48)
Range: -6.8 (52)
UZR: -10.2 (56)

Jason Heyward ranks in the top 10 for every single one of these categories among qualifying outfielders (rankings in parenthesis above) while among the 60 qualifying outfielders, Eaton ranks near the bottom.  This significant defensive difference resulted in Heyward posting an fWAR of 6.0 in the 2015 season which ranked 11th among all position players and 6th among all qualifying outfielders, while Eaton finished with an fWAR of 3.6 which ranked 47th among all position players and 20th among qualifying outfielders.

In the environment of baseball today defensive is more important than ever and teams are valuing it that way.  And while Jason Heyward and Adam Eaton had similar offensive numbers in 2015, Heyward is a true five-tool player and one of the absolute best defensive players in the league and is being paid as such.

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