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eaton at his own game

lotta talk lately about adam eaton --- the more so after word got out that the cardinals met with eaton's agent. having looked more closely at his career stats, i'm less inclined to view him as a priority target. here's my chief complaint about him: his stats appear to be heavily ballpark-influenced. until 2006, he pitched his home games in two of the pitcher-friendliest ballparks in baseball --- qualcomm (nee jack murphy stadium) and the pads' current home, petco. both have park factors of about 91, meaning they depress offense by about 10 percent. (a 100 park factor is neutral; anything over 100 is a hitter's park.) because of that, eaton's seemingly decent era marks aren't very impressive; once you adjust for ballpark, eaton has beaten the league average in era only once in his career --- in 2000, his rookie season.

his career splits make plain the home-field advantage:

era ip h bb so bb/9 k/9 hr/9 2b/9
sd parks 4.15 423.1 420 128 358 2.7 7.6 1.1 2.1
all other 4.65 437 445 178 308 3.7 6.3 1.4 1.8

note the differential in bb/9 --- eaton pitches far less aggressively away from the generously proportioned san diego parks. note also that, away from sd, his hr rate increases in the same proportion as his doubles rate decreases. that might help explain why he's more of a nibbler away from san diego: a certain number of flyballs that go for doubles in san diego get out of the ballpark almost everywhere else. with less margin for error, eaton pitches more tentatively; the strikeouts go down, the walks go up, and the runs score more freely.

this doesn't mean he's a lost cause; he still has two things going for him, viz. a high strikeout rate (even away from san diego) and an ability to pitch down in the zone. under duncan, he just might blossom. but i'm less apt to view eaton as a bargain than i was up to now --- particularly in light of rosenthal's report that he might command a four-year contract. pecota doesn't think much of him, and his comparables are nothing special; there's a distinct chance he could go the way of brett tomko, another talented pitcher the cards grabbed at about the same career juncture as eaton. compare eaton's to date vs tomko's through 2002, when the cards acquired him:

w-l era ip h bb so bb/9 k/9 hr/9 age
eaton 54-45 4.40 861 865 306 666 3.2 7.0 1.2 29
(thru 2002)
49-42 4.46 840 825 286 596 3.1 6.4 1.3 29

tomko didn't take the next step; in the four years since then, he has gone 40-38 with a 4.63 era. if you're paying $5.5m a year for that production, you're not thrilled but you can live with it; if you're paying $8m a year, you're pissed off. the way the market is going, eaton's labor will likely cost about $8m a year for the next four years. he might succeed where tomko failed, put things together and have a string of good years; i'd let some other team take that chance.

also of note today: miklasz reports --- straight from dewitt --- that the cards' payroll will likely increase into the $100m range. that's welcome news, particularly in view of the steep prices for pitching. given the extra margin, i gotta ask: why don't the cards simply pick out the guy at the top of their board and go sign him? leave zito and schmidt out of the equation; bidding wars might erupt over those guys, because there is such a small pool of front-end pitchers available. but below them, you've got maybe 8 or 10 pitchers --- the group including padilla, meche, lilly, eaton, supps, weaver, wolf, woody williams --- who are of roughly equal value. if you put in a bold offer --- say, $5 or $6 million (over the life of the deal) beyond what other teams are discussing --- maybe the competing suitors drop out of the bidding and turn to their next option, hoping to get a better bargain. as the field narrows, the urgency mounts to sign somebody before the shelves are empty --- and that's when you can end up paying a lot for a player you don't really want. that's exactly how st louis wound up with that sh*tty braden looper contract last winter; he was the last proven reliever out there, and when the phillies bid him up jocketty had little choice but to counter. walter likes to wait out the market, but with 3 empty slots in the rotation he can't afford to bide time this year --- not unless he's content to sign the 3 pitchers at the bottom of everyone's list. he's got the cash; he should start throwing it around, at whatever pitcher he and his scouts like the most. they might overpay, but at least they'll overpay for a player they actually want.