So When Do We Get to Be Worried About Andre Ethier?

Photo via brendan-c on Flickr. Ethier made contact, so probably wasn’t against a lefty.

In 2010, Andre Ethier had a monster first half for the Dodgers, hitting .324/.379/.553 (.932) before the All-Star break. He tailed off badly in the second half, hitting only .256/.348/.426 (.773) as it became clear that he’d rushed back far too quickly from a broken finger.

In 2011, Ethier once again got off to a good start, hitting .311/.383/.463 (.846) in the first half. As the rest of the team got hot down the stretch, he was dreadful, putting up a .252/.339/.333 (.672) which was later blamed on the fact he was playing on an injured knee that eventually cut his year short and required surgery.

In 2012, Ethier was expected to have a big season. Presumably healthy & motivated headed into his contract year, he once again started off well, hitting .291/.357/.491 (.848) in the first half. Yet once again, he’s been underwhelming in the second half, at only .252/.331/.341 (.672) since the All-Star Game, and we’re left to wonder: what’s going on?

The obvious answer is that it’s yet another injury, but I’m not sure it’s that simple. Yes, he strained his oblique in San Francisco at the end of June and landed on the disabled list, and as his return coincided with the start of the second half it is technically accurate to say that “he’s been awful since he was injured.” The thing is, that oblique strain hardly interrupted a hot streak; over his previous 30 games before that, he’d been only at .241/.317/.352 (.669). (I’m sure someone will suggest that the entire Dodger offense in June was wretched and that Ethier suffered from a lack of protection since he was mainly surrounded by Triple-A fill-ins and Juan Rivera. Before we go down that path, go take a look at what Matt Kemp did last year without “protection”, or how much Ryan Braun has suffered this year without Prince Fielder. It’s not a reason.)

What else happened this year? Ethier, of course, signed a 5/$85m extension (or 6/$100m, depending on how you view it) back on June 12, but that doesn’t coincide with any downturn; as you can see in this Dodgers.com piece from shortly after, he was slumping before the deal and picked it up somewhat after. Nor was it always like this, with Ethier one of “those guys” who always wears out by the end of the year. In 2009, his second half OPS was 123 points higher than in the first; in 2008, it was 191; in 2007, 43.

All of this has led to a .337 wOBA, his lowest since 2007, and good only for 31st among outfielders with at least 400 plate appearances. (Just ahead of Norichika Aoki & David DeJesus!) That’s still good for either third or fifth on the Dodgers, depending on where you’d like to put playing time cutoffs that may or may not exclude Hanley Ramirez & Luis Cruz (!), but it’s also not exactly what you’d want from a guy you just invested nearly nine figures into. Sure, I’ll grant that for the first time his defensive play in right field seems to be catching up to the mostly undeserved acclaim it’s already received, but you aren’t paying him to play defense. You’re paying him to hit, and it’s not happening. Why?

Well, a quick superficial look at his peripherals reveals that he’s striking out more (20.3%) than he’s ever had and walking less (8.2%) than since his rookie season of 2006. You can make a lot of assumptions about that. He’s pressing to live up to the weight of his contract! He’s been forced to carry the offense on his back with all the injuries! That’s what’s so fun – and also dangerous – about statistics, that you can use them to create any narrative you like. He’s lost without his food blog! He’s not the same player without Garret Anderson & Mark Sweeney to guide him!

While the poor K/BB trend isn’t good, I don’t think he’s suddenly lost all patience and ability to make contact. It seems to me that it’s more of a symptom than a cause, and that the real root of the trouble is simply this: other managers aren’t blind.

Year
Total PA
vLH
vRH
LH%
2007
507
119
388
23.5
2008
596
155
441
26.0
2009
685
187
498
27.2
2010
585
178
407
30.4
2011
551
151
400
27.4
2012
417
180
238
43.0

Here’s what I mean by that. Check out the percentage of lefty pitching that Ethier has faced over the last six years, shown in the table at right. For years, Ethier routinely faced lefties 25-30% of the time. This year it’s well over 40%, and as I hardly need to tell you, Ethier is absolutely awful against lefty pitching. Well, I don’t need to tell you, but I will – in over 1,000 career plate appearances against southpaws, Ethier hits only .238/.298/.351 (.650); this year, it’s even worse .216/.281/.315 (.596). Despite his briefly effective first few weeks against lefties this year, Ethier’s back to his typical awful performance against them, and other managers are taking advantage of that fact. If there’s any mystery here, it’s why it took them so long to do this since Ethier’s never really been able to hit them.

Yet either because Don Mattingly is unwilling to offend a star or he simply has no one on the active roster to turn to (and while I know Mattingly-bashing is a fun sport, I’m more inclined to believe the latter, because the bench is short and does anyone really like Rivera that much?) Ethier continues to hit against lefties. It shouldn’t be expected to work, and it doesn’t – it’s a situation that cries out desperately for a platoon partner, a hole I’ve been attempting to fill here for years in my various yearly plans, and all you need to do is look at first base with James Loney & Rivera to see that Mattingly isn’t strictly against the idea.

The problem with that platoon is that both Rivera & Loney are awful against all pitching, yet it can be very productive with the right pieces. For example, look at Seattle catcher John Jaso, having what appears to be an excellent season with a line of .287/.403/.493. That’s a good line from anyone, but it’s especially impressive from a catcher on a bad team in a pitcher’s park. Yet of his 256 plate appearances only 30 have come against fellow lefties. Because Jaso simply cannot hit lefties, the Mariners don’t allow him to try. This shouldn’t be a revolutionary idea, but in some circles it seems that it still is.

So it’s a simple equation. It’s not necessarily that Ethier is suddenly terrible, because he’s still bashing righty pitching to the tune of .319/.391/.524 (.916). It’s that he’s continually being put in a position where he’s very unlikely to succeed, and he rarely does. (You’ll notice I haven’t spent much time on the fact that a huge contract was given to what is essentially a platoon player, but we talked about that at length when the deal was signed; everyone, myself included, thought that it was more than he was worth, but considering the lack of alternatives, badly needed PR value, an offense that was already poor, and the deep pockets of new ownership, it was a defensible contract.)

So what can be done? You can’t simply keep tossing him out there against lefties and hope he suddenly learns, because at 30 years of age and more than 1,000 plate appearances into his career against them, it’s not going to suddenly just ‘click’. You need someone else out there when a southpaw is up, and while that may a role more easily filled in the offseason, it suddenly occurs to me that perhaps we’ve been wrong about our daily calls for Jerry Sands to come rescue first base; perhaps, against lefty pitching, he’s needed more in right field.

But whether it’s Sands or someone else, Ethier against lefties just isn’t working. It’s not going to work, and it’s potentially an easy enough solution with Sands a phone call away. It just means that he and the team must accept that despite his contract, taking a seat against most lefty pitching makes the Dodgers more likely to win.

180 comments
nsxtasy
nsxtasy

Mike, your table shows that Ethier has 180 plate appearances against lefties, and 238 plate appearances against righties.  Those figures are not correct, according to baseball-reference.  Through Wednesday, they show him with 181 against lefties and 286 against righties.  That means he's facing lefties 38.8 percent of the time, not 43.0 percent of the time.

Disgruntled Goat
Disgruntled Goat moderator

in theory there's a new post out there.. who's gonna go look?

CaseyBlakeDeWitt
CaseyBlakeDeWitt

How do you east coasters survive like this? You have to wait sooooo long for the game

Gilbert_Vengeance
Gilbert_Vengeance

Kemp was interviewed by TJ Simmers from the Times:

 

"Same old, same old," says Kemp when arriving, smiling and looking nothing like a guy who went 0 for Atlanta and then hitless again Monday against the Giants."Sure, I'm frustrated, but that's why we have guys likeHanley Ramirez here to pick me up when I'm not doing well. I want to help the team win and I'm trying, but I'm going through a tough stretch right now."The mention of Ramirez is significant, because Ramirez and Kemp have bonded, and it's always a good sign when the team's two best hitters are rooting for each other.

 

The folks on Twitter, though, are something else, says Kemp. "I read my Twitter right now and it's, 'Oh, you're pathetic,' and this and that. Dang, I hear you."It's actually funny. I know the fans want to see me do good, and I am going to do good."But doesn't the criticism sting?" They don't get to me," he says. "The only thing that really gets to me is losing, especially when I feel I'm responsible for it."

DBrim
DBrim moderator

Eric Stephen ‏@truebluela

Don Mattingly meeting with Rick Honeycutt now. Could be shuffling of pitching rotation, which would likely mean Chad Billinsgley Friday

 

Skipping Harang? Okay.

 

Dang88
Dang88

A Gonz on waivers just saying just saying

MSTIer: Jake
MSTIer: Jake

Alright Im going to this game tonight and for what its worth Im 4-1 this season. Also Kemp has hit a homerun in 3 of those games, so I expect one here tonight.

 

As for ethier, I understand letting him play against lefties,"casual fans" (suck it VODF) want to see their favorite player, Captain Clutch play and they for the most part dont take into account what hand the starting pitcher throws with. I still dont like him batting 5th against lefties, but of course there isnt really an alternative. All this being said, if we did get a platoon, maybe bring back Reed Johnson? Just some thoughts. 

Tony Fernandez (MSTY Most Informative Poster)
Tony Fernandez (MSTY Most Informative Poster)

About Shane Victorino: I guess I'll be the one to say it. He's actually not that bad.

 

He's still accumulating 2.4 WAR even with underwhelming offensive numbers and defensive numbers. His defense should be better (meaning the value he gets for it) and his offense should be much better. He has a .276 BABIP despite the fact that his LD% is above last year and his IFFB% is about career average. His HR/FB rate is down, which also has a lot to do with sample size.

 

Either way, using ZiPS you have a .344 wOBA true talent player with above average defense and baserunning skills. You can only pay for talent, you can't pay enough to get the dice to roll your way.

 

Now, bring on the grief!

nsxtasy
nsxtasy

I'm guessing you transposed digits when creating your table, turning his actual 283 appearances against righties into the erroneous 238 appearances, then calculating your percentage based on the erroneous number.

 

Incidentally, plate appearances for all MLB batters this year break down as 70.0 percent vs righties, 30.0 percent vs lefties.  That compares with 73.4 and 26.6 percent last year.  So part of the increase in PA's vs lefties for Andre is simply a reflection of an increase for all MLB batters.  There's more lefty pitching this year for everyone.

KirkDavenport
KirkDavenport

 @WestonTaylor TFed and Juan Rodriguez can go back to Boston as well as one top 5 pitcher (ZLee, Webster or Reed) one top 10 pitcher (Withrow or Gould), outfielders James Baldwin and Blake Smith and picking up all or most of A Gon's salary would be fair I think - any number of lower pitchers could be added (Jose Dominguez, Jarrett martin etc.)

Tony Fernandez (MSTY Most Informative Poster)
Tony Fernandez (MSTY Most Informative Poster)

 @WestonTaylor ZiPS (update) projects him as a .356 wOBA 4.4 WAR player. Ignoring salary and prospects, it's a great deal. But how much do you give up for a guy who will be about 37 when his contract expires? Tough call without knowing what the Sox want.

DBrim
DBrim moderator

 @WestonTaylor Lee Webster Joc at the absolute minimum.

 

He's not getting traded.

DBrim
DBrim moderator

 @LazerShow It sucks. Last night I fell asleep before the game even started.

Gilbert_Vengeance
Gilbert_Vengeance

so thats where Matt Kemp got his walk-off trot coming home from third base....

Disgruntled Goat
Disgruntled Goat moderator

 @DBrim  @truebluela shit, this could screw me. by the current rotation, i'll see Capuano when i go there next week. i don't want harang! too ugly! 

Frank J Lapidus
Frank J Lapidus

@JohnM We have Josh Wall, Ames, and Paco...any of these guys could be and probably is better than League. Did Ned hate Landry that much? Bleh

DBrim
DBrim moderator

 @JakeHorvitz My parents are going to be there for the first time since 2009.  Hopefully the Dodgers will win one for them.

KirkDavenport
KirkDavenport

 @phattonez7 I fully supported the trade for Victorino as it was going to be one of the few chances to upgrade the outfield at a reasonable cost. I have not one iota of resentment for any past exuberant play he did against the Dodgers. I like him and his style of play.

I see him however as a decent short term rental and  am not for giving him a free agent contract past this year. There are other options that give the Dodgers a better chance to win. Victorino has not had a great year (not terrible - more mediocre) - his 1.3 WAR with Philadelphia got a big boost for being a centerfielder. He does not get that boost for playing LF. He has a 0.1 oWAR boosted by his defense to a 0.4 WAR as a Dodger.

He is about to turn 32. He has seen a drop off in his performance already. His value is in defense and leading off.  If he is not playing CF and his OBP numbers do not come up, his value is diminished for the Dodgers. The Dodgers do not have to look at him as a bargain lead off hitter when they can be much more successful by paying a big price for someone like Michael Bourn who will cost more, but is a better defender, better lead off hitter and base runner and still on the upside of his career - .353 OBP, 5.2 WAR, lead league in stolen bases all 4 years as a starter. Beyond that, there are internal options (Sands, SVS, Castellanos and eventually Puig or Pederson or Silverio) or external (Hamilton) who may not be lead off guys, but would provide power needed from LF

Weston Taylor
Weston Taylor

 @phattonez7 I mean, would trading Dee and another prospect for this guy be criminal? I understand that Dee has the potential to steal 100 bases and be a really good SS for years to come, but Gonzalez is pretty stellar. 

CaseyBlakeDeWitt
CaseyBlakeDeWitt

 @JohnM You stay up until 1 every night watching? I guess I don't have any idea what you do for a living so that might not be so tough..

CaseyBlakeDeWitt
CaseyBlakeDeWitt

 @DBrim I couldn't even get it on TV. How am I supposed to watch my Dodgers in college?

DBrim
DBrim moderator

 @el serracho They might be moving him back for another match-up.

Dang88
Dang88

@DBrim Hence the just saying just saying

tieronecap
tieronecap

 @JohnM For a leadoff hitter, he needs to see more pitches. To quote arnold "he lacks discipline."

DBrim
DBrim moderator

 @JohnM  @LazerShow Yeah, I can only watch the first ~6 innings because of work. When I was in school I usually stayed up.

CaseyBlakeDeWitt
CaseyBlakeDeWitt

 @DBrim Thinking I might have to. Would it be worth it though if my internet connection isn't great?

DBrim
DBrim moderator

 @LazerShow Pony up for mlb.tv.  Expensive, but worth it.

Disgruntled Goat
Disgruntled Goat moderator

 @DBrim too bad he's not meeting with ned about a waiver claim or call-up instead. sigh. 

Disgruntled Goat
Disgruntled Goat moderator

 @JohnM  @phattonez7 i have mostly kept my yap shut about him since his arrival. he is, statistically, an improvement over what we had. i do not want him back next year.