2013 in brief: Turned a disappointing start into a surprisingly important role in center field.
2014 status: Under contract for $15.5m, but who’s ready for another winter of trade rumors?
Seven years of reviewing Andre Ethier. Seven years of reviewing Andre Ethier. Seven years of reviewing Andre Ethier. Seven years of revie—
Sorry about that. Hey, another year of trying to figure out if we love or hate Andre Ethier! It never seems to be simple with him, does it? After another winter of trade rumors — and I do believe he was closer to getting sent to Seattle than anyone realizes — we kicked off Ethier in 2013 by touching on the fact that he can’t hit lefties for approximately the one millionth time, all the while hoping that he’d make his new 5/$85m extension look at least reasonable.
Unfortunately, that didn’t get off to a great start. Playing right field every day in the pre-Yasiel Puig era, Ethier hit only .244/.333/.400 in April, then .250/.347/.357 in May… when he wasn’t being benched by Don Mattingly, who said “he wanted to field a team that would compete the best.” Yikes.
Over the last 365 days since signing that deal, Ethier is hitting .263/.340/.401 with 15 homers in 603 plate appearances, giving him only a .322 wOBA. Unlike Matt Kemp, who also has had a pretty lousy calendar year, Ethier doesn’t have a particularly serious injury to point to as a reason. He’s just been, well… mediocre.
(snip) We don’t have the usual Ethier though, do we? While there’s some amount of bad batted ball luck at play, since his peripherals aren’t all that far off his career norms, the last few years really do look like the work of a man who has seen his peak and is on the other side of it as he enters his 30s. Throw in his questionable defense, total inability to hit lefty pitching, reports that he’s not exactly the most popular guy in the clubhouse, and the Mattingly benching, and you’re left with someone who isn’t exactly at the peak of his trade value.
With Puig excelling and the season spiraling, the drumbeats grew to trade Ethier when Kemp & Carl Crawford got healthy. On July 1, I refuted that, saying that his low value wouldn’t make for a great trade, and since no one could stay healthy, it’s not like there wouldn’t be playing time. That ended up being more true than we ever could have thought, but it didn’t help that Ethier still wasn’t hitting. In June, his line was .261/.313/.359; by the All-Star Break, he’d hit only five homers.
But then a funny thing happened… Ethier started being useful. He kicked off the second half with a ninth-inning tiebreaking dinger off of Rafael Soriano, then went crazy bananas in a three-game sweep of Toronto, reaching base nine times including six extra-base hits. (And, lest you’ve forgotten, that ball to Colby Rasmus that illustrated everything about the magic that was the fiery-hot July Dodgers.) On July 31 against the Yankees, he scored the winning run after inexplicably stealing second base in the ninth.
Ethier hit .312/.389/.462 in July, and that wasn’t even the best part. Pushed into service in center, we were merely hoping he wouldn’t be “cover-your-eyes” bad out there. And I won’t say he was good, because he wasn’t. But in 645.1 innings, he was at -3 Defensive Runs Saved, and -4.7 UZR/150. The usual “small defensive sample size caveats” do apply, but those numbers put him at “slightly below average,” and that agrees with my personal perception. For most, “slightly below average” is a bummer. For Ethier in center field, that’s a huge achievement. If he wasn’t able to handle it, the options were… well, we’ll get to that, won’t we?
If he was good in July, he was even better in August: .318/.426/.506, and while we were cognizant that it was likely a hot streak that couldn’t go on indefinitely, it was good to even see that kind of life left in him. As he continued playing well in the first two weeks of September – .216/.341/.514, and no, batting average is not the important number there — we started to fantasize about what a hot Ethier, a healthy Kemp & Crawford, and an explosive Puig could do in the playoffs.
But… oh, of course. Of course it was Coors Field. Of. Course.
Apparently, the power of Coors Field knows no bounds, because it can still take down Dodger outfielders long after they’ve left the state. After Andre Ethier left last night’s loss to the Giants with a sore ankle after hitting a double in the eighth, we learned how he’d originally injured it:
“Ethier said he believes he twisted the ankle swinging at an inside pitch in Colorado, apparently on Sept. 3, as he was out of the lineup Sept. 4 against left-hander Jorge De La Rosa but had one at-bat after being inserted into the game in the seventh inning.
He started the next five games, sat out Wednesday night’s game against Arizona when the ankle tightened and returned to the lineup Thursday night.”
Of course he did. From hell’s heart, Coors Field stabs at thee. Lord, I hate that place. The Dodgers don’t make their first trip there in 2014 until June… let’s see if we can avoid any Colorado-related injuries before then, okay?
That was on September 13, and other than a test pinch-hitting appearance in San Diego on September 22, that was the last we’d see of Ethier in the regular season, giving rise to the unholy possibility of Skip Schumaker needing to be the starting center fielder in the playoffs.
That’s exactly what happened. Ethier made the NLDS as a bench option, going hitless with a walk in four plate appearances as a pinch-hitter. In the NLCS, he tried to make it work, playing 13 innings in Game 1, pinch-hitting in Game 2, then starting Games 3-6, but he was clearly not right; in 22 plate appearances, he had two walks, three singles, and seven whiffs. We’ll always remember Joe Kelly taking out Hanley Ramirez‘ ribs, but a healthy Ethier might have made that series look very different.
So when attempting to grade Ethier’s 2013, it’s not really easy. My expectations weren’t all that high, and a career-worst .423 SLG certainly didn’t help, especially with that awful .317 wOBA in the first half. In the second, however, he was so, so good (.381 wOBA) before getting hurt, and as noted, the fact that he was a capable center field option proved just endlessly important.
None of this, of course, helps me figure out what he’ll be in 2014. It’s probably even money that he won’t even be a Dodger by then, really, because he certainly seems to be the most likely outfielder moved, if any even are. Still, I’m left with slightly more hope than I had at this time last year.
Next! Okay, now we’ll get to Matt Kemp, promise!