After the game last night, a night when this blog officially reached its one-month mark, it dawned on me that I have hardly written anything in that month about Andre Ethier. I don’t know why, other than that unlike in the past, he never seems to get the loudest hit or play the biggest hero in any game these days. But in a very quiet manner — which is the manner probably best suited to his personality — Ethier is having a pretty good season.
At first glance, his numbers don’t exactly blow you away. With 19 games to go, he’s probably not going to get to 20 home runs, and he’s not going to get anywhere near 80 RBI. But the first offensive statistic I look at is OBP — I realize OPS is the trendy one now, but I always felt OBP was the most important one because it measures how often you don’t make an out — and Andre’s is at .360, which is right in line with his career mark entering the season of .362. He already has 60 walks, leaving him just 12 shy of his career high. And almost without anyone noticing except the team’s PR staff, which puts it in the game notes every day, he has become the first player in Dodgers history with 30 or more doubles in seven consecutive seasons.
Ethier isn’t particularly hot right now. The home run he hit in the second inning tonight snapped a string of 16 consecutive hitless at-bats, and he then went hitless in three more after that. But like I said, his contribution this season has been much quieter than in the past, and perhaps a bit more consistent.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly complimented Ethier recently on his adjustment to center field, a move made necessary by the endless injuries to Matt Kemp and the fact Yasiel Puig‘s cannon arm and cavalier approach make him a better fit for right field than center. Ethier looks like a natural out there, even though before this season he had made exactly one career appearance there (two if you count the 2010 All-Star Game, which he started in center).
There were whispers in years past that Ethier was a bit of a narcissist, a hot-tempered, me-first kind of guy who wanted superstar treatment all the time even though he only produced like a superstar when facing right-handed pitchers. That was before I went on my 14-month hiatus. A few months ago, while still on that hiatus, I had a long conversation with a buddy of mine who works in the organization about a lot of different things that were going on and a lot of different players. One thing that stuck in my head was what this guy said about Ethier.
“I think he’s enjoying the process a lot more now.”
From what I can tell since I came back, that assessment seems to be right on target. On a team that has Kemp and Puig and Clayton Kershaw and Hanley Ramirez and Zack Greinke and whoever else, Ethier probably isn’t going to be the biggest name on the marquee or the biggest face on the billboard, ever again. But from what I can tell, he has come to embrace that comparative anonymity, and he seems well-suited to it.
Ethier still struggles against lefties, but not as much as in the past. I can’t recall ever seeing him lose his temper on the field the way he used to fairly regularly, and I haven’t seen one instance of that body language he used to sometimes take to the plate when you could tell he had absolutely no hope of getting a hit because it was obvious by watching him that HE could tell he had absolutely no hope of getting a hit.
This is a mature, well-rounded and polished player now. Not a finished product, but no one ever is in this game. And if Ethier seems to go unnoticed a lot of the time, it’s not because he isn’t producing. It’s just because he appears to have mastered the art of producing quietly. And if I have failed to notice him much over the past few weeks, well, that’s just because I haven’t been paying close enough attention.