In case you hadn’t noticed, Ethier’s having a nice season

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.

7 comments

  1. Tony, I totally agree with you. I think ‘Dre is the most underappreciated player on the team, and has been for some time. The calls to trade him seem to have lessened, and I hope they disappear completely. Once we get Matt back it will be very interesting to see how Donnie can keep everyone happy, but what a great problem to have. I hope the solution will not be to trade one of them.

    • Please explain to me how a guy making $18.5M per year is underappreciated…If anything he’s the most misused guy on the team.

      He should be batting leadoff on this team.

      I’m serious, and here’s why:

      In today’s game pitchers have decreased the time of delivery drastically as a defensive tactic. This has slowed down the running game overall and certainly has put the brakes to teams (like the Dodgers) who don’t look to steal bases much anyway. Donnie certainly hasn’t put an emphasis on it so having a base stealing leadoff man isn’t an issue for this team.

      Ethier has the 3rd best OBP on the team. (The guys with better OBPs have too much power to waste it in the leadoff spot – Hanley & Puig). He swings at the 2nd lowest percentage of pitches outside the strike zone on the team among regulars so he has real good plate discipline and he walks more than anyone on the team.

      Andre isn’t a base stealer, but he has decent speed and is a good base runner. His power is on the decline (averaged just 14 HRs per season the last 3 seasons) so it’s not like they’d be missing his pop in the middle of the lineup by moving him up. In fact, with men on base Andre is hitting a less than stellar .243 this season so you’re wasting him batting him 5th or 6th. And get this, he has 100 ABs this year leading off innings and his numbers are really good (.307/.358/.515), I think if he shortened his swing to hit leadoff, he’d do better against lefties as well.

      Andre also takes the 3rd most pitches on the team among regulars and is 22nd in the NL averaging 3.90 pitches per PA among qualified players. Of those top 22 players he has the 8th most walks and the other 7 players above him are all power hitters except Dexter Fowler whose numbers over all are similar to Andre’s except SBs. He’s a patient hitter and that’s what you need leading off and getting those extra ABs.

      Carl Crawford on the other hand:
      His OBP(.337) is barely higher than the team’s overall OBP (.333).
      His base stealing prowess is neutralized by injury and his manager (13 SBs in 17 tries with almost 400 ABs).
      His K/BB ratio is 2.21 to 1 and he strikes out 16% of his ABs. In comparison Shin-Soo Choo, probably the best leadoff man in the league this season has a K/BB ratio of 1.26 to 1. He strikes out a higher percentage of the time (23.5%) but he also has 20 HRs and 48 RBI in the leadoff spot.

      Give Ethier a shot there.. I can’t imagine he’d be worse than Crawford.

  2. I agree that he’s the most underappreciated player, but he’s not the only one. You rarely see much written about Carl Crawford, or A. J. Ellis, or Ricky Nolasco, or Chris Withrow, or Paco Rodriguez, while they are grinding it out and helping the team win, day after day. And while you read a bit more about some of the other players – Gonzalez, Jansen, and Ryu fall into this category – they too are underappreciated relative to the huge contributions they are making to this team’s success. (No disrespect intended to the big names that ARE on the marquee, of course!)

    • Part of that is modern journalism. Ultimately, journalism is a capitalistic enterprise, like anything else. If certain “names” are proven to increase traffic to a media outlet’s web site, those are the names that are gonna get written about. I don’t like it, but it’s reality.

  3. Yep. I love seeing Dre happy and he does seem happy now. His reaction to the whole being benched thing back in whatever month that was (seems a lifetime ago) was really commendable too. I hope he stays a Dodger.

  4. It’s hard to imagine where the Dodgers would be right now without ‘Dre in the lineup everyday. He has been solid and consistent each and every day. It would be a pleasure to watch him contribute in a big way during the playoffs to quiet all the Ethier naysayers out there.