Over the last month Dodger fans have been thinking about what we’d give up for one of the elite pitchers that have been shopped around this month. Jerry Sands! Chris Withrow! Everyone except Jerry Sands and Chris Withrow! Meanwhile Astros fans fantasized about the load of prospects they’d receive in return for their star player, and the rings that they’d lead them to in the future…then they found out they were getting J.A. Happ.
The type of people that post on baseball blogs had the same reaction. How the hell do you trade Roy Oswalt for J.A. Happ? His stuff sucks, he’s got an xFIP a run and a half over his ERA, and once he loses his .202 BABIP with runners on, he’s gonna get exposed for the mediocre pitcher he is. Why would the Astros take him over [prospect we kind of like]? Because Happ has one think Prospect We Kind of Like doesn’t have, a reputation way beyond his abilities.
If you ask the average fan, J.A. Happ is one of the best young pitchers in the game. With a lower career ERA than Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, and Jon Lester, to go with a winning percentage over .700, Happ looks like a future star to a lot of people. While conspiracy theories have been thrown around regarding the trade, the simplest explanation is that Happ’s superficial goodness made him extremely valuable. Whether this is because it would be easy to market to the fans, or because Ed Wade is really bad at his job is up to you. If the Dodgers want to steal these elite players like the Phillies and Angels have, they need some good schmuck bait.
That shmuck bait could very well be Andre Ethier. Now that Manny has been branded a very bad man, Ethier has become the face of the Dodger franchise, and is recognized as one of the elite outfielders in the National League. Fans around the league went to the All Star ballots and decided they’d rather see Ethier start in the NL outfield than All Star stalwarts like Manny Ramirez, Jason Bay, and Matt Holliday. Ethier’s dingers and general clutchitude has lead him to be recognized as one of the elite players in the game, and a man to build a team around.
Problem is there’s nothing that backs that up. After a tremendously hot start, Ethier has regressed terribly. Since coming off the DL, Ethier has hit just .234/.295/.365. While you can blame this slump on a pinky injury, is it a coincidence that his numbers have dropped to what he’s done the last two seasons? In his previous two year, Ethier had an OPS+ of 132. This year: 136. While Ethier probably has suffered from his injury, his huge numbers at the beginning of the year were fueled by a .450 average in May that was destined to go down. As good as he looked at the beginning of the year, Ethier isn’t that much better of a hitter than the player we’ve seen since 2008. Problem is, this is the nicest thing to say about him.
Ethier’s defensive problems have been well documented, and they only seem to be getting worse. Ethier broke into the league as a decent fielding, powerless outfielder. Whether it’s the protein shakes or a Jersey Shore approved workout regime, as Ethier has added more and more power, his defense has gotten worse and worse. Our once average fielding outfielder has went from a bad -8 UZR in 2008, to a worse -13 in 2009, to a second worst in the league -16 runs with two months to go in 2010. Ethier is well on his way to playing Adam Dunn defense, without having an Adam Dunn bat. How much is a player like that worth? If the pace Ethier is on this year is any indication, about 1.5 wins, almost, but not quite what J.A. Happ did last year.
This isn’t a perfect comparison. Unlike Happ, Ethier has had a couple three wins seasons, so I would call Ethier the better player. Like Happ though, he’s a player who’s valued more than he’s really worth. If we want to pull off a deal like the Oswalt trade, a deal that makes other teams wonder why we wouldn’t take their Prospects They Kind Of Like, Ethier is the one that has to go. It’s gonna be unpleasant, but I’m sure lots of Phillies fans were crushed as pitcher of the future J.A. Happ left the team.