On December 13th 2005, the Dodgers sent Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez to the Oakland Athletics for Andre Ethier. This was the first trade that Ned Colletti made, and in what would soon become a trend, I wasn't happy with it. Here's what I wrote about Ethier at the time:
From here, I had a very interesting relationship with Andre Ethier. That evolved like so over the season:
May: This guy is nothing more than a fourth outfielder. Ethier hits .330
June: This guy is nothing more than a fourth outfielder. Ethier hits .330
July: Look at his relationship between BABIP and line drive percentage, he's due to collapse any time now. This guy is nothing more than a fourth outfielder. Ethier hits .330
August: Look at his relationship between BABIP and line drive percentage, he's due to collapse any time now. This guy is nothing more than a fourth outfielder. Ethier hits .330
September: Okay, maybe there is something to this guy. Ethier goes seven for September
A year after constantly complaining about Ethier, I had come to accept him as a solid outfielder who was an asset to the Dodgers. Ethier went from being a guy I would be scared about having in the outfield at the start of this year, to being the only player I was relatively happy to see patrolling the outfield this season. After two months of watching Ethier play ball this year, however, I have to wonder once again is Andre Ethier anything more than a fourth outfielder?
Why bring this up again? A few days ago I was looking at Andre Ethier's career numbers, and I spotted something very distressing. Ethier has been to the plate 632 times now in the big leagues, and has collected 44 walks in his career. This gives him a below average .051 isolated patience in what is close to a full season of plate appearances.
I don't believe any reasonable person has thought that Ethier will be a big time power hitter. In John Sickel's crystal ball for Ethier, he never projects a season where Andre exceeds 20 home runs. While college players drafted in the early rounds are more likely to make huge leaps in power during their early to mid 20s*, you can argue that Ethier has already made that jump. In his first two years in the minors, Ethier hit just eight home runs. In his next year at AA, he jumped to 18, and followed that up with 11 home runs in the majors the year after that. Ethier's leap from no power to being a 12-17 home run guy him a viable major league player, and it's probably too much to ask that he make yet another leap.
If Ethier isn't going to hit for power, he needs to walk a lot more if he's going to be a corner outfielder in the bigs. Sure, he can boost his numbers to acceptable levels if he hits over .300, but that's leaving a lot up to fate. This year, Ethier simply isn't squaring up on the ball as well, which has caused his line drive percentage to drop from 22.2% in 2006 to 18% in 2007. This accounts for the 37 point drop in average that Ethier has seen from 2006. However, a batting average dependent player might not even need to see any degradation of skills to lose value. Just one less bleeder finding a hole every three weeks would drop his OPS by 40 points. Because of this, there's a very fine line between a productive player who hits .308/.365/.477, and a replacement level player who hits .276/.312/.437. All it takes is a little bad luck, or a little degradation of skill to completely remove any value that Ethier has, and the Dodgers can't afford that if they're trying to win a championship in the next few years.
Ethier is still a very cheap player, and should be given time to workout his strike zone issues. However, if he continues down the path he's on, we should think long and hard before offering him arbitration. A player like Ethier might not be worth three or four million dollars, nor should he be considered a reason to not acquire a more productive player for the position. Right now, it looks like the initial evaluations could be right. Ethier can be a very effective fourth outfielder, but he is not someone that should have a starting job on a championship team.
*See the 2007 Hardball Times Annual