For the first time in nearly two seasons, Andre Ethier is fully healthy, and the Dodgers will likely benefit greatly because of it.
Ethier finished sixth in the National League MVP voting in 2009 after hitting .272/.361/.508 with 31 home runs and six walk-off hits (including four walk-off home runs), and started off 2010 even better. Ethier was atop the triple crown categories, hitting .392/.447/.792 with 11 home runs in 33 games before fracturing his right pinkie finger during batting practice in San Diego on May 15.
Since returning from the broken pinkie, Ethier has battled nagging ankle and knee injuries, and the result has been a loss of power:
|A Tale Of Two Andres|
|Opening Day 2009 to May 14, 2010||193||825||53||42||117||144||.293/.377/.549||.926|
|May 31, 2010 to end of 2011||241||996||52||23||113||106||.278/.357/.418||.774|
Ethier underwent arthroscopic surgery last September to smooth the underside of his kneecap and remove loose bodies in his knee, and this year has come to spring training fully healthy, and it shows. Ethier hit .396/.434/.896 with 15 extra-base hits (nine doubles, three triples, and three home runs) in 52 spring training plate appearances.
"Whatever happened last year with the knee, it's almost like a two-year process, with the ankle and the knee," manager Don Mattingly said. "He's good enough to make corrections and get away with it and look okay. But you forget about how good he was when he was all the way squared up. I'm hoping that this is it, because he looks really good right now."
Mattingly has praised Ethier's swing all spring, noting his right fielder has been square to the ball throughout the Cactus League, and in batting practice. Ethier has kept it simple.
"I'm not trying to hit the ball a certain way other than hard and squared up," Ethier said.
Square creates backspin, and backspin creates power, Mattingly has said on more than one occasion, and it looks like Ethier will have a return to power this season.
"To me he really should be more competitive than he was against lefties last year, just by the swing itself," Mattingly said of Ethier, who hit .220/.258/.305 with one home run in 151 plate appearances against southpaws in 2011.
But it was part of a downward trend for Ethier, who has seen his OPS against left-handed pitching decline in every season of his career (.846, .716, .692, .629, .625, .563 from 2006-2011).
Mattingly will open the season with Ethier playing against left-handed pitchers, with a slight adjustment to the batting order as Ethier will move from cleanup to fifth, swapping spots with Juan Rivera. With Jerry Sands opening the year in Triple A trying to find his swing again, the Dodgers don't have the personnel to be able to sit Ethier against left-handed pitching, not that it was ever going to be a straight platoon anyway.
"I think hitting lefties as a left-handed hitter makes me better against a righty," said Mattingly, a left-handed hitter in his playing days. "It keeps me in there longer, helps me stay on the ball better, and helps against the other side."
Ethier has had productive seasons overall even while struggling against left-handed pitching, though perhaps a fully healthy Ethier can do some damage against southpaws this year.
"If I can go out there and have sound mechanics and feel comfortable in the box, it doesn't matter righty or lefty, I can go out there and hit him."
The Dodgers need Ethier to do just that.
In the 128-year history of the franchise, just two players have hit 30 or more doubles in five successive seasons: Jackie Robinson (1947-1951) and Andre Ethier (2007-2011).
Ethier avoided salary arbitration by signing a one-year, $10.95 million deal for 2012, and is eligible for free agency after the season. Ethier has said he is open to negotiations on a new contract extension during the season.
Previous Player Profiles
2011: Looking To Rebound
2010: It's A Walkoff
|2012 Projections - Age 30 Season|
I think a healthy Ethier blows past those projections, and hits .297/.379/.530 with 34 home runs.
What is your guess for Ethier in 2012? Be sure to guess BA/OBP/SLG, and anything else you wish to guess.