Many people have been clamoring to platoon Andre Ethier for years now. To me, this would be a detriment to the team instead of a bolster. Not only would we lose Ethier’s clutch-hitting bat out of the lineup, but we would also lose his glove in right field. Now of course the main question is who would we platoon him with anyway? It would have to be someone who could hit lefties well and someone who could play good defense. That wish list player is not easy to find, and obviously the Dodgers have struggled just to put a hot body in left field let alone find a platoon worthy outfielder to share Ethier’s spot with.
It is doubtful that the Dodgers would platoon Ethier since they just gave him a six-year contract extension with a vesting option for 2018 that’s worth up to $95.95 million altogether. Unless Ethier totally falls off offensively, I just don’t see him not remaining an everyday player for the Dodgers.
The main reason the naysayers want Ethier platooned is because Dre has trouble hitting lefties. In his career against right-handed pitching Andre is hitting .311 with 110 homeruns. Conversely, Andre is only hitting .238 in his career against lefties with just 19 homeruns. That is a stark contrast, and it is something that has to be worked on. There’s no reason why he cannot improve against left-handed pitching, and I argue that by benching him against left-handed starters it will only give him less at bats in which to see left-handed pitching. What’s interesting is when you look at his statistical splits by year, you can see that in 2006 Ethier hit left-handed pitching to a tune of .351 while he had a batting average of .398 versus right-handers for his rookie season. In 2007, his batting averages for left-handers versus right-handers was pretty similar at .279 vs. .286. Yet in both ’06 and ’07 Ethier only hit one homerun against lefties in each of those seasons. By 2009, his batting average versus lefties began to sink (.243 vs. .326). His stats versus lefties remained around the same in batting average through 2012.
Why was Ethier able to hit lefties fairly well in his first two seasons, but not thereafter? He’s faced an increasing number of left-handers over the years. If you watched Ethier play daily this season, you saw that opposing managers were throwing southpaws at Ethier every chance they could get. In 2012, Ethier faced lefties about 38% of the time. Back in 2007, Ethier only faced lefties about 23 %. That means that Ethier will need to adjust to the increased left-handed pitching he will be up against. Can a 30-year old hitter still learn and improve? It’s not like Dre is hitting below the Mendoza Line against lefties. He still is capable, and I saw him hit multiple hits in games versus lefties this season. It would elevate him to another level of offensive stature if he was able to hit southpaws a bit more consistently.
Another topic of contention when it comes to Ethier is that some say he should be moved to left field. Critics content that Andre Ethier is a subpar outfielder. I tend to disagree. The Gold Glove Award winner is quite capable defensively, and throughout his career I have seen him make some dazzling plays in right field. He’s only made 24 errors over his 7 seasons in the Majors. He made no errors in 2011, and he only committed 3 errors this past season. Ethier also has a decent arm, and he’s made 11 assists from the outfield over the past two seasons. In 2008, he had a career high 11 outfield assists. Now I’m not saying that Ethier is defensively on the level of a Andrew McCutchen or anything, but he is definitely not a slouch out there. He can even play center field in a pinch if needed.
When asked about Ethier’s troubles versus lefties, manager Don Mattingly said this during the season:
“Watch his at-bat plan and it doesn’t change too much,” Mattingly said. “At the end of the day, it comes back to the guy has to — and not just ‘Dre but anybody — has to have a plan. I’m sure he does. He’s a smart hitter who understands his swing. I have trouble understanding it. His swing is so short, he should be able to hit them. Maybe he doesn’t see them. It could be that. I know the numbers — there’s a huge differential. It’s something we seriously have to look at as far as how we approach it. I think he can hit left-handers. The numbers say maybe he can’t and we have to go a different route. Me believing a guy can do something and him doing it are two different things.”
Obviously Mattingly and management stand behind Ethier, and they believe that he is capable of hitting lefties even though his numbers have been in decline in recent years versus southpaws. Ethier has responded by saying that his all-around playing ability should be considered rather than his splits. It’s true that Ethier is a .290 career hitter, and his clutch-hitting is invaluable. I’ve watched Ethier’s career from the beginning, and I believe that his beautiful left-handed swing cannot be taken out of the lineup half the time. When both Ethier and Matt Kemp are healthy and hitting well, they are one of the most dangerous 1-2 punches in all of baseball. Now with the addition of Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez along with the eventual inclusion of Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier will still be a crucial link in this potentially potent lineup.
Advanced statistics cannot fully articulate Andre Ethier’s importance to this team since he debuted in 2006. Whether the All-Star outfielder is making diving catches in right field, collecting 30-game hitting streaks, or breaking records for clutch performances, Ethier is one of the most exciting all-around Dodgers in recent years. He’s a favorite of mine, and I know many others agree that he is an integral part of this Dodger Dynasty in which we hope to build upon in order to bring back the World Championship to Los Angeles.
Do you think the Dodgers should platoon Ethier? If so, who would you suggest they sign?
For additional reading about Andre Ethier and my outlook on Dre from last winter take a look at It’s Always a Great Dre in L.A.