Roy-Z over at Plain Gray Swatch wrote a post a while back in which he asked why so many Dodgers' fans seemed to be down on the "ever-consistent" Andre Ethier, viewing him more as a liability than as a star. I happen to be one of those people that has never been a big Ethier fan and advocated trading him long ago, so I thought I'd lay out the reasoning behind my stance.
Ethier has been a fan favorite for a long time, and in his early days had the support of pretty much all Dodgers' fans not running the day-to-day operations of the club. People clamored for him to not lose playing time to retreads, has-beens, and never-weres, as has so often happened to young Blue Crew players over the last decade when they first make it up to The Show (see: Matt Kemp, etc.).
Once Andre became a full-time starter, however, it was soon apparent that he was nothing more than a platoon player whom fans fell in love with because of things like batting average, RBIs, and the rantings of "analysts" like Steve Lyons, one of the few who has long held that Dre is a Gold Glove right fielder. Those RBIs and his perceived excellence led to a ludicrous contract extension of $85 million over five years with a sixth-year option that's highly likely to become guaranteed and push the deal past the $100 million mark.
Let's get the obvious, much-discussed out of the way. Andre Ethier can't, has not, and will never hit lefties well enough to be a full-time player you can count on for the majority of a season. His career slash line against southpaws looks frightening, mostly because it is:
.239/.297/.358/.655 with a .290 wOBA
Dear every God that's ever been prayed to.
Dre is shockingly bad against lefties, immeasurably bad, you could say. It's not that there aren't ways to measure his ineptitude against southpaws, it's just that I thought any statistical system would crash and be eternally demolished trying to run his atrocious numbers against port-siders (oooh, we should totally get that into the baseball vernacular as another term for lefties).
It's not as if Andre has been unlucky in these situations, as his BABIP against lefties is .292, meaning he's been neither lucky nor unlucky. What we've all seen is what he is: god awful when a right-handed hurler is not opposing him. It's also not as if this can be chalked up to a small sample size issue, as Ethier has put up these numbers - and I use put up very, very lightly - in 1,134 plate appearances entering April 16th.
When tacked on to his below-average baserunning (career -4.7 BsR) and defensive shortcomings (i.e. he's a terrible right fielder, costing the Dodgers ~ 23.2 runs per year), Dre's inability to hit lefties makes him the ideal candidate to platoon with a righty bat that can hit lefties and actually field the position.
The potential has been there, and the Dodgers definitely won the trade
with Oakland to bring him to LA - giving up Milton Bradley and Antonio
Perez - but Andre has never been able to live up to that potential. His fWAR has never topped 3.2, and it's likely to never top the 3.5-4 range because those massive struggles against lefties drag down his bat, the one area he can contribute in.
If left-handers didn't exist, not only would Andre be more appreciated, he'd be a star amongst stars. Well, if lefties and fielding and baserunning weren't on the table, he'd be upper-echelon easily. His career line against righties is an outstanding .310/.388/.523/.911 with a .389 wOBA. Andre walks more, strikes out less, hits for more power, and is actually competent against right-handers.
Unfortunately for Ethier, we live in a baseball world where lefties do exist.
And he should never play against them.
Andre Ethier is not underrated in any sense of the word. It's quite the opposite, actually, as he's one of the most overrated players in baseball.
Sorry to burst your bubble, non-statistically-inclined fellow Dodgers' fans.