Whether You Love Him or Want to Platoon Him, Andre Ethier is Important for 2013


This is not just another pro-Ethier post, and by now you should know that I am a big Andre Ethier fan. He’s my favorite current Dodger, and it’s not just because of his suave looks. Ethier has been an integral part of the core of the Dodger team for quite some time, and I feel he deserves a lot more credit than slack. Sure, he has had trouble hitting left-handed pitching over the last couple of seasons, but his overall contribution to the team has made up for some of his shortcomings in that area. Dre is actually hitting .500 versus lefties this Spring so far with two hits including a triple. Even though that’s a small sample size, perhaps Mark McGwire‘s instruction will lift his numbers against southpaws a bit this season?

Carl Crawford most likely will not be ready by Opening Day, and Matt Kemp is still working to come back strong after undergoing major shoulder surgery. Andre Ethier’s 2013 campaign becomes that much more important. With Crawford in limbo, the Dodgers will most likely use Jerry Hairston Jr. and Skip Schumaker in left field until Crawford is ready. If it was up to me, I would throw Yasiel Puig in left in the meantime. The very promising prospect is hitting .424 this Spring. I don’t see it hurting anything to put him in left in order to give him some at-bats versus Major League hitting while Crawford is readying for return. The worst thing that could happen is that he flounders, and the Dodgers could then send him down to Chattanooga where he will likely end up for the first part of the season anyhow. I’d like to see Puig get a look, but I’m fully prepared for Jerry Hairston Jr.: Opening Day left field starter.

There’s no denying that Andre Ethier has a beautiful swing. Photo: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Kemp hasn’t had any physical setbacks, but I’m getting the sense that he may be a bit frustrated. Kemp is hitting just .118 over 6 games. He has 2 hits and 8 strikeouts. I’m pretty confident that Kemp will be fine, he may just have to conquer some mental hurdles first as he rehabs from injury. With Crawford and Kemp looking to bounce back after major surgery, Andre Ethier’s success this season is crucial for the Dodgers. Like we have said at Lasorda’s Lair in the past, the success of the Dodgers directly correlates with the success of the core players, namely Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp. The Dodger starters (Kersh, Greinke, Ryu, Kemp, Ethier, Ramirez, Gonzalez, Cruz, and Ellis²) will need to remain healthy and productive. If this core can avoid the hamstring, elbow, and groin injuries (the trifecta of Dodger injuries), then the team will most likely have a winning season.

Ethier will need to be the anchor of the outfield this season if Kemp and Crawford do not open the season healthy and raring to go. The All-Star and Gold Glove outfielder is seen as an everyday player by Don Mattingly. I agree with Donnie on this, and I think that Ethier’s projected 20 homeruns and .290 career batting average is a solid addition to any ball club. As for his defense, you can look at WAR all you want, but I can count the number of times on my one hand when I saw Ethier botch a play or make an error which cost the Dodgers in a game over the past three years. We may even see Ethier play center field again this season in a pinch if Matt Kemp needs a rest.

Mattingly had this to say about Ethier’s work with hitting coach Mark McGwire thus far:

"“Big Mac is starting to get them to understand what the pitcher is trying to do to you. This is the right time for that. I’ve said all along Andre can hit lefties. He was killing them down here last year and early in the season. I can’t say I’ve seen enough that he’s going to hit them, but he looks really good against them. I think it’s there. I hope the time is right.”"

Ethier’s career batting average versus left-hand pitching is .238 while his average versus righties is .311. In his first two seasons in the Majors he hit .351 and .279 against lefties in 2006 and 2007.

Mattingly said he is prepared to pinch-hit for Dre if he becomes  “worn down” or if a particular pitcher seems to give him trouble.

The offseason has been chalk full of Andre Ethier trade speculation, yet I knew he wouldn’t be moved from the beginning of all the rumors. Ethier is one of the longest-tenured Dodgers, and there is a reason for that. He can be one of the most exciting and clutchiest (I know that’s not a real word) players playing the game. While I’m fully aware of his flaws, I’m not one to point them out daily or let them outweigh his contributions.

It will be an important season for a lot of Dodgers in 2013. Most are looking to prove that they still have what it takes including Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez who are trying to start fresh with a new team. Luis Cruz will be working hard to prove that he deserves his starting role on the team, and Hyun-Jin Ryu will be trying to transition from Korean baseball to the Majors.

While the Dodgers are looking to win big this season, they are still somewhat of a team in transition. A successful year from Andre Ethier can help solidify the outfield and the lineup. Now, on to the bigger issues at hand. And when I say bigger I really mean Juan Uribe.