Andre Ethier has been a keystone in the Los Angeles Dodgers lineup during their playoff runs over the last two years. He has been an above average hitter since reaching the major leagues in 2006, but in 2008 he took a major step forward, becoming a legitimate offensive star. His 53.3 wRAA since 2008 ranks 24th in the major leagues.
Over the last two seasons, there are 10 players within 6 wRAA of Ethier’s 53.3. Of these players, the average WAR is 8.4, or 4.2 per season. Evan Longoria leads this impressive pack of players at 12.6 wins, having contributed 37.7 runs of defensive value.
At the bottom of the list is our subject, Andre Ethier. As he plays the corner outfield positions, he already starts out with a position adjustment of -13.9 runs. Combine that with a -21.7 UZR over 308 games in the outfield, and Ethier has cost the Dodgers 35.6 runs with the glove.
Ethier’s first two seasons suggested some defensive talent. Over his first 271 games (212 starts), Ethier compiled a +6.5 UZR in the outfield. Of course, this is not the only example of a UZR sample of this size showing a significant deviation from the following two seasons. However, we can ask: what changed?
First of all, let’s look at the biggest component of the statistic: range. Ethier showed fantastic range in 2007 after showing average range in 2006. His range fell off a cliff then in 2008 and 2009, at -6.6 and -6.9 runs, respectively.
Similarly, Ethier’s arm looked fantastic in 2006, at 6.8 runs in merely 92 DG (defensive games adjusted for attempts). He has not shown that skill since, and his arm dipped below -5 runs above average this season. It is possible that his arm was better suited to left field – his ARM in 154 DG is +4.1 in LF vs. -6.9 in 371 DG in RF.
It appears that we have two major outliers skewing his results from 2006 and 2007. Ethier’s +6.8 ARM rating may have been a product of both his time in left field as well as random variation in the statistic. Since his move to playing primarily right field in 2007, his arm has rated as nearly 10 runs below average, the ninth worst overall mark over the past three years.
The other outlier is Ethier’s +5.2 range score in 2007. Ethier has never showed the skills of a fast player. He’s been caught stealing (16 times) nearly as many times as he’s stolen a base (17). His 32 infield hits since 2007 is nearly average among qualified players, and he’s only attempted one bunt since 2007 and didn’t get a hit on. As mentioned above, Ethier’s range score in 2008 and 2009 was a combined 13.5 runs below average, a far cry from his excellent 2007 mark.
Ethier now has a sample of 371 DG in RF and 525 total OF DG. That’s a sample of roughly 3.5 total seasons and roughly 2.5 RF seasons. A better guess than looking at last year’s -15 season is to look at his career as a whole. Ethier now has a -4.4 UZR/150 for his career, but a -6.8 UZR/150 in RF. The Fan’s Scouting Report rates Ethier as a roughly average fielder. Given these two sources of data, we can conclude that Ethier is probably a below average fielder, but probably not as bad as 2009 would suggest. A conservative projection would probably call Ethier a -3 to -5 run fielder in RF going forward.
This is not to say that Ethier has not been a valuable player for the Dodgers. His 7.6 WAR since 2007 place him in the top 100 position players in the league. With 30 teams, players of Ethier’s talent level are difficult to find and are an asset for any team.