Ethier En Fuego

Matt Kemp may have grabbed the early headlines for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but Andre Ethier is the talk of Hollywood right now. Propelled by a 24-game hitting streak, Ethier has been punishing baseballs the entire season. Ethier’s strong start continued Wednesday as he not only extended his hitting streak, but hit the eventual game winning home run in the 10th inning. As with most players on extended hitting streaks, Ethier has benefited from a great deal of luck this season. While that unfortunately makes Ethier a candidate for regression as the season progresses, there are a few interesting nuggets (copyright Peter King) in his stat line that indicate Ethier is completely locked in at the plate.

Let’s start with the negatives. Among all players with at least 100 plate appearances, Ethier is currently second in the league in BABIP (Kemp is first). Obviously, a .455 BABIP is completely unsustainable for any player over a full season. As that number falls closer to his career average, Ethier’s stats will begin to normalize. Next…well, there’s not really anything else that suggests regression in Ethier’s peripherals this season.

Ethier has basically been the same player he’s always been this season. Both his walk and strikeout rates are hovering around his career averages, and there’s not too much to glean from his Swing or Contact rates. For example, Ethier is walking slightly more than normal, but he’s not walking at an unusually high rate. He’s being slightly more selective with the pitches he swings at, but his overall Contact rates have remained the same. If that’s the case, and Ethier is basically the same player, is there any way to explain his abnormally high BABIP?

A look at his Batted Ball data reveals that Ethier is completely locked in at the plate right now. Much like Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, “everything he hits, he destroys.” Of all player with at least 100 plate appearances this season, Ethier leads the league in LD%. Again, that’s not a sustainable rate over a full season, but it makes his strong start more legitimate. Currently, Ethier is smashing a line drive 32.5% of the time he makes contact. Since we expect line drives to fall for hits more often than any other batted ball, that’s one reason Ethier has posted such a ridiculous BABIP this season. Any player who posts a .455 BABIP benefits from luck, but the fact that Ethier is spraying line drives all over the field has been a huge factor in his abnormally high BABIP this season.

When players get off to such hot starts, we’re often quick to attribute their success to luck. Often times, luck is the main culprit behind the numbers. In Ethier’s case, we can actually see that luck doesn’t tell us the whole story. Ethier is simply going through one of the best streaks of his career. He’s seeing the ball well, and hitting line drives at an absolutely ridiculous rate. Sure, Andre Ethier has been lucky this season; he’s also been really damn good.



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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


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Scout Finch
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Scout Finch
5 years 1 month ago

Wasn’t Eithier a triple crown candidate after a month + last year. Seems like he tore it up early the year before. Bona fide hot starter.

filihok
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

Ethier career wOBA/tOPS by month
April: .392/115
May: .353/94
June: .328/79
July: .379/107
Aug: .381/108
Sept: .360/92

James
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James
5 years 1 month ago

Yes, he killed it early in the year and then got hurt.

Mike G
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Mike G
5 years 1 month ago

Yes he was a triple crown candidate, the only reason he trailed off is because he broke his pinky…as filihok pointed out, he’s pretty damn consistent any month.

More than a “hot starter” my friend

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
5 years 1 month ago

“Whatever he hits, he destroys”, is the quote. But, great reference.

I’m glad you referenced to him being locked in, and not just chalk it up to luck as if he’s just dropping bloopers allover the diamond. Nobody can stay locked in for the whole year, but he is absolutely tagging lasers everywhere.

2 games ago I saw him hit a line drive double on a high inside pitch that was at his hands. Batters just don’t “get on top” of that pitch, but he did. I believe it was the hit that that extended his hit streak to 23 games.

When guys are hitting that pitch, there just uncanny.

As a pitcher, about the only thing you can that Ethier won’t crush is [1] your glove, [2] your hat, and [3] a tantrum.

I’m not sure that the data is readily available, but I am curious as to similar suck streaks over the last so many years … 20+ games of 30%+ line drive rate.

Sosa’s home run spree in June of 98 was probably the most memorably kind of thing.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 1 month ago

“about the only thing you can THROW that Ethier won’t crush …”

Jay
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

What’s the highest line drive % a hitter has ever put up over a full season? I’m curious, but I don’t know how to find it.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu
5 years 1 month ago

With minimum 400 PA’s, Corey Sullivan owns #1 and #2: 32.3% in 2005, 31.5% in 2006.

http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=400&type=2&season=2011&month=0&season1=2002&ind=1

On a 100 PA minimum, Ethier’s 2011 ranks #3 out of 4001.

shthar
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shthar
5 years 28 days ago

Corey Sullivan?!?!

fiveloko
Member
fiveloko
5 years 1 month ago

Can someone point me to a piece that’s been written here on correlation btwn BABIP and LD% ? Thanks.

kid
Member
kid
5 years 1 month ago

The best hitters of our generation – including Pujols, Cabrera and Votto – can’t hit line drives at that rate for a full season.

Great performance by a very good hitter, but let’s keep things in perspective here; it’s been 25 games out of 162.

Crumpled Stiltskin
Guest
Crumpled Stiltskin
5 years 29 days ago

Not to say they could sustain that rate, but have any of those hitters tried to specifically hit line drives over the course of a full season (not that Ethier is either)? Their swings are designed to generate some loft.

A player like Tony Gwynn, it seems his swing was designed to generate line drives, hence his high averages (and he was one of the few players as well who could hit to the holes in the defense somewhat consistently). Would it be worth it for a player like Votto or Pujols to give up some home runs so that they could hit for a higher average and get one base more? (And I think both of those players have the hit skills to do that if they wanted to . . .) That would be an interesting question.

But of course, why risk the change when you are already the best two hitters in the league?

AA
Guest
AA
5 years 28 days ago

Ethier’s swing was reworked in 2008/2009 to generate more loft. His natural strength is as a LD hitter

MintyRoadkill
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MintyRoadkill
5 years 27 days ago

His xBABIP is 0.412, which I believe is something that fangraphs writers should look at when they mention BABIP, since it’s hard to use on it’s own.

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