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.