Andre Ethier Is Still Trying to Hit Lefty Pitching

February 27, 2013 at 8:51 am | Posted in Andre Ethier | Leave a comment

ethier_contacts_homerAh, spring. That wonderful time of year where every team has hope, every non-roster guy has a chance, and everyone starts talking about whether this is finally going to be the year that Andre Ethier can hit lefties. Just like we heard last week, and in April of 2012, and March of 2012, and January of 2011, and so on and so on.

This time, it’s new hitting coach Mark McGwire who insists he can make things right. Or left. Whatever.

McGwire doesn’t think Ethier is far from being effective against left-handers, pointing to how he hit .351 against them as a rookie in 2006 and a respectable .279 the next season.

The story goes on to explain how Ethier has changed his approach, is going to be more selective, and has been taking lefty curveballs from a pitching machine every morning. That’s all well and good. It’s wonderful, actually, because we all want Ethier to improve, and the fact that he’s putting extra work in at least shows that he’s cognizant of the problem. Good for him. I hope it works.

But let’s get back to reality and dive into that McGwire quote, because it’s full of holes. As many holes, one might say, as Andre Ethier hitting against a lefty pitcher. I wouldn’t say that. But someone might. It’s really, really difficult to put a lot of stock in that .351 batting average being relevant considering that A) it was seven years ago; B) it was a mere 82 plate appearances; C) it came as a rookie, when pitchers were still learning the book on Ethier; D) it came with a lovely .406 BABIP.

With all of that being the case, you’ll excuse me if I’m not really putting a lot of emphasis on the fact that years ago, before anyone had ever even heard of “Twitter” or “Iphone”, when Ethier was still playing for Grady Little and was teammates with guys like Olmedo Saenz, Kenny Lofton, & Giovanni Carrara, he was able to knock a few singles off of pitchers like Chris Michalak, Eric Milton, & Jack Taschner. I know it’s McGwire’s job to pump up his new pupil — what’s he really going to say, “well, that guy is hopeless”? — and so i don’t fault him for saying it. It’s also all but impossible to believe that Ethier’s successful-but-minimal 2006 production is in any way relevant all these years later in the face of more than a thousand plate appearances of evidence.

Year
Total PA
vLH
vRH
LH%
2006
441
82
359
18.5
2007
507
119
388
23.5
2008
596
155
441
26.0
2009
685
187
498
27.2
2010
585
178
407
30.4
2011
551
151
400
27.4
2012
618
239
379
38.6

We’ve talked about this at length, really, both here and elsewhere. As the repurposed table at right shows, a large part of Ethier’s problem is simply that managers finally realized that he’s hopeless against southpaws and began making sure he faced as many as possible. (That number was actually over 40% for much of the season before dropping down late in the year when Don Mattingly began hitting Ethier second against righties and seventh against lefties.)

What’s especially odd — and no, I don’t have a good explanation for this — is that not only does Ethier have trouble hitting lefty pitching, he has a huge home/road split against them. Over his career, Ethier has hit .275/.331/.414 against lefties at home, which is actually not that bad at all. On the road? It’s a cover-your-eyes bad .198/.259/.286. He hits better in Dodger Stadium against righties as well, though not quite to such extremes, and I have no idea how to explain that.

In my eyes, it’s not that Ethier has had a sudden, unexplained downturn against southpaw pitchers, as the article indicates. It’s that he was never really that good against them in the first place, regardless of what a small sample size from over half a decade ago says. If McGwire really wants to earn his keep, he’ll figure out just what it is about playing on the road that has plagued Ethier so much. Mattingly can help too; while ideally he’d just sit Ethier against lefties, I don’t think many of us really expect that he’s actually going to play Alex Castellanos over his expensive star. But he can at least continue his lineup shifting from late last year, getting Ethier more at-bats higher in the lineup against righties and hiding him lower against lefties. It’s not perfect, but anything that gets Ethier away from southpaws is an acceptable compromise.

******

Ethier is not in today’s lineup against the Cubs, in the first Dodger road game of the spring. Per the Dodgers, here’s who is: Hairston RF, Amezaga 2B, Ramirez SS, Gonzalez 1B, Luna 3B, Punto DH, Federowicz C, Puig CF, Herrera LF, Harang RHP.

It’s too bad it won’t be televised (or even broadcast on Dodger radio), because I’d sure like to see Yasiel Puig playing center field.

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