Los Angeles Dodgers Still Looking For Offensive Punch From Andre Ethier

By Thom Tsang
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

At first glance, you might say that with hits in five of his last seven games and having drawn five walks over that 25-AB span, Andre Ethier is slowly, but surely getting into his groove.

The way the Los Angeles Dodgers have seen it on the field, though, is that their usually consistent right fielder is still looking for his swing, and is mired in a rut that’s now gone on since the before the start of the month — and you know, they’d be plenty right about it, too.

There’s no shortage of things that have gone wrong for the Blue Crew in 2013, but with Matt Kemp and his .310/.344/.379 May line starting to show signs that the star center fielder may finally be slipping out of his slumber, the question of “what’s wrong with Andre Either?” remains one of the most puzzling for a team still looking to put it together.

That conundrum was again on display on Wednesday as the Dodgers took on the divisional rival Arizona Diamondbacks.

Now, you wouldn’t normally say that a pedestrian 1-for-4 performance from the sixth spot (which should tell you a little about how well Ethier is doing these days) is anything of note, and it’s not as though the right fielder was flailing at pitches all night (one strikeout). But as it turns out, there’s a fair bit that a single can tell you.

In this case, it says that Ethier’s power has all but disappeared.

Having posted an oddly symmetrical .240/.367/.240 triple-slash in May thus far, the 31-year old veteran is showing a career-high walk rate in 2013 (12.1 percent), but unfortunately very little else. Yes, his discipline is intact, even though the general lack of deviation in his swing profile suggests that the free passes will come down a bit.

The contact and batted ball numbers, on the other hand, might provide a glimpse to his overall issues. Though his line drive rate hasn’t collapsed (22.2 percent vs. 22.5 percent career), he is hitting more fly balls than ever, owning a career-low 0.75 GB/FB and career-high 44.4 percent fly ball rate.

But, his contact rate overall has stayed at 2012 levels (77.9 percent in 2013, 77.7 percent last season), and he hit 20 home runs then, so … what’s up?

Well, looking a little closer, you’ll see that while Ethier is swinging at pitches inside the zone more than ever (career-high 67.5 percent), his contact rate has dropped with those pitches (career-low 85.8 percent). On the other hand, he’s actually making more contact with pitches outside (62.2 percent, a three-year high).

Perhaps he’s reaching for pitches that traditionally hasn’t, and making bad contact for the sake of getting to the ball? The wonky fly ball rates suggest something is going on, and the career-low .287 BABIP says that the baseball gods may be messing with him a little bit too, given that his infield hits and pop-up rates haven’t spiked.

Sometimes, a little thing like that can be the catalyst for a much bigger mess, as the Dodgers and Ethier is finding out right now.

With any … luck, things will normalize and the right fielder can get back to being an offensive catalyst for the team behind guys like Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez, because Los Angeles needs all the help they can get.

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