Will Andre Ethier's struggles against left-handers finally give the Dodgers pause?
Here’s a question the Dodgers would prefer to avoid as long as possible:
Should Andre Ethier be platooned in right field?
Quick answer: Of course not. He’s a key middle-of-the-order bat, in the prime of his career and if he doesn’t hit, the Dodgers aren’t going to win anyway.
More deliberate answer: They certainly don’t want to, but if he doesn’t improve his hitting against left-handers, they have to consider it.
For the first two months of last season, Ethier crushed whatever pitcher was on the mound, so it’s not like he can’t do it. He was Triple Crown material before fracturing his right pinky.
When he came back, however, he was not the same. And his old problem against left-handers not only returned, it was worse than ever.
Throughout his career, the left-handed hitting Ethier has struggled against lefties:
Career AB AVG HR RBI OBP SLG
vs. RHP 1833 .307 84 298 .381 .583
vs. LHP 648 .247 14 86 .311 .370
Last season, however, saw a disturbing dip at a time in his career you would otherwise hope he was starting to master his shortcoming:
2010 AB AVG HR RBI OBP SLG
vs. RHP 358 .318 20 63 .396 .564
vs. LHP 159 .233 3 19 .292 .333
The Dodgers have little choice but to write off Ethier’s increased struggles against lefties last season, blame it on his finger and move forward expecting significantly better results.
But with James Loney also having more troubles last season with lefties than normal (.222, .262, .313), the Dodgers can’t afford to go indefinitely just hoping Ethier simply turns it around.
There are a lot of left-handers in the National League, particularly in the West. Last year the Dodgers had 2,496 plate appearances against right-handers, and 1,958 against left-handers.
Options, of course, are extremely limited. If the Dodgers ever did get to a point where they figured they had to sit Ethier against lefties, there is really nowhere in the dugout to turn.
They already have a left-handed bat in left field with Jay Gibbons, and only recently solved -- at least potentially -- the right-handed half of that dilemma with the signing of Marcus Thames.
The next and only other outfielder currently in reserve is Tony Gwynn Jr., who also bats left-handed. After that, they have to go back to thinking about Casey Blake or Jamey Carroll in the outfield, but you don’t want either one of those infield arms in right field.
Ethier’s slugging percentage has actually gone down every season against left-handers since he was first called up in 2006 (.468, .396, .368, .345, .331), so it’s not like this is a new problem.
Unless right-handed outfielder Jerry Sands is poised to make that impressive leap from double A, it’s a problem Ethier is going to have to conquer.
-- Steve Dilbeck
Photo: Andre Ethier. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times