Either Ethier or Kemp

Background

Over the 2005-2006 offseason a little-known trade occurred: the A’s got Milton Bradley and the Dodgers acquired outfielder Andre Ethier. At the time Ethier was a 23-year-old prospect who batted .319 with 18 home runs in 576 Double-A plate appearances. In 2006 with the Dodgers, Ethier continued to excel. In 103 plate appearances in Triple-A he posted a .947 OPS, which garnered him an early major league call up in May. Ethier quickly displaced struggling veteran Jose Cruz Jr. and became the Dodgers’ starting left fielder for the remainder of the season. For a 24-year-old rookie, Ethier did exceptionally well, batting over .300 every month except September, in which he hit a paltry .143. He finished the season with a .308/.365/.477 slash line in 440 plate appearances, good for fifth in NL Rookie of the Year voting.

Despite the emergence of Ethier and fellow rookie outfielder Matt Kemp, that offseason the Dodgers felt the need to spend $44 million on free agent Juan Pierre and $7 million more on 39-year-old Luis Gonzalez. For the 2007 season Ethier still started in the outfield, holding his own with a .802 OPS, although he began splitting time with Kemp later in the season. A 23-year-old Kemp exploded onto the scene that year in June and maintained a high level of production all the way through September. He would finish the season with a .342/.373/.521 slash line.

Once again, despite the Dodgers having three solid outfielders on the books for the next several years, Dodgers management decided to sign Andruw Jones to a two-year deal worth just over $36 million. Heading into the 2008 season, the Dodgers had four outfielders for three positions, two with contracts around $40 million and two making about $400,000 a year. Wisely, Dodgers management decided to bench the $44 million Pierre. Just an expensive seat warmer I guess.

Let’s skip ahead a few months into the 2008 season. Andruw Jones’ batting average has not been above .200 since April 4 and he’s getting regular “boos” from the fans, so Joe Torre is forced to bench another big free agent acquisition. Ethier and Kemp were holding their own, Kemp playing exceptionally well, but the Dodgers still felt they needed a stronger third outfielder, even though they were paying a combined $17 million for Pierre’s and Jones’ (lack of) services.

As we all know, Manny Ramirez became the newest outfielder to join the Dodgers on July 31, where he quickly excelled, stealing a base even. Whether playing alongside Manny was motivation for Ethier is unclear. What is clear is that Ethier saw a huge spike in his numbers upon Manny’s arrival. Since that time, Ethier’s slash line has looked like this: .321/.421/.670. Kemp has remained relatively steady throughout, going through the normal fluctuations that occur over the course of a season. Right now his OPS is .799, at the bottom curve of one of his fluctuations. Expect his production to steadily increase over the final few weeks.

Impact

With only three weeks left in the season and head-to-head leagues finishing the first week of the playoffs, the trading deadline has already passed in most leagues. Matt Kemp is owned in virtually every league and is therefore unattainable. If you own him, good for you. Much to my surprise, Ethier is still not owned in every league. Perhaps people think his recent hot streak is more fluke than skill?

Let’s take a look at both Ethier and Kemp’s pace for this season:

 Player    R       HR     RBI      SB     Avg.
  Kemp     93      19      80      37    0.288
 Ethier    91      22      70      7     0.284

Kemp and Ethier have astoundingly similar numbers, further displaying the irrationality behind Ethier not being universally owned. The main difference comes from Kemp’s surprisingly large stolen base totals, an impressive tally for someone of his size.

Anaylsis

As I briefly mentioned before, Andre Ethier has been on a tear as of late (5-for-5 Friday as I write this), specifically since Manny was acquired on July 31. I’m interested in seeing the changes in his peripherals, and as a result, his production over this season using July 31 as the partitioning date.

Production
  Months      PA      R       HR     RBI      SB     AVG
 Apr-July    384      53      11      46      3     0.277
 Aug-Sept    117      25      8       14      3     0.324
Peripherals
  Months      K%     BB%     LD%    BA/BIP   FB%    HR/FB
 Apr-July   17.2%    8.7%   25.0%   0.307   34.5%   11.2%
 Aug-Sept   17.8%    9.0%   31.3%   0.320   30.1%   32.0%

Several of the columns—Strikeout Percentage (K%), Walk Percentage (BB%), BA/BIP and Flyball Percentage (FB%)—stayed relatively stagnant, however, Ethier’s Line Drive Percentage (LD%) and Home Run to Flyball Ratio (HR/FB%) underwent dramatic changes. Even though that 31.3 LD% is ridiculous and clearly unsustainable, it does show how locked in Ethier has been over the past five weeks. And that HR/FB%, of every five fly balls Etheir hits, one more is going for a home run now than before. Again, sustainable? Probably not, but who cares? As I mentioned earlier, there are three weeks left in roto leagues and head-to-head leagues are already in the postseason. The focus is now, in the present.

If you are already out of championship contention in your league and are looking forward to next season, Ethier figures to be an undervalued player in drafts. Kemp, on the other hand, will probably become slightly overvalued because of his high stolen base total. Kemp will still steal bases, but I highly doubt he will continue to be an elite base stealer as his power develops further—you can’t get too many steals from second base, or from the dugout after hitting a home run.

The biggest threat to Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp right now is the possibility of the Dodgers signing some overpaid, washed-up outfielder to take their place.

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