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March 9, 2011
My Beef With Andre
Andre Ethier is a fine player, one of the more productive outfielders in the game. But that's in the real world.
According to Mock Draft Central, Ethier's average draft position (ADP) is currently 38. The earliest he has been taken is 34th, and the latest 54th. At the same time, according to the Player Forecast Manager, Ethier is projected to be worth just under $13; that may be a tad low, as his projected slash line is .278/.356/.461, but if so only by a couple of dollars. In 2010, meanwhile, Ethier amassed $14 worth of value over 139 games—his value would have been a bit higher had he not missed time with injury, but again, not by much. That put him #93 in dollar value in standard mixed leagues, a few spots in front of the #105 ranking the PFM is suggesting for 2011.
In my fantasy rankings series, I ended up ranking 63 players as worthy of either four or five stars. The four-star players were expected to produce $20 of value at minimum and be valuable in four of the five categories. Ethier was only a three-star outfielder whose upside is low four-star. Chances are good he will produce something like $15 worth of value, and, in a great year for him, may approach the $20 mark.
According to the system I have in my rankings, in other words, Ethier is going at minimum around 30 spots too soon in drafts if you assume he would be the top three-star player, which he's not. The problem is that Ethier doesn't excel in any one category except for drawing walks, which is useless in most fantasy leagues.
Because of this, it's odd to see him picked ahead of players with more upside, like Justin Upton (ADP of 40), Andrew McCutchen (44), and Hunter Pence (82), three players who are legitimate four-star outfielders. Upton was worth just $12 last year in mixed leagues, but that was in a disappointing campaign; the PFM predicts a $22 season for him in 2011. Upton may steal 20 bases and hit 25 homers or more, which makes him more valuable than Ethier, who can do only one of those two things. (For his career, Ethier has 19 steals in 36 attempts—he not only runs little, but is terrible when he does.) At worst, they are roughly the same value.
As for McCutchen, he was worth more than $19 last year, and is projected by the PFM to generate the same value in 2011. He is ranked as the 47th most valuable player in mixed leagues. That Pence is being selected almost 50 spots behind Ethier is a total mystery, given that he was worth $23 in 2010 and should be right in that neighborhood again in 2011. Hunter Pence is apparently as underrated as Ethier is overrated.
There are other examples of ADP weirdness: Alex Rios with an ADP of 59, Jay Bruce at 78, Colby Rasmus at 93, all outfielders who can match or exceed what Ethier is capable of. That's not only a reason to avoid Ethier, it's a reason to wait and snag one of these overlooked outfielders at a lower price or with a later draft pick.
One problem that fantasy players may be overlooking in their drafts is that Ethier is stuck in Los Angeles, hitting third in a terrible lineup. PECOTA projects the Dodgers to score 691 runs and hit for a combined line of .261/.322/.399—batting behind Rafael Furcal and Matt Kemp (who, for the most part, split time between the second and fourth spots in the lineup in 2010) may help Ethier with his RBI opportunities, but with the likes of James Loney, Casey Blake, Juan Uribe, Rod Barajas, and JaMarcus Gwybbons, Jr. hitting behind him, he isn't going to collect much in the way of runs.
PECOTA has him down for 82 R and 80 RBI over 625 plate appearances, which seems low until you look at his 2010 campaign, when he was driven in 72 times and drove in 82. Of the 162 players with 450 plate appearances in 2010, Ethier ranked 69th in runners on base with 377 and 71st in plate appearances with runners on base with 277—that was less than half of his total plate appearances. Nothing the Dodgers did this winter inspires much confidence in their giving Ethier more opportunities to drive runners in, either, though maybe Juan Uribe can go deep a few times with Ethier on base to bump up his runs scored total.
Combine that poor environment with his total inability to hit left-handers—Ethier is a career .247/.311/.370 hitter against southpaws, "good" for a tOPS+ of 61 (100 is average)—and you have a player who just isn't doing much at all in one-quarter of his plate appearances. He's great against right-handers (.307/.381/.533 for his career) but you don't draft someone you may need to platoon at the beginning of the fourth round. He is starting to see more and more plate appearances against southpaws as well, as it is no secret that he struggles against them:
More left-handed relievers coming in to face Ethier late means fewer chances for him to take advantage of runners on base—which means fewer RBI, as well as fewer opportunities for others to drive him in.
Totals in the neighborhood above would make Ethier useful but not elite in three categories—homers, R, and RBI—and a batting average in line with his career rate of .291 would make him helpful in that regard as well. Basically, you have a player who is pretty solid across the category board (except for steals), but who is being drafted as if he were elite in at least one regard. There's something in Ethier's real-world value that is lost in the translation to fantasy, but it doesn't look like anyone is paying attention to that when they select him as early as they have. Let Ethier go in your own drafts if you see someone bidding heavily on him at auction, and use the money elsewhere.