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:




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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.

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I agree with the overall premiss, Ethier is going higher than he should in drafts.
"Ethier doesn't excel in any one category except for drawing walks, which is useless in most fantasy leagues." This is a problem w/ fantasy leagues, not with Ethier or MLB. If you expect MLB GMs to know and use the vastly superior OBP instead of BA, you should do the same, guys. Since none of the guys who play in the so-called "expert" leagues has the guts to step up and lead a fantasy shift that would largely assign BA to fantasy league history in 5 years if there were leadership, fantasy owners just need to do it themselves. I guarantee that all of you will enjoy shifting and will never look back. We did it in all my leagues 8-9 years ago. Nobody talks BA anymore except dinosaur "experts."
For your information, I do play in leagues that use OBP rather than batting average, and they have done so since I was in high school. That's not the standard, though, so writing analysis in a way that serves only a small slice of the population makes no sense. I try to talk about OBP leagues in my writing as well, since I know it's something our readers enjoy, but for this particular article, the problem was with draft strategy regarding Andre Ethier in standard leagues. I would love for OBP to be the standard rather than batting average, but we aren't there yet, as you said.
Marc, good article, and glad you recognize that most still play "standard" categories. It makes the content more useful.
And those of us in OBP leagues usually just skim through the 75% of articles trying to predict who will have a good BA. I appreciate that you break it down clearly so that I can evaluate the usefulness for my particular league accordingly.
Problem in two words: Mixed leagues. Why bother? Hearing GMs in mixed leagues beef about anything is like hearing trophy wives complain about Caribbean island vacation options. Only rankings I can be bothered with are geared toward 10-team NL only auction, anything less is for children. Same goes for pundits who play in multiple leagues. Play in a dozen leagues and you're bound to win one of them, just like if you spread enough chips on the roulette board one of them will pay--but we won't hear about the losing numbers. This isn't meant personally in any way, but please--not only does Andre Ethier have one of the best swings in all of baseball, he was raking last year until he got hurt. He hits for power and gets on base--can he hit lefties consistently? Only time will tell. In my league he'll go for at least $25 and has a 50-50 chance of earning it. What more can you ask for?
I grabbed him 60th overall in the Fantasy411 sloooooow mock draft and grabbed Seth Smith at pick 228. I'm 10x more excited about the Smith grab than the Ethier one but picking at the wheel saw a lot of OFers go before and after me.
Completely agree with Marc's premise, as the Dodger lineup is weak and he is utterly useless against lefty. As a totally biases Dodger fan desperate for hope, I'll add that he did come back far too soon from a broken finger last year, and was lousy in June & July before heating up in August and September, so there's a possibility he's better in 2011 than he was in 2010. Still, how he's going 50-something picks above Colby Rasmus in most drafts is insane.
It looks like LA is looking to have Ethier face most or all LH pitchers because they clearly have a Gibbons/Thames platoon in the other corner but no one else to platoon with Ethier if Gwynn and Paul are the 5th and 6th OFs. If he ends up with 250 or more PAs against LHers his value dives a ton.
not 250 I meant 200 PAs and that's assuming a totally healthy year which seems improbable.
I've wondered why I had so little enthusiasm for Ethier. Now I know.
I had been waiting for everyone else's enthusiasm to vanish, but according to his ADP, it had not.
So, I guess I should NOT keep Ethier in my NL-only league at $26 this season!
Where do we find out how much players "earned" last year? Is there a way to do this in PFM using our league settings?
This is an interesting and well-reasoned article. I do have a few nits, though. Specifically, I understand the premise that Ethier is not an elite player, but don't necessarily agree with the players mentioned as better candidates for RF. Upton, sure: Boatload of potential to go gonzo there, but higher risk, too. Pence and McCutheon? Not so much. A quick glance at the BP forecast lines show Ethier's predicted performance is essentially in line with or better than both players in everything but SBs. What McCutcheon gives you in SB, he gives up in HRs and RBI. Ethier can't hit lefties, but Pence can't hit in even months. And Houston's lineup stinks, too (estimated runs: 628), so if you're going to dock Ethier for that, you have to do the same for Pence. Upton, of course, can't escape his Uptonness. Is he a long-term stud, or doomed to a quick and short peak like his brother? (Btw, while many leagues don't use OBP as a standalone, OPS has been standard in every league I've played for at least four or five years now.) And it's not like Ethier is old: he's 28. I can see the points made about why Ethier is NOT an elite player, and I even agree with them, but I'm not convinced the arguments are any stronger for the rest of the bunch. If memory serves, Ehtier has usually topped his forecast lines. Maybe that's what fantasy managers are focusing on.