What Does the Future Hold for Andre Ethier?
Back in May we did a Prospect Smackdown for Andre Ethier, comparing him to Felix Pie. Ethier was promoted to the major shortly afterward. He's been awesome, currently hitting .333/.377/.525 with 11 homers and 19 doubles.
Is this a fluke? Can he keep this up?
No, and yes. Perhaps not .333 every year, but I think he's a legitimate .290+ hitter. His situational stats have no real holes that I can find. He's hit over .300 every month. He hit .353/.403/.545 before the All Star Break, .317/.352/.506 afterward, certainly nothing to complain about. His OPS against lefty pitchers is .898, against righties it's .903. He's even been able to hit .357 in Dodger Stadium, vs. "just" .310 on the road. By every measure it has been an excellent major league debut. His walk rate isn't terrific, with 25 free passes in 345 at-bats, but his strikeout rate is not out of bounds, and I don't think plate discipline is a problem for him.
Before his promotion, he was hitting .349/.447/.500 for Las Vegas. Take the PCL air out of that and a conservative MLE would be something like .285/.350/.440, which he has certainly exceeded. Note that a guy "programmed" by God or Nature to hit .280 can hit over .300 or even .333 due to good luck.
Using Lee Sinins' indispensable sabermetric baseball encyclopedia, I generated the following interesting lists.
Top Batting Averages by left-handed hitting 24 year olds since 1900, between 345 at-bats and 420 plate appearances on the season, ranked compared to league average
George Anderson 1914 .316 (.054 above league)
John Grubb 1973 .311 (.050 above league)
Leron Lee 1972 .300 (.048 above league)
Rick Monday 1970 .290 (.027 above league)
Lyman Bostock 1975 .282 (.020 above league)
David DeJesus 2004 .287 (.016 above league)
Phil Cavaretta 1941 .286 (.015 above league)
Ethier's current .333 average is .67 higher than the current National League average of .266. This means that his current performance, hitting .333 with his current amount of playing time, is better than what any other lefty-hitting 24 year old has done in approximately the same amount of playing time in major league history.
If you remove the "upper limit" of playing time and just stick with the minimum of 345 at-bats, this is what you find:
Top Batting Averages by lefty-hitting 24 year olds since 1900, 345 or more at-bats but no higher limit on playing time, ranked compared to league average
Ty Cobb 1911 .420 (.145 above league)
Benny Kauff 1914 .370 (.107 above league)
Tris Speaker 1912 .383 (.106 above league)
Heinie Manush 1926 .378 (.089 above league)
Paul Waner 1927 .380 (.089 above league)
Edd Roush 1917 .341 (.085 above league)
Elmer Flick 1900 .367 (.080 above league)
A more impressive list of players but Ethier's .67 mark would rank 12th, tied with Mike Greenwell 1988 and Tony Oliva 1965 at .67.
A Mike Greenwell comp as a hitter looks legit to me. . .Greenwell hit .303/.368/.463 in his career, although I think Ethier is more effective defensively and will probably last longer. Other possible comps if Ethier maintains his current rate of production or develops more power include Fred Lynn and Dave Parker.
The point is that, for all he has done this year, we still don't know exactly how Ethier is going to pan out. He could emphasize batting average at the expense of home run power....he could emerge as a yearly batting title contender. He could develop more home run power and less batting average and OBP than we currently expect. He could develop into a very good, solid player like Rick Monday. Or he could develop into an Oliva-like superstar.