Unusual Suspect: Andre Ethier
Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
Stats: .297 AVG, 20 HR, 67 RBIs, .516 SLG
Measurements: 6'2", 210 lbs.
Nicknames: None, officially. But it's got to be Andre the Giant, right?
Signature: Power-slamming the competition in a restacked Dodgers lineup.
Mysteries: Where did this breakout come from? How much of his next paycheck goes to Manny Ramirez? How often do he and Matt Kemp just sit back in the clubhouse and talk about how awesome they are? How much are the Dodgers regretting those Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones signings? How often does he get confused for the obscure Canadian musician who has the exact same name? If his nickname is "Andre the Giant," is it also automatically "The Eighth Wonder of the World?" And if he became a pro wrestler, would his tag-team partner be Haku (yeah, you remember the Colossal Connection)?
The fact that Andre Ethier is breaking out isn't such a surprise, but perhaps the timing is.
Considered a top prospect since his arrival in the Dodgers' farm system via the Milton Bradley trade with Oakland in December 2005, Ethier always had the talent to bust loose; it's just that he was never really given the opportunity.
Entering Spring Training 2008, the 26-year-old outfielder seemed to be on the outside looking in at a crowded Dodgers outfield given the electric arrival of Matt Kemp in 2007, the questionable signing of Juan Pierre and the unquestionably questionable signing of the Artist Formerly Known as Andruw.
Add in the acquisition of Manny Ramirez at the Trade Deadline, and one would think that Ethier would be buried on the Dodgers' bench. After turning in a stellar August and taking home National League Player of the Week honors to kick off September, clearly, one would be wrong.
So how did this all come about?
To the evidence!
Opportunity knocks: Ethier was able to defy the long odds and get a regular spot in the Dodgers lineup thanks to some help from his hobbled teammates. With Andruw Jones sidelined since Aug. 9 with left knee patellar tendinitis and Pierre missing nearly all of July with a torn knee ligament, Ethier has regularly found his name on the lineup card. Considering his hot-hitting ways thus far in September (.667-2-8) combined with Andruw Jones doing his best Andruw Jones impression (.161-3-14) and Pierre providing his usual underwhelming on-base percentage (.321), it's clear that Ethier will be in the Dodgers lineup for the long haul.
Walk the line: One key reason for Ethier's big play has been his uncanny ability to rip line drives. The Eighth Wonder of the World drills liners 26.8 percent of the time he makes contact with the ball, a marked improvement over the 18.1 clip he turned in last year. Not surprisingly, more line drives leads to more extra-base hits, as evidenced by his career best .516 slugging percentage.
Feeling at home: Perhaps the most bizarre reason for Andre's giant success (see what I just did there?) this year has been his ability ignore his surroundings and produce equally large numbers at home as on the road. With nearly identical season stat lines at Dodger Stadium (.297-10-34) and other parks (.297-10-33), Ethier has exhibited the necessary mental maturity at the plate and is clearly unfazed by his surroundings.
Too legit to quit: So has Ethier's ethereal play been the result of elite skill or simply the result of luck? Perhaps a little bit of both. The burgeoning 26-year-old has posted a .324 batting average on balls in play, which is a tad above the league average of about .300, but not enough to delegitamize (Note: That is a word even though Microsoft says otherwise) Ethier's breakout bid.
Of course, there are always alternative explanations.
Uh ... ever hear of Manny Ramirez? So yeah, pretty much Ethier's explosion can be directly traced to Manny's arrival in Dodgerland.
In his 30 games with Manny in town, Ethier is hitting a cool .367 with nine homers, 21 RBIs and a ridiculous .733 slugging percentage.
And don't think Ethier doesn't know how his bread is getting buttered, Ethier (see what I just did there?).
After his 5-for-5, five-RBI explosion on Sept. 5, Ethier made the secret to his raking clear:
"It helps when you have Manny hitting behind you -- you get a lot of pitches to hit. And I gotta give a lot of credit to him; every time I got a hit, it seemed like they were walking him right after me. It's obvious that they're pitching around him and giving me good pitches to hit. When you're behind in the count, they don't want to put you on base and have [Manny] come up and get a big hit, so it puts more pressure on them to throw strikes a little more over the plate."
Perhaps this doesn't really count as a conspiracy theory as much as just a legitimate explanation. Fine. I'll dig a little deeper.
If it makes you feel any better, he's hitting .298 with 28 homers and 104 RBIs over his 726 at-bats since Andre Ethier -- the obscure Canadian rock singer and former head man for "The Deadly Snakes" (who?) -- performed the National Anthem when the Dodgers hosted the Blue Jays on June 10, 2007. So he has that going for him.
Thank you, Wikipedia.