The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2023 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule, and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.
2023 BBWAA Candidate: Andre Ethier
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It would be an overstatement to call the Dodgers’ acquisition of Andre Ethier a turning point in the franchise’s history, but when the team snagged him from the A’s in December 2005 in exchange for infielder Antonio Perez and outfielder Milton Bradley, it had made just three postseason appearances and won a grand total of one playoff game in the first 11 years of the Wild Card era — one playoff game since winning the World Series in 1988, even. During the course of Ethier’s 12-year career, the Dodgers reached the playoffs eight times, and while injuries limited his role at the end, he signed off with a pinch-hit RBI single in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, and retired as the franchise leader in postseason games played (51).
As a Dodgers regular from 2006-15 — usually in right field, but with years spent mainly in left or center as well — Ethier combined good on-base skills and middle-of-the-lineup pop, meshing with a handful of homegrown players while helping the team win five NL West titles and add a Wild Card appearance in that span. During that time, Ethier made two All-Star teams, won Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, became a fan favorite, and earned a five-year, $85 million extension that unfortunately didn’t go as hoped. Indeed, the Dodgers sometimes seemed blind to his limitations, overexposing him to left-handed pitching (note his career 73 wRC+ against southpaws, 139 against righties) and overestimating his defensive abilities. Still, he spent his entire major league career in one place, making him one of two single-team candidates on this year’s ballot (Matt Cain is the other).
Andre Everett Ethier was born on April 10, 1982 in Phoenix, Arizona, one of seven children of Byron Ethier and Priscilla Ethier. Byron, who is of French Canadian and Cherokee descent, played baseball at Yavapai Junior College (winning the NJCAA championship in 1977) and briefly played professional softball. Byron’s father, Pete Ethier (Pierre Leo Ethier), spent eight seasons playing professionally during the 1949-58 span, and according to the Los Angeles Times, both Pete’s father and grandfather played professionally as well. Andre’s younger brother Devon Ethier (b. 1990) spent three seasons in the Dodgers’ organization as well after being drafted in the 32nd round in 2010.
“The Ethiers have played a lot of baseball over the years,” Byron told the Times‘ Kevin Baxter in 2009.
Andre began playing T-ball at age four on a team coached by his mother, with younger brother Adam as a teammate as well. Byron and Priscilla had divorced by then, but “but both parents put aside their differences… with mom coaching her sons’ T-ball teams while dad shot the video, then switching jobs as the boys grew,” according to Baxter. Byron even learned to throw left-handed in order to give lefty-swinging Andre enough exposure to same-side pitching.
At St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix, Ethier hit .527 during his senior year and was named first team all-region and second-team all-state. He enrolled at Arizona State University (a childhood dream) and played briefly with the Sun Devils in the fall of 2000, but coaches advised him that he did not have Division I talent. He transferred to Chandler-Gilbert Community College, where he hit .468, earned all-conference and all-regional honors, and was drafted by the A’s in the 37th round in 2001. He didn’t sign, but he returned to ASU and established that he was talented enough to lay Division I, making the First-Team All-Pac-10 in 2002 and ’03. The A’s drafted him again in the second round in 2003, and he signed for a $58,000 bonus.
Ethier’s climb up the organizational ladder was relatively quick, though interrupted by a stress fracture in his back in 2004, the only year of his early career that he spent entirely at one level. In 2005, he hit .319/.385/.497 at Double-A Midland, earned a late-season promotion to Triple-A Sacramento, and played in the Arizona Fall League. The Dodgers, who had just hired Ned Colletti to be their new general manager in mid-November after a 91-loss season, traded Perez and Bradley to Oakland in exchange for Ethier just a month later. While Colletti would make enough groan-worthy moves to become the bane of a certain scribe’s existence, the GM’s first major transaction proved to be one of his best.
Ethier cracked the Baseball America Top 100 Prospects list at no. 89 in 2006, then raked at a .349/.447/.500 clip at hitter-friendly Las Vegas before the Dodgers called him up. Fittingly, he made his debut against the Diamondbacks in Arizona on May 2, 2006, going 1-for-4 with a double off Luis Vizcaino as well as a walk; the next day, he homered off Dowan Brazelton, the first of 11 he’d hit that year while batting .308/.365/.477 (113 OPS+) with 2.4 WAR. The 24-year-old rookie’s performance helped the Dodgers claim the NL Wild Card spot, though he got just one plate appearance in the Division Series as the Dodgers were swept.
After a meager showing (105 OPS+, 1.1 WAR) in full-time duty during the Dodgers’ 82-80 2007 season, Ethier broke out in ’08, batting .305/.375/.510 (132 OPS+) with 20 homers, though subpar defense limited him to 2.2 WAR. Bursting with talented, homegrown youngsters — including catcher Russell Martin, center fielder Matt Kemp, righty Chad Billingsley and lefty Clayton Kershaw — the Dodgers eked out a division title with just an 84-78 record, but steamrolled the Cubs in the Division Series for their first postseason series win since 1988 before falling to the Phillies in the NLCS. Ethier hit just .188/.297/.219 without an RBI in 37 postseason plate appearances.
In 2009, Ethier matched the previous year’s 132 OPS+ while hitting a career-high 31 homers and reaching 3.0 WAR. He gained a reputation for clutch performance via a major league-high six walk-off hits, and tied Jimmie Foxx (1940) and Roy Sievers (1957) for the single-season record of walk-off homers with four (his career total of seven is tied for the franchise lead alongside Gil Hodges and Duke Snider, both of whom hit at least twice as many homers overall). The Dodgers improved to 95 wins in repeating as NL West champions, and this time Ethier sparkled in October, hitting .355/.429/.806 with three homers as the team swept the Cardinals before again losing to the Phillies. Most notably, he went 3-for-5 with a double, triple, and homer in closing out St. Louis in the Division Series, and then drew an eighth-inning bases loaded walk off J.A. Happ to force home the go-ahead run in Game 2 of the NLCS.
Capitalizing on hot starts, Ethier earned All-Star honors in 2010 and ’11, but injuries took some of the shine off his final numbers in both seasons. In 2010, he hit .392/.457/.744 through May 14, and was leading the league in both the Triple Crown and triple-slash stats when he fractured the pinky of his right hand during batting practice. Though he missed just 15 games, he hit a mere .260/.335/.413 the rest of the way, but still finished with 23 homers and a 133 OPS+. In 2011, he reeled off a 30-game hitting streak — one short of the franchise record set by Willie Davis in 1969 — that began in the season’s third game. He was batting .379/.442/.532 by the end of the streak, but his power soon eroded due to problems in his right knee. After a horrific stretch from the All-Star break into late August (.224/.316/.284 with one homer in 152 PA), Ethier publicly suggested that the Dodgers were pushing him to play through his knee woes, an allegation to which Don Mattingly and Colletti both took exception, with the latter intimating that he was using it as cover for his slump. In early September, he was shut down and underwent surgery to remove loose bodies in his right knee; he finished the year with 11 homers and a 121 OPS+.
Between those late fades, and subpar defense (including -14 DRS in 2010) and baserunning (-5 runs in 2011), Ethier totaled just 4.0 WAR in those two All-Star seasons, the only ones of his career. He did take home a Gold Glove in 2011, when his defensive metrics were at least on the upswing (1 DRS, 5.9 UZR, the latter up from -16.9 in 2010). That trend more or less continued into 2012 and ’13, as he not only maintained a similar level of offensive production — hitting a combined .278/.355/.443 (122 OPS+) — but provided adequate defense in center field in place of Kemp in the latter season. In June 2012, he and the Dodgers agreed upon a five-year, $85 million extension with an option for a sixth year (2018) — the first big player expenditure by Guggenheim Baseball Management, which on May 1 had closed its purchase of the Dodgers from Frank McCourt, who had steered the franchise into bankruptcy. Ethier totaled 6.4 WAR in 2012-13, his best back-to-back showing.
All of which made the 32-year-old Ethier’s crash to earth in 2014 the more jarring. While he made 56 of his 79 starts in center field, his defense deteriorated, and he only reached a total of 130 games by pinch-hitting 40 times. In all, he managed just four homers, a 97 OPS+ and zero WAR. Fortunately for the Dodgers, he did have one last strong season in him, batting .294/.366/.486 (127 OPS+) with 14 homers in 445 PA in 2015, helping the team to its third consecutive NL West title in a run that would reach eight straight, outlasting his career.
Indeed, Ethier didn’t have a whole lot of baseball left, not that he or the Dodgers knew it at the time. During spring training in 2016, he fouled a pitch off his right shin, fracturing his tibia. The Dodgers initially expected him to miss 10 to 14 weeks, but he didn’t make his season debut until September 10, and made a total of just 26 PA. The Dodgers included him on their postseason roster but he was limited to pinch-hitting duty; he went 2-for-6 with a walk and a solo homer, hit off the Cubs’ Jon Lester in the NLCS opener.
The spring of 2017 brought another long outage, as an MRI revealed Ethier was suffering from a mild herniated disc. He didn’t make his debut until rosters expanded on September 1, and made just eight starts in the outfield and a total of 38 PA. He did get to start in the outfield a twice in the NLCS, most notably homering and singling off the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks in Game 3, and went 2-for-5 off the bench in the World Series against the Astros. In Game 7, with the Dodgers trailing 5-0 after Yu Darvish was chased and Kershaw expended, Ethier provided a flicker of hope by singling off Charlie Morton to bring in the Dodgers’ first run, but they couldn’t add another. The Astros won, though their victory was ultimately tarnished by subsequent revelations of their illegal sign stealing.
Many of those 2017 Dodgers were still on the roster three years later when the team finally captured its first championship since 1988, but not Ethier. After the World Series, the Dodgers declined his $17.5 million option and he became a free agent. Though he planned to play in 2018, he couldn’t find a fit. In July of that year, he officially announced his retirement. The Dodgers honored him in pregame festivities on August 3 of that year. The team’s subsequent success has bumped him to eighth on the list of postseason games played, but for many of the franchise’s fans, he’ll provide fond reminders of an era when the good times returned to Chavez Ravine.
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) August 4, 2018