Though he’s a career right fielder, this potential Met was pressed into center field this year (this sounds familiar…). He’ll turn 32 shortly after Opening Day next year (wait a minute…). He’s left handed, and can hit for some pop, averaging roughly 20 home runs / 162 games played (yeah, he’s talking about…) but has shown some platoon splits that are a concern.
Well yes, but no.
For all intents and purposes, Choo and Ethier are the same age (Ethier is three months older) and have similar offensive careers. Ethier is a career .288 hitter with a career .182 ISO (Slugging Percentage – Batting Average) Choo is a career .288 hitter with a .177 ISO. Choo, to his credit, has done a much better job getting on base, doing so at an outstanding .388 clip. Ethier’s .362 mark, while quite good, doesn’t match up. They’re fairly similar defensively as well, with Choo averaging +0 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) per 1200 innings in right field and a -2.5 career UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating prorated to 150 games) to Ethier’s -2 DRS and -6.1 UZR/150. In 2013, however, Ethier earns a nod by arguably having played a better center field (-3 DRS, -4.7 UZR/150 vs. -17 DRS, -17 UZR/150) although neither should be expected to log significant time there in the future.
So why am I advocating Ethier?
1. Platoon splits
Though it may not show from the paragraph above, Ethier and Choo are fairly similar hitters, with fairly similar profiles. Choo walks more, though the difference wasn’t that dramatic until Choo’s 15% walk rate this past season. Choo steals bases, but Ethier has more often been the better base runner (outside of one fluky season for each).
None of this, alone, is a good argument for why the Mets should focus on acquiring Ethier. Here’s where that begins to change: With the exception, again, of walk rate, Ethier and Choo have been nearly the exact same player against right-handed pitching:
Choo walks more often, but the big advantage in OBP actually comes from the fact that Choo gets plunked way more often: 40 times in 2549 plate appearances against Ethier’s 25 times in 3265 PAs. Choo strikes out significantly more, and his numbers are a much smaller sample. They have an identical batting average and (for all purposes) an identical slugging percentage. If we look at their numbers vs. Left-Handed Pitching:
We see the same thing. Choo’s walk rate is 50% higher, which leads to the respectable .340 On Base Perecentage. But Choo still strikes out more, and hits for less power. None of this is super relevant though, because:
2. Neither of them has to play much against lefties
Having a team loaded up with platoons isn’t necessarily a good thing. But in cases where a player struggles in certain spots, it can be a wise way to get more production in your lineup. Looking at the splits above, it’s clear that it would be wise to platoon Ethier, with a right-handed batter playing against left-handed pitching. With Choo it’s less clear, but there’s a good amount of room for improvement.
Fortunately, the Mets have a handful of guys who can fill such a role. Andrew Brown hasn’t gotten on base much, but he’s posted a .163 ISO vs. left-handed pitching and has a history of mashing lefties in AAA. Eric Young Jr’s .268/.330/.342 slashline isn’t materially different from Choo’s line. Plenty of free agents, such as Rajai Davis, can also be had on inexpensive contracts who excel against lefties as well.
3. Ethier is cheaper
Andre Ethier’s contract isn’t appealing. He’s due $69M over the next 4 years, with either a $2.5M buyout or a $17.5M vesting option (1100 plate appearances over 2016-17, or 550 plate appearances in 2017). The Mets likely wouldn’t pay that much though, as the Dodgers are motivated sellers. They currently have Ethier, Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, and top prospect Joc Pederson to fill three spots. They need to save money and open spots. To move them around, it’s expected that the team will cover some of the contract(s) of their outfielders in a trade.
Were the Dodgers to cover, say, $5M each season, it’d be an effective 4-year, $49M contract, which would be a reasonable deal. Further, the Dodgers aren’t in a position to demand top prospects, so it’s possible the Mets could complete a deal centered around some of their younger pitching prospects. For better prospects, the Dodgers would conceivably cover more of his salary.
Is Andre Ethier a better player than Shin-Soo Choo? No. Should acquiring one preclude acquiring both? No. But for Sandy Alderson, Ethier represents a cheaper alternative who isn’t that much of a dropoff. This isn’t a blind advocacy for bringing Ethier to the Mets – he has flaws, isn’t young, and isn’t cheap – but at the right price he represents legitimate improvement for the Mets’ outfield.
What do you think? Should Sandy Alderson try to bring Andre Ethier to Queens?
Commentary from Danny Abriano:
I’ve been vocal for a while about having no interest in the Mets acquiring Ethier. While Dan put forth a good argument, I remain against Ethier for two reasons.
First of all, in the event the Dodgers ate $5 million a season, Ethier would still cost over $12 million per year. Dan advocates platooning Ethier. Paying $12 million a year for a platoon player is not wise.
Secondly, while Ethier is similar to Choo, it would just take money to sign Choo. For Ethier, it would cost pieces that would need to be shipped to Los Angeles and money.
It would make more sense to simply sign Choo.