Andre Ethier's new contract: Smart move?

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Andre Ethier recently signed a 5-year, $85 million contract extension.With his new 5-year, $85 million contract, Andre Ethier becomes tied for the 8th-highest paid outfielder in baseball among non-expired contracts. It also makes him the 3rd-most well-compensated Los Angeles Dodgers player in franchise history, behind only Matt Kemp and Kevin Brown.

Highest Average Annual Value
Outfielders in MLB History

While no one would dispute that Ethier is a good player, he’s a player with some pretty clear flaws. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, they are flaws that could require him to switch positions or, even worse, relegate him to part-time status.

Ethier has a 5-year track record of some pretty eye-opening platoon splits; for his career, he has a .308/.384/.525 line against right-handed pitchers and a .246/.307/.366 line against left-handed pitchers. The numbers might suggest he’s a star against righties and closer to mediocrity against lefties.

While Ethier’s batting average and OPS against left-handed pitchers is better this season than it has been in any season since his rookie 2006 campaign, his OPS had declined each season from 2007 to 2011. It’s possible this is a change in approach for Ethier, but at 30 years old, it’s also possible we’re seeing a first-half hot run.

In addition to his pronounced platoon splits, Ethier has also been a liability in the field. Among right fielders with at least 3,000 innings played since 2007, Ethier has saved the 6th-fewest runs according to the Defensive Runs Saved statistic.

It should be noted that while Ethier has improved in both of these areas so far this season – against left-handed pitching and in the field – it is important to weigh this 50-game improvement against a five-season track record of decline/poor performance. Based on his new contract, it would appear as though the Dodgers are banking on genuine improvement.

Andre Ethier: Wins Above Replacement
Ranks Among Outfielders Since 2007

From 2007-11, the highest Ethier ranked in Wins Above Replacement was 23rd out of 57 qualifying outfielders, squarely in the middle of the pack. To this point in his career, he has not produced a single season with a WAR of 3.0 or greater.

Since the start of the 2011 season, which includes his red-hot 2012 start, Ethier still doesn’t rank well relative to all position players. His 4.3 WAR over that stretch ranks 63rd among all position players in baseball.

And perhaps the most damning point: In MLB history, there have been 27 contracts given to position players – including Andre Ethier’s – of at least five years in length and $17 million per season. Of those 27 contracts, no player has produced less to that point in his career than Ethier, as measured by Wins Above Replacement.