Spring Training Is Underway: 2014 Season Preview

Yesterday we took a look at Matt Kemp manning center field. Today we’re going to take a look at Andre Ethier again. We already went over what he adds in terms of offense, but today we’re going to examine what Ethier can add in terms of defense. The running theme, so far, has been about the projected offensive contributions from the 2014 lineup. The reason for that is because defensive metrics are not exactly 100% reliable, and because I don’t quite understand them. So bear with me as we discuss Andre Ethier’s potential defensive value in center field.

When Matt Kemp succumbed to injuries in the 2013 season, Ethier took over center field duties. In fact, in 2013, Ethier played over 200 more innings in center field than in right field. If we were to just eyeball his performance in center, we would probably say, “He was actually pretty decent in center.” In fact, I wouldn’t disagree. Ethier’s versatility was a pleasant surprise. Since there is a pretty good chance that Kemp will not be ready by Opening Day, expect Ethier to start in center field, not right.

Yasiel Puig is simply the better defender in right field. In 443.2 innings played in right, Ethier posted a UZR/150 of 2.6. Meanwhile, in 773.1 innings played in right, Puig posted a UZR/150 of 9.7. The innings played has no effect on UZR/150 as the stat is normalized on a 150 game season. Puig has only played 55.1 innings in center, which is an absurdly low sample size to say anything about his skill as a center fielder. The only other realistic option in center field would be Scott Van Slyke. As much as I like SVS, he hasn’t played center field and is better off on the corners according to his combined RF/LF 3.4 UZR (of course the added caveat is limited sample size: 383.1 innings played.)

The reality is that the Dodgers lack depth in mostly every position. If Kemp and Ethier go down this year, the Dodgers could possibly throw Van Slyke in center. But then the team is in the ugly position of hoping Crawford’s hamstrings hold and hoping Puig doesn’t run through the right field wall, completely destroying the right field pavillion. If either were to happen, the Dodgers options are severely limited.

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