As you have seen a couple times throughout spring training, the Los Angeles Dodgers are trying to find a capable leadoff hitter for the regular season. It seems that the team has settled on possibly using outfielder Andre Ethier as the leadoff hitter when facing right-handed pitchers. And it makes sense.
One of the main reasons for doing this is that Ethier’s career on-base percentage against righties is .383, and that’s a better skill than speed ever happens to be. Having a leadoff hitter who prioritizes getting on rather than using his speed once he’s on does hold major beneficial value in the grand scheme of things.
Placing him atop the order does deviate from traditional thinking in baseball that held teams were best served by putting someone with speed in the leadoff spot in order to steal bases and immediately get a runner in scoring position.
The Dodgers wouldn’t be the first team to go against the grain on this, though. Several years ago, the Boston Red Sox used Kevin Youkilis as their leadoff hitter quite a bit. He had a .382 on-base percentage when used as the leadoff hitter, and it clearly did help. Think of Ethier has his left-handed doppelgänger.
The manager even said the main reason why this is being discussed:
“He gets on base,” [manager Dave Roberts] said.
Andre Ethier has never been a leadoff hitter in his career. Through all the games he’s played, he’s never once suited up for the team as the first hitter in the lineup. That could very well change this season. As his 10-and-5 rights come close to becoming active, Ethier might be more valuable than people realize.
While there was trade speculation all offseason, Ethier now seems like someone the team cannot live without at the top of the lineup. His value has increased exponentially. Welcome to the new wave of baseball, where a soon-to-be 34-year old outfielder with no speed can be your leadoff hitter and a valuable commodity.