MSTI.com's 2007 In Review: Right Field

O.K., first thing of note: no, this feature didn’t die. Another thing to note: I haven’t died either, just life caused a delay or twenty, but I am back and ready to tackle right field!

Andre Ethier = B+andre-ethier.jpg

(.284/.350/.452, 13 HR’s, 64 RBI’s)

2007 Recap: O.K., so we all remember when Ethier came up in May of 2006 against the Diamondbacks, he went off on a tear that lasted for three months and was the key cog in the Dodgers’ offense. In fact, from when he came up in early May until the All-Star break, his stat line was the following: .352/.403/.545. I mean, he really just came out of nowhere, and played solid defense to go with it.

Alas, as the second half began, his numbers began to dive and then in September, he lost his starting job to Marlon Anderson. His September decline was sharp and left many skeptics wondering how he’d do for 2007, but many people forget just how horribly he was handled. During the second half, Ethier ended up getting Grady’d and went through the Russell Martin treatment: he would be sent out there almost daily. To demonstrate this, here is a monthly total of the games he started: May = 18, June = 14, July = 25, August = 27. Oh yeah, that also included a stretch of playing every single inning of every single game from August 15th-September 7th. Hmm… first year player, no days off, late in the season, even admitting that he is mentally drained, and also battled a reported shoulder injury on August 10th on a diving catch… whatever caused that decline?!

But fret not, Ned had a solution to this. After Andre’s top 5 finish in the Rookie Of The Year voting, back in the deep, dark secretive Dodgers front office in Los Angeles, Ned says: “You know, that Andre kid really needs some rest. So you know what I’ll do? I’m going to run him out of a starting job and replace him with an older, more expensive Gonzo!”

Ethier then wound up platooning with Matt Kemp until the right field wall said: “eat that, motherfucker!” and knocked Kemp out. But while Ethier got the starting right field job back, he failed to capitalize for the first two months, hitting .250/.282/.458 in April, and .289/.333/.378 in May. Just being entirely observational, after hearing that he felt that the Dodgers maybe didn’t want him after his late 2006 collapse, it seemed the lack of stable playing time might have made him press a bit more. Compounding the problem was, by his admission, the lack of communication between him and then-hitting coach Eddie Murray, but this was fixed once Bill Mueller stepped in and then Andre really took off. He hit .286/.405/.443 in June and was just flat out insane in July, hitting a massive .383/.471/.550. Alas, in August and September, he nosedived again, hitting .268/.315/.488 in August and .247/.317/.425 in September.

So, it was kind of a bipolar type of year. Had a tough start, then had two REALLY awesome months and then started to fade again. However, despite some of the down months, he was still able to rank 4th (only counting players that are qualified enough in AB’s, which means bye bye Loney and Kemp) in BA, OBP, 3rd in SLG%, OPS, OPS+, 2nd in WPA and 1st in getting screwed over by your manager and having to hit eighth in the lineup, which brings me to one of the things that pissed me off the most this past season. Yeah, for the first half of the season, it was hard to complain about Gonzo’s production: he produced, can’t argue that. But once he predictably regressed, Ethier took off, and should have become the starting left fielder. After all, who has the better chance of improving or at least has the better chance of being the better player in the long run: a 25 year old who is already putting up comparable numbers or a declining 40 year old? Instead, Grady kept sending out Gonzo, and, for it, wasted the tear that Ethier was on. For crying out loud…

July 2007 Stats:

Gonzo: .256/.287/.317

Games started: 21

Ethier: .383/.471/.550

Games started: 13

Yeah… what the fuck?

And even despite the dive Ethier had at the end of the season…

Ethier 2nd Half Stats:

.286/.354/.472

Gonzo 2nd Half Stats:

.251/.316/.368

I settled on the B+ because his year wasn’t in the Loney, Kemp or Martin mold of awesomeness, but it wasn’t bad either. Going into this year, there were still many who weren’t sure what to expect after the September 2006 collapse. But after the slow start, he avoided the sophomore slump and showed that he is still very much a competent hitter and was the lone arm in the Dodgers’ outfield. If I had one word to describe him, I would say dependable. He is probably not the type of guy who will get the most attention, but a good hitter he is. I’ve always enjoyed watching his ability to work the count and show a patience at the plate, something sorely lacking from the 2007 lineup, and his hitting mechanics are very smooth. Of course, it was also pretty nice to see him come through many times throughout the season, as alluded to earlier with the WPA ranking.

2008 Recap: As some know in various parts, Ethier is my favorite Dodger; I mean, he’s a good hitter, and probably the best outfielder we had defensively last year… no, check that, clearly the best outfielder we had defensively. However, out of all the kids, I see his ceiling probably being the lowest. That’s not to say his ceiling isn’t high, but just not the superstar levels of a Loney, Martin, Thunder Thighs or Kemp. Because of this, that makes him the most tradeable this winter for the big bat, but don’t underestimate him either. If he can get regular playing time, and not have to 1. be benched after getting 3 hits and 2. not having to hit eighth to get those hits, I can see him having a better year with a line of around, say, .285/.360/.460 with around 20 HR’s or so. Consider that he’s still 25, only making the league minimum, there’s virtually no need for a Jones, Hunter or Rowand, etc. in what would be an arguable marginal improvement for a gazillion dollars more.

matt-kemp2.jpg

 

Matt Kemp = A

(.342/.373/.521, 10 HR’s, 42 RBI’s)

2007 Recap: After expecting to start the season in Triple-A due to 1. his awful spring and 2. needing A LOT more seasoning after pitcher’s figured him out in 2006 and made him look like Adrian Beltre with a good ankle, Kemp displayed that glimpse of power towards the final week of Spring Training. Once remembering that 2/3 of their outfield was named Luis Gonzalez and Juan Pierre, his power was good enough to land him in what was expected to be a platoon with Andre Ethier.

Well… at least, until…

matt-kemp.jpg

“PLEASE DON’T LET ME HIT THE WALL, PLEASE…

(crash)

OH SHIT, GRADY WILL NEVER GIVE ME MY JOB BACK!”

Missing time, Kemp lost his roster spot and got sent back to Triple-A, before coming back in June. But once he came back, Kemp quickly established himself as one of the go to guys on the team, hitting a cool .383/.420/.468 during that month. In fact, after suffering the Ethier treatment of having to hit low in the order – and that’s IF he played! – he eventually moved up to the 3rd spot, which actually wasn’t a bad idea considering he would be far more protected with Kent after him, although terrible for it made me really mix up their names a lot during broadcasts. Since Kemp only racked up 292 AB’s, let’s see how he did relative to his teammates with at least 250 AB’s. Based on that, Kemp ranked 1st in BA, 4th in OBP, VORP, 2nd in SLG%, OPS, OPS+ It’s very safe to say that, once players like Ethier, and even to an extent Martin, started to fade a bit towards the end, it was Kemp and Loney (and Kent) who mostly carried the team’s offense. The beauty of having Kemp in the lineup was also the fact that he was able to provide the team with another power threat, something very, very rare in those parts.

Unless you work for the L.A. Times, it’s just really hard not to be amazed by Matt Kemp. He is a five tool player that has superstar all over him. Really, when he hits, he makes it look so effortless and he has incredible power. One thing that also really surprises me about Kemp, due to his size, has always been his speed; the dude can fly and is without a doubt one of the fastest players on the team.

So after all these glowing compliments, why didn’t he get the A+ and just a measely A? You can probably blame James Loney and Russell Martin for that. After seeing them come up looking so polished, as if they had been playing for years, that’s the standard when I think of A+ grades. Kemp, on the other hand, despite his scary talent – he probably has the highest ceiling out of everyone – still has a ways to go. Defensively, he subscribes to the Jason Repko philosophy of fielding and takes terrible routes to balls, and offensively, while he can crush a mistake, still can be easily fooled with breaking balls, though he has improved on that a lot from 2006. Finally, yes, there is the base running, which became flat out comical at times with getting thrown out and running through stop signs. I was always waiting for Donnelly to go out there with a “STOP!” or “GO!” sign that he would hold up whenever Kemp would be running towards third… or maybe even a signal. Because of these things, he still has some growing up to do, but it’s also important to remember that he has been playing professional baseball for less than five years. In many ways, with his hitting prowlness and issues defensively and on the basepaths, he does remind me of a young Manny Ramirez.

2008 Outlook: On a hit to the gap, Kemp runs through the sign at third only to get clotheslined and piledrived by Larry Bowa.

O.K., seriously… if Kemp gets the rightful starting position at right field, I can only expect him to further grow as a player. With regular playing time, I could easily envision somewhere around a .290/.360/.500 line, maybe with around 20-25 HR’s or so. And if he can put up anything remotely close to that, that’s all the more reason not to trade him. It makes no sense to trade his production, as well as the production of several other kids to Florida for Miguel Cabrera… or anyone. Yeah, he’d be AWESOME at the plate, and he’d net you 30-35 HR’s and a lot of other Godly numbers, but if the rumors of Kemp, Loney, Billingsley and Kershaw are the price, then you just traded away two hitters with the potential to hit at least 20-25 HR’s a piece as early as next season. Not to mention that you now have holes at other positions. The costs simply outweigh the benefits (and outweighing Miguel Cabrera is not an easy thing to do) and if the rapid progression of Kemp from 2006 to 2007 is any indication for next year… then 2008 should be a really fun year.

- Vin vinscully-face.jpg

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