You may remember that for much of last year, one of our biggest complaints with Joe Torre was the ridiculous decision to have Matt Kemp – who was only, you know, the best center fielder in baseball - spending so much of the year hitting 7th or 8th. Kemp got 282 plate appearances (a little less than half his season) hitting that low in the lineup. It doesn’t take a sabremetrician to know that you want your best hitters at the plate more than lesser hitters, so to watch an emerging stud like Kemp getting fewer chances to hit than the struggling Russell Martin & Rafael Furcal (not to mention the five weeks Juan Pierre spent leading off) was frustrating to say the least.
But if early signs are any indication, Torre may be ready to remedy that mistake this season…
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Matt Kemp had a team-leading 139 strikeouts in 2009 but that won’t deter manager Joe Torre from using his budding star in the second spot in the Dodgers’ lineup this season.
In the first game of the spring Friday, Kemp was batting second behind leadoff man Rafael Furcal and ahead of sluggers Andre Ethier and Manny Ramirez.
Not the prototypical No. 2 hitter that can work counts and is adept at situational hitting, Torre thinks Kemp could thrive in the role, anyway.
“We don’t want Matt Kemp to give himself up,” Torre said. “But I think that second spot has changed its personality a lot. Years ago when you had Pee Wee Reese hitting second, his job was to move the runner and stuff. Now you want to move the runner all the way around to score.”
“(Don) Mattingley hit two, Alex Rodriguez hit two,” Torre said. “Matt, I think a big part of it in my thinking is the fact that he’s going to be hitting in front of some thunder, so he’ll get some pitches to hit. He can do some damage with pitches to hit. He’s been much more disciplined than I thought he would be last year than he was the year before. He’s only going to get better.”
“Batting second, I know (Furcal) is going to get on and cause havoc on the bases,” Kemp said. “He’s going to run and my job is to drive him in or get on base and let (Ethier and Ramirez) drive me in.”
I don’t like to get too caught up in spring training stories, especially this early. Yet it’s hard to ignore what the top half of the Dodger lineup could look like. Leading off, you’ve got the LA Times writing articles about how good Furcal’s back feels this year. Then you have Kemp hitting 2nd, with Ethier 3rd and Manny (four hits in the first two spring training games) 4th? Now that’s a lineup. How many good pitches do you think Kemp could see hitting #2, with pitchers knowing that both Ethier and Manny await?
What’s even better about this is remembering what a mess the #2 spot was for much of last season. Sure, it was fine for the first two months when Orlando Hudson was going great. But it went downhill as soon as Manny got suspended and Pierre took over the leadoff spot. Bumped to #2, Furcal hit a putrid .201/.272/.276 (.548) in 32 games in the role. Martin got a shot, and was even worse – putting up just a .508 OPS in 12 games. By the time September rolled around, it was basically pulling names out of a hat, as Hudson, Ethier, Pierre, Kemp, Martin, & Ronnie Belliard all got multiple starts at #2.
If Kemp really is going to be the man in the second slot, it’s a good sign as far as the decision-making tree goes, and an even better sign for lineup productivity.
Speaking of Martin, he missed today’s game thanks to an MRI taken of his “hip or groin area”, reports Ken Gurnick. After all the stories we’ve heard about how much Martin bulked up this offseason, one area of caution is absolutely the loss of flexibility; the two often go hand-in-hand. No word on the severity or cause of this issue yet, though.