2012 Dodgers in Review #23: CF Matt Kemp

.303/.367/.538 449pa 23hr 3.5 fWAR C-

2012 in brief: Was best player in baseball for first month before repeated injuries to hamstring and run-ins with outfield fences turned season into a disappointment.

2013 status: Will make $22m in first year of 8/$160m extension.

******

Here’s how highly we think of Matt Kemp: the man hit .303/.367/.538 and I still went back-and-forth on whether to give him a C- or a D+. Actually, that’s getting ahead of ourselves; before we get into where things went bad, let’s remember how great they were at the start of the season, when Kemp blew through April with 12 homers and a line of .417/.490/.893. It’s easy to forget now after everything that happened, but at the time, Kemp was so hot that when he didn’t crush a ball at the speed of light, it was almost a disappointment. (We were, as you can imagine, slightly spoiled.)

It was wonderful. It was amazing. It was unlike anything we’d seen before. For example, on April 14, my game recap of a 6-1 win over San Diego was merely three animated GIFs of Kemp (twice) and Andre Ethier hitting homers. By the 20th, barely two weeks into the season, it was already difficult to find new ways to say “Kemp is awesome”:

Honestly, it’s only April 20, and I feel like I’m already running out of things to say about Kemp. Oh, an opposite-field homer in his first at-bat, his 8th dinger of the year? Oh, getting on base in each of his four at-bats, with three hits and a walk? Oh, a line that’s still sitting at .481/.525/1.000? I’d like to share with you his position on the National League leaderboards – it’s Triple Crown city, in case you didn’t know – but it hardly seems fair, because that would imply that Kemp is actually playing in the same league as the rest of the mere mortals out there.

The next day, he did it again:

Matt Kemp is out-of-this-world, indescribably good. Ho hum, another homer, his ninth of the season. He’s not going to match Sammy Sosa‘s record of 20 homers in one month, set back in June 1998, if only because the Dodgers didn’t start their season until April 5. But the record for April homers, currently shared by Albert Pujols (2006) and Alex Rodriguez (2007), remains in reach at 14.

And then again a week later, in Bryce Harper‘s debut:

Jamey Wright set the Nats down without trouble in the top of the tenth, and that brought Matt Kemp to the plate. Kemp crushed a Gorzelanny pitch into center for the walkoff win, and what else can you really say about Kemp? (Other than, “why in the hell would the Nationals even pitch to him there?”) Harper’s debut brought the spotlight to this game, but Kemp reminded everyone that for all of the potential about what Harper might yet be in the future, the present belongs to Beast Mode.

…and once more on April 30:

I’m not sure if I can find a better way to describe Matt Kemp‘s absurd April than simply by saying this: in 2011, he had a fantastic season, one of the best offensive years in the long history of the Dodgers, a campaign which should have netted him the NL MVP even prior to any controversies around Ryan Braun. And yet despite everything he achieved last year, at no point did he even come close to having a month like the one he just completed to start off 2012.

Kemp didn’t quite reach the Pujols/Rodriguez April homer record, but his 12 did set a Dodger mark. Unfortunately, that April 30 homer would be the last we’d see for quite a while. Kemp didn’t go deep in May… or in June… or in July until the 12th inning of a game against the Phillies on July 18, ending a drought of more than two-and-a-half months.

We all know why, of course. Kemp slipped on a wet field in Chicago trying to get to a ball in center on May 5, and didn’t start the next day (though he did pinch-hit). Despite concern here and elsewhere about his condition, he started the next six games, contributing little, and finally was forced out of a game against Colorado on May 13:

The fun started in the bottom of the third when Matt Kemp, who had already driven in the first Dodger run on a groundout in the first, bounced out to Troy Tulowitzki but was noticeably limping while trying to beat the throw. He was removed from the game, throwing his glove at the dugout wall out of frustration, clearly still bothered by the sore left hamstring which he first injured last weekend in Chicago. Honestly, I wish he’d have received a day off before this.

Later that evening, we learned Elian Herrera was on his way to the Dodgers, though we didn’t yet know why. Two days later, after results of his MRI were back, Kemp was placed on the disabled list, where he clearly belonged. After serving the minimum stint on the disabled list, Kemp returned on May 29 and… well, look. You know as well as I do that he made just two starts before re-injuring himself and leaving in the second inning of the May 30 game. It’s been very popular since then to claim that he came back too soon, that the training staff should have made him wait. But is it really that clear? He played in several minor league rehab games, and he made it through his first game back without any problems. I’m not arguing conclusively either way here, just that it seems to me that due diligence was done in deciding when to bring him back. If anything, I think he was allowed to return too soon when he hurt it in the first place, but I can’t find anything on this blog that shows we thought he was coming off the DL too soon when he did.

This time, Kemp’s return wasn’t quick, costing him all of June and half of July before coming back to start the second half of the season. As I don’t need to remind you, that was the darkest time of the year. With Kemp out, Ethier slowed, and everyone else in various stages of health, Don Mattingly was regularly forced to trot out lineups with things like “Juan Rivera-Scott Van Slyke-Adam Kennedy, #3-4-5!” Say what you will about Mattingly’s choices and the struggle of the revamped roster to produce after Ned Colletti’s shopping spree, I firmly believe that the single biggest reason the Dodgers came up short this year is that their best player missed about a third of the season. You think having a healthy Kemp in center rather than Tony Gwynn might have made a difference?

By the time Kemp returned, the Dodger lead in the NL West had shrunk from 5.5 games to a mere half-game. Kemp, however, picked up where he left off, hitting .324/.370/.488 over 41 games between July 13 and August 27, including a 17-game stretch to start August where he had hits in 16 games and hit .423/.468/.662 over that span. His absence seemed like a hiccup; with Hanley Ramirez & Adrian Gonzalez in town and Luis Cruz establishing himself, suddenly the Dodger lineup seemed primed to explode.

Now, if you’re saying that a “41 game period that ended on August 27″ seems awfully arbitrary, you wouldn’t be wrong. But I’m also assuming that you know exactly why I chose that date, because August 28 is, well, when this happened:

Kemp sat out two games with what was initially termed as a sore knee & jaw, but he was clearly not the same, hitting a meager .214/.267/.420 over 120 plate appearances for the rest of the season. If there’s blame to be placed on the medical staff or manager it’s here, because while Kemp’s willingness to play through pain is commendable, putting him out there when absolutely anyone could see that he was injured wasn’t helping the team. (I will, however, accept the counter-point that it’s not like giving more playing time to Rivera would have really made for a larger contribution.)

Two days after the season ended, Kemp had surgery to repair a torn labrum and frayed rotator cuff in his left shoulder, a procedure that will prevent him from swinging a bat for about three months but shouldn’t cause him to miss the start of 2013. Will it limit his power, however? That remains to be seen, though we all remember what happened to Shawn Green. (Yes, that was something of a unique case, but still.)

Thus ends a season which could have been great, but just didn’t work out that way. Argue about the grade if you must; when healthy, in April and August, Kemp was even better than we could have hoped for. Yet for two-thirds of the season, he was either off the field due to injury or clearly limited by it. For a team which missed tying for the second wild card by a single game, nothing else in 2012 had quite as large of an impact.

******

Next up! Andre Ethier gets himself paid!

698 comments
Mike Petriello
Mike Petriello moderator

947 words on Kershaw and the Cy Young live NOW

Mike Petriello
Mike Petriello moderator

If anyone wants to see an absolutely infuriating Trout/Miggy conversation, go check out my twitter timeline.

Mike Petriello
Mike Petriello moderator

so... that trade still happened, didn't it.

LA_Woman
LA_Woman

Buster Olney ‏@Buster_ESPN

"With the team we are putting together, we expect there to be very few empty seats at this ballpark ever."-MIA exec David Samson,early 2012.

 

Buster Olney ‏@Buster_ESPN

"We have a glorious new ballpark, and we want to be good, and (get) better. And we want to win. Period." -- Jeffrey Loria, Dec. 7, 2011.

Tom Daniels
Tom Daniels

This analysis ignores one clear fact - Kemp running into the wall was a symptom of HoRRIBLE instincts int the outfield. He had no idea where he was he was. He gets late breaks, misjudged balls. Matt is gifted athletically but he is a bad outfielder and the injury was a symptom of that problem. He needs to become more fundamentally sound in the field and on the bases.

LakerDodger24 (Kirby Pls)
LakerDodger24 (Kirby Pls)

Since I'm not around in the morning, someone tell Miguel Petriello that I need a few tips on Livefyre. 

EephusBlue
EephusBlue moderator

SKOAR MOAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

EephusBlue
EephusBlue moderator

Is it possible to continue writing while you are sleeping sitting upright?

DINGERS!
DINGERS!

I'm looking forward to seeing how the depth chart pans out once the dust settles during Hot Stove season. including the ETA of the next wave after Joc and Puig. At least as far as the ones who aren't flipped for Shields or Giancarlo . Dare to dream big. Good night!

MSTI OG
MSTI OG

Amazing Frontline today. Its on public TV as always. So good. Assisted suicide is discussion

DBrim
DBrim moderator

@Mike Petriello Just give Cabrera the MVP already so we can move on with our lives.

MSTI OG
MSTI OG

This is what ive been saying. As a baseball fan - hahahaha

LA_Woman
LA_Woman

This is what I've been saying, too. As a dancer I know that you check out every space that you perform or practice in; you get intimately familiar with it -- from the moment you step into that space. Performers do it, too, as do basketball players -- so I can't understand why centerfielders wouldn't. He should know how far he has from warning track to wall, what every wall is made of, how well padded it is, how high it is, etc. etc. And when you are a person who uses your body to move in space, you always know where you are in relationship to everything in your space; you both have a sense of it and you see things peripherally. He does not seem to have that sense or sight.

MSTI OG
MSTI OG

you do know, Tom, that all outfields differ in size and scope. You also know that the "warning" tracks differ by each stadium - in length and quality. You also know that the flight of the ball varies by the atmosphere the ball is in. Wait. You dont know those things

HiiiEVERYBODY!
HiiiEVERYBODY!

@LakerDodger24 so uhhh where can I find this article? Blog. Piece.

EephusBlue
EephusBlue moderator

 @IBBFTW I could see joc getting traded but noway with Puig. You don't drop that much money on a dude and not see what he can do for you.

besides THOSE FUCKING ARMS!!!!

DBrim
DBrim moderator

@double entandre @Mike Petriello I'd give Dickey 80% chance, Kershaw 20%.

Guitar
Guitar

 @WBBsAs The whole case of Matt Kemp frustrates the hell out of me. I remember that almost immediately after he won the golden glove award he started screwing up routine plays. It's the same case with his batting-- one moment he looks like the best batter in the game then he is "just good." He always seems like he is on the cusp of being a LEGENDARY, HISTORICAL player then fate collapses on him.

I agree that the wall crashes were the result of poor defensive instinct-- but to me it's more frustrating to consider that I thought that he had advanced way beyond such rookie mistakes. Again, he can look terrific then make you think, "what the ever-loving fuck?"

MERCURIAL.

MSTI OG
MSTI OG

Hes not a poor outfielder at all.

MSTI OG
MSTI OG

My response brought to you by insomnia and Frontline reporting. I need to wake up in 4 hours. Yay my life

MSTI OG
MSTI OG

This is so sad tho. But so critical to think. I... Have seen everything theyre talking about. Its powerful to watch for me.

DINGERS!
DINGERS!

@double entandre @DBrim he's sooo fat. And a W.S. looooooser. And somehow had less wins than the Artes. Trout's line is ridiculous! Damn you Ned! Y U No keep picks?

Mike Petriello
Mike Petriello moderator

 @double entandre They both badly need new parks. How are they going to go ask for any public funding - ESPECIALLY Tampa - when they see the shit the Marlins just pulled after one year?

DBrim
DBrim moderator

@Mike Petriello Loria did that a long time ago. He deserves whatever fallout comes from this.

Mike Petriello
Mike Petriello moderator

 @DBrim  that right there is my problem with it. There's a decent baseball argument to be made for it, but execution was poor.

 

Well, that and setting your team's reputation on fire.

DBrim
DBrim moderator

@double entandre @Mike Petriello All of those players couldn't get them to within sniffing distance of the wild card. Selling/rebuilding makes sense, but they got a horrible return.

DBrim
DBrim moderator

@Mike Petriello @double entandre I still wish we got Johnson.

MSTI OG
MSTI OG

But thank you efb nonetheless.

MSTI OG
MSTI OG

Seriously FU Livefyre

MSTI OG
MSTI OG

Well livefyre just decided 3/4 of my response wasnt worth posting

MSTI OG
MSTI OG

As long as you work hard, all professions are respected.

efb
efb

 @VietnamDodger thanks for your work, i envy and respect your profession so much - my soon to be profession I cannot say the same. just never was smart enough to be successful in your field

MSTI OG
MSTI OG

Diseases, pain, wounds so bad... Its... It makes you really wonder why were here.