To simply say that Matt Kemp isn’t quite right these days is more than an understatement. Over his last four games, he’s struck out eight times in 14 plate appearances; since his modest hitting streak ended on May 15, he’s got just five hits and three walks in 40 times up, while striking out a whopping 19 times.
With one more poor outing, his on-base percentage is likely to drop below .300, and he is, right now, among the 20 worst qualified hitters in the big leagues. (He’s 21st on that link of poorest wOBA I just included, but some of those ahead of him, like Dustin Ackley, no longer have big league jobs.) Dodger fans are booing him at home, and while I don’t condone it, because I absolutely do not think lack of effort is the problem here, I do understand it. Kemp looks absolutely lost at the plate, and he seems to be headed in the wrong direction as the days go by.
So what can be done? A popular thought is “send him to the disabled list,” especially when you hear him say things like he “can’t fully extend his shoulder,” though the fact that he was recently cleared to do more in the weight room than before certainly seems to indicate he’s not injured. Chad Moriyama recently laid out a pretty exhaustive look at Kemp’s mechanics and settled on the convincing idea that taking Kemp out of the lineup may do more to hurt his comeback than to aid it, since he isn’t going to get his timing and confidence back on the shelf. (And no, as several people have asked me, you can’t just ship him to Triple-A; his service time precludes that without his consent. Nor would I want to.)
But even if you disagree with Moriyama, the disabled list is probably not a likely scenario for a variety of valid reasons.
To start with, the simple act of putting Kemp on the disabled list might be problematic. We all know the rules surrounding disabled list trips are squishy at best, but we keep hearing that his shoulder is sound. If this is obviously less about health and more about “needing to hide him for a while,” that might not fly; either way I can’t imagine Kemp would willingly go there if he wasn’t injured.
Besides, what would this team do in center field without him? This is not so much about Kemp as it is about the roster that Ned Colletti has constructed, I suppose, but there’s not a lot of center field depth here. Carl Crawford & Andre Ethier are emergency options for a few innings at best there, but not for longer — the idea of having either play center full time, with Scott Van Slyke then taking a corner, would be potentially the worst defensive outfield in the game. Skip Schumaker is the only other center field option on the team, though I think I hardly have to point out how unappealing playing him full time would be.
In Triple-A, the primary center fielders are Matt Angle and Tony Gwynn, neither of whom are on the 40-man roster or offer much hope of big league success. It’s where you drop down to Double-A where things get interesting, of course. Everyone wants to see Yasiel Puig, especially after he hit two homers yesterday to push his line to .316/.390/.603. I said he wasn’t ready on April 1 or May 1; I’m open to the idea, now that we’re basically into June, that he’s progressed, but I will need to see some scouting reports indicating improved pitch recognition before that happens — you can’t simply scout the stat line, as we should have learned with Dee Gordon by now. The thing is, Puig doesn’t solve a Kemp problem, because he’s not a center fielder. He’s played almost exclusively in right field this year, and simply having the speed and talent to cover center doesn’t make you a center fielder, as we’ve seen with Kemp himself.
The primary center fielder for the Lookouts is Joc Pederson, hitting a nice .324/.403/.535 as one of the youngest players in Double-A. He would arguably be called up ahead of Puig, though he’s not without issues of his own — like Crawford, Ethier, & Schumaker, he hits lefty, making the outfield quite lopsided. That’s all getting ahead of ourselves anyway, because it would require a Kemp move first — one I do not believe is coming.
I realize I’m putting out a lot of reasons why things can’t happen without offering solutions, and that’s in part because there seem to be few viable options. Kemp needs to work this mess out, and he’s not going to do it if he’s not playing. But this team does need to win games, and after being hesitant to this idea for weeks, I now would be in favor of moving Kemp down in the lineup. That’s not because of “the pressure of hitting fourth” or whatever ridiculous idea people come up with, but just because you can’t have a hitter performing so terribly wasting the production of the red-hot Adrian Gonzalez.
That’s not without problems of its own, of course, because if Kemp is hitting sixth or seventh you’re now looking at Ethier or Van Slyke or Jerry Hairston or someone hitting cleanup, which is far from ideal. But if we’re stuck in the gray zone between doing something rash and doing nothing at all, that might be the only acceptable option for now. And if Kemp can’t sort himself out soon, 2013 might be a lost cause regardless of who is writing out the lineup card from the bench.
The bottom line is that it was an impressive teenage debut from a talented arm. No more and no less. The better comp in terms of performance and build is Roberto Osuna of the Toronto Blue Jays, who debuted in Short-Season ball with 5.1 innings and 13 strikeouts. Urias, like Osuna, is already mature in his build and doesn’t project to add a ton of velocity. Urias has good command of his pitches and has shown the ability add or subtract to pitches as necessary. I’m not going to place any sort of expectations on the kid, but just say that it was incredible to watch someone so young dominate an older lineup the way he did. The next step will be turning a lineup over and extending his performance deeper into games.
Worth your click for a full description of Urias’ outing.