2013 in brief: Wow, was that ever ugly.
2014 status: If he’s healthy, he’s playing every day.
Over at The Onion’s AV Club, when they do reviews of films, music, books, and television, they sometimes award what they refer to as “the gentleman’s F,” which is basically a D- with some context. It’s what they give to releases that are lousy, but are lousy with the best of intentions, and so you feel bad truly dumping on them. If you’re getting that straight-up F, you have to have really earned it, either because you’re brazenly obnoxious, tone-deaf, or offensive. If you’re tossing together some horrible romantic comedy with two leads who have zero chemistry but happen to have name value, or any of those endless genre parodies or 1980s remakes designed only to separate fools from their dollars, then yeah, screw you: F.
Yet if you’re putting together something that seemed like a good idea at the time but just didn’t work out because of circumstances or bad luck or timing, well, who really has the heart to bash that?
That’s sort of how I feel about Matt Kemp‘s 2013 season. It was woefully, endlessly, interminably, painful. But it was hardly due to a lack of effort or preparation on his part — this isn’t Andruw Jones‘ 2008 or Juan Uribe‘s 2011-12 here — and so I can’t in good conscience award him an F. So that’s you end up with a D-. The gentleman’s F.
Still, my lord, what a disaster. After hearing for approximately the one millionth time how attempting to play through serious injury — in this case, his shoulder at the end of 2012 — was a terrible idea, he never really looked right in spring training, striking out nearly a third of the time. Though we kept saying that spring numbers don’t matter — they don’t — it carried over into the season. Despite repeated declarations that his shoulder was healthy, Kemp didn’t hit just two homers in the first two months.
There were some signs, like the 14-game hitting streak he had between April 30 and May 15, but even during that run he only had three extra base hits, all doubles. He was clearly not himself, and for all of the injury-related reasons this team had for being terrible in the first half, Kemp’s sub-.700 OPS was as big as any. If April (.260/.318/.344) was bad, May (.242/.291/.326) was worse.
By May 28, we were at a total loss of what to do with him:
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.)
Two days later, we didn’t have to worry about people wanting to gin up fake disabled list stints — we had a real one:
The trials and tribulations of Matt Kemp in 2013 just never seem to end, apparently. Just two days ago, we were here wondering if there was anything the Dodgers could or should do to help their struggling superstar regain his past form. Then he left early on Tuesday after taking a pitch off his right elbow, leading to numbness in his right hand, and left early again on Wednesday after straining his hamstring. Add that to the ongoing concern about his shoulder and his overall performance, and he is, quite frankly, a mess.
That cost Kemp nearly all of June. When he returned on June 25, he didn’t look all that different for the first week. But then there was hope, and as you’ll soon learn, “hope” is the worst thing you could have had for Matt Kemp in 2013. On July 3, he had two hits, including a homer. On July 4, he had two hits, including a homer. The next day in San Francisco, he hurt his shoulder on an awkward swing; three days later, he was right back on the disabled list.
If you didn’t think it could get worse, well, it could. Kemp returned on July 21 in Washington. He was awesome. He homered, he doubled, and he singled, as the team took over first place… and he also destroyed his left ankle on a slide into the plate in the ninth inning. (I’m not going to embed the video of it — you can see it here — to save you some pain, but I do get a kick out of seeing Don Mattingly insist it wouldn’t send Kemp back to the disabled list.)
At this point, Kemp was less a baseball player than he was a ghost story you tell the kids to scare them at night, especially when reports surfaced on September 6 that Kemp — who hadn’t returned from that July ankle injury — might be “shut down indefinitely” due to hamstring soreness. To his credit, he never gave up and returned yet again on September 16, though we were all worried after a truly awful “zero hits, one walk in 19 Single-A rehab plate appearances” stint with the Quakes.
As the team was into a September slump, we merely hoped that Kemp would provide some energy, and anything he’d give on the field would be gravy. In his second game back, we got that gravy and then some:
Zack Greinke was wonderful last night, and Juan Uribe hit his fifth homer in eight games, and Hanley Ramirez got on base four times, and Patrick Corbin got knocked out early, and absolutely no one cares about any of that because MATT KEMP YES MATT KEMP.
Kemp had four hits in his return to the lineup, and that’s the takeaway here, because after so much frustration this year it was wonderful just to see the man in action and happy. (The marquee image above is obviously not from last night’s game, but you can see why I chose it.) I’m hoping that we’ve learned by now not to expect anything from Kemp beyond that day’s game, because by the time the regular season ends he might very well have been abducted by aliens or have contracted flesh-eating disease or something, but it was difficult to watch that and not become very hopeful for what he might provide.
If Kemp wasn’t quite “his old self” in 11 games (nine starts) after returning, he was close enough – .314/.385/.486. We were excited about what a lineup that had a healthy Kemp alongside Hanley Ramirez & Yasiel Puig might look like in the playoffs, but while I was mostly joking about “alien abduction,” I guess I shouldn’t have been.
Kemp didn’t play in the final two games of the season. When the Dodgers came out on the field following the last game of the year, Kemp was on crutches. We soon found out why, in a post I titled, “Life is Pain“:
Hey, you guys remember the long-ago times of this morning when I half-seriously mentioned that Skip Schumaker might be the starting center fielder in the playoffs but that I wasn’t really worried about it, because all signs indicated that Matt Kemp would be there? I think I also said that “Kemp’s health absolutely cannot be counted on,” and now I’m realizing that there is no higher power and we’re all going to die alone, cold and unloved.
This is all coming back now because we just learned that not only will Kemp not play in Game 1, he won’t play at all, having now been shut down for the entire season thanks to his sore left ankle, going so far as to say “if I keep playing on it, my ankle could break”. David Vassegh adds that Kemp learned the news in the “3rd or 4th inning” today, after an MRI that Eric Stephen tells us showed “major swelling in one of the weight-bearing bones”, which (this one via Bill Shaikin) may need about a month to heal. Dylan Hernandez adds that Kemp will also have cleanup surgery on the shoulder that started this run of injuries, and WHY CAN’T WE HAVE NICE THINGS?
Kemp did indeed have surgery on both his shoulder and his ankle following the season. He claims he’ll be ready for Opening Day. You’ll excuse me if I’m not holding my breath.
Next! Yasiel Puig-mania!