Dodgers 9, Nationals 2: First Place and Concern About Matt Kemp

matt_kemp_happyIt’s been so long since we’ve been able to talk about what a great game Matt Kemp had that I’m using this happy picture from earlier this season that quite obviously was not taken today, since he’s wearing the home whites. In his return from the disabled list, Kemp had three hits, including a double and a homer, and drove in three in a 9-2 romp of Washington that briefly tied the Dodgers for first place with Arizona pending the outcome of the Arizona/San Francisco game that is currently a 1-0 D-Backs lead in the fourth.

In a season that’s been little but disappointment for the Dodger superstar, today was nothing but smiles… until an ill-fated slide home in the ninth inning turned into a twisted ankle that required Kemp be replaced in center by Skip Schumaker for the final frame. After the game, Don Mattingly said the “ankle has a little swelling. It looks like a sprain. I don’t anticipate DL. He got treatment right away.” The Dodgers added that Kemp won’t need X-rays, and that’s nice, but this certainly doesn’t look minor to me (GIF via — deep breath now — a Vine by Danny via Chad Moriyama, because I can’t get Vine to embed properly for some reason.)

I’m no doctor, but that looks awful. Why can’t we have nice things? You know, except for all of the nice things we have like Clayton Kershaw continuing to dominate (nine strikeouts and zero walks in seven innings) and Hanley Ramirez hitting like no one should be able to (two more hits, including his tenth homer) and an offense that pounded out 15 hits, including three apiece from Carl Crawford and Mark Ellis, in knocking out Jordan Zimmermann after just two awful innings.

We shouldn’t short-change the good news here, which is that this team just waltzed into Washington to sweep the Nationals and claim a share of first place, with some chance of being alone in first by the end of the night. But once again, here we are worrying about the health of Matt Kemp. Between him, the fragile health of Crawford, and the slump of Yasiel Puig, there’s just no such thing as too many outfielders. (And no, I don’t want to hear that Kemp should have been out of the game. The man’s missed most of the last two months, the last thing he needs is less playing time — and this is the definition of a freak injury.)

But still: first place! Onward to Toronto…

Will Matt Kemp’s Truly Awful May End With a Disabled List Trip?

kemp_2013-05-10The 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 left hamstring. Add that to the ongoing concern about his shoulder and his overall performance, and he is, quite frankly, a mess.

At the moment, we are waiting to hear about the results of his hamstring MRI, but discussing what teams ought to do with player injuries is always a tricky subject. We’re not doctors — most of us, anyway — and even if we were, we do not have access to the player or their medical records. So to say that the Dodgers “must” do this or that with Kemp, from our perspective, comes across as not being fully informed, because we are not.

Still, we can speculate on what we know right now, and what we know is that the last few days have been just a disaster for Kemp in every possible way. On Tuesday morning, I said that I didn’t think simply sending Kemp to the disabled list was the best course of action, partially because sitting out wasn’t going to help his timing issues, and partially because the center field options behind him were so lousy. (Chad Moriyama echoes largely the same concerns about center field depth in a rundown today.) That was before the last two days, and so the thinking there has changed for me.

So no matter what, the Dodgers are in a bad spot. They can either keep running Kemp out there, getting poor performance from a banged-up player, or they can turn to players who are either not really center fielders (Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Yasiel Puig), not really likely to do better overall than even 2013 Kemp is (Elian Herrera, Tony Gwynn, Matt Angle, Skip Schumaker), or potentially not really ready for the big leagues (Joc Pederson).

It’s a bad situation, and a fair share of this blame does need to land on Ned Colletti for not having a better backup plan than Schumaker considering the uncertainty about Kemp. (To be completely fair, however, I don’t remember very many of us making an excessive amount of noise about this over the winter.) But poorly planned or not, the games are going to go on, so they’re going to need to do something.

If it were up to me… I would probably put Kemp on the DL. I know, I’m not a doctor and all of that I said above. It’s just that it’s not about his shoulder any longer, it’s about his elbow and his hamstring too. We saw what happened last year when he tried to push through a hamstring problem, and we all know that this offense is only going to work with a productive Kemp at the center of it. The last thing we need right now is for him to exacerbate either of those issues. If two weeks away helps him “clear his head” or whatever garbage people like to throw out there, well, fine, though I don’t really think that less playing time is going to fix his swing.

If that’s the case, then I guess I would reluctantly call up Pederson. He’s probably not a center fielder either, long-term, though he’s at least been playing there in Double-A. That’s why I say Pederson over Puig; Puig is not a center field option, no matter how much people want him to be, and the fact that people simply gloss over that continues to shock me. There’s an argument to be made for Gwynn or Herrera, since both have shown the ability to provide solid defense in center, but again neither is very appealing. (The 40-man roster, which would need to accommodate Gwynn or Pederson, is not an issue since injured reliever Shawn Tolleson could easily be moved to the 60-day DL as he recovers from back surgery.)

Again, it’s a lousy spot to be in all around. For me, the primary goal is a healthy effective Kemp as soon as possible, and if that means erring on the side of caution here, so be it — even if the replacements leave much to be desired.

Dodgers Facing Limited Options With Matt Kemp

kemp_hat_2013-04-26To 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.

******

Totally unrelated — be sure to check out a thorough review, with GIFs, of the debut of 16-year-old prospect Julio Urias over at FakeTeams.com. The upshot:

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.

Marlins 5, Dodgers 4: Oh For May

Believe it or not, this man has a nine game hitting streak going.

Believe it or not, this man has a nine game hitting streak going.

I’m going to be completely honest with you here. I had a recap written. WordPress ate it as I tried to publish it. And as we look at a team that just lost game number eight in a row — no really, they haven’t won since April 30 —  I don’t care to spend the time to do it again. It’s really not worth it right now, for this team.

More of the Same For a Run-Starved Offense

dodgers_in_dugoutA quality Clayton Kershaw start was wasted by a non-existent offense, and stop me if you’ve heard that one before. Let’s see about the Dodger offense after the first ten games of the season, along with some baseball-reference charts.

Tm #Bat BatAge R/G ▾ G R
LgAvg 26 28.8 4.33 10 43
MIL 27 29.1 3.56 9 32
CHC 25 28.6 3.30 10 33
SDP 25 28.4 3.30 10 33
LAD 27 30.9 2.70 10 27
PIT 25 28.1 2.70 10 27
MIA 26 29.3 1.70 10 17
386 28.8 4.33 150 649

In a 15-team National League, the Dodgers are 13th in runs scored, and that’s actually less impressive than it sounds. They’re ahead of only the Pirates, hitting .175/.252/.247 as a team, and the Marlins, who really should have been relegated to the Florida State League by now. But it’s not all bad, because…

Tm BA OBP ▾ SLG OPS
NYM .271 .354 .473 .826
ARI .272 .349 .437 .785
COL .283 .342 .493 .835
LAD .255 .339 .379 .718
WSN .264 .338 .481 .819
CIN .251 .333 .419 .751
.250 .318 .396 .714

…they’re fourth in the NL in on-base percentage. That’s in large part due to Carl Crawford‘s .474, but of the regular lineup, A.J. Ellis, Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Ellis, & Andre Ethier are all at .350 or higher. The main drags here are the thus-far atrocious Luis Cruz & Justin Sellers, unsurprisingly, and also Matt Kemp‘s slow start — though Kemp does have hits in five consecutive games.The power hasn’t really been there, as you can see by the .379 SLG (ninth in the NL), but on the whole, this team gets on base.

So when you combine a team that puts runners on and isn’t getting them in, you get the inevitable chart of…

Tm RBI ▾
LgAvg 41
MIL 31
CHC 31
SDP 29
PIT 27
LAD 24
MIA 16
613

…a team that’s behind even the Pirates in runs batted in. RBI is an atrocious stat for individual players, but it’s a worthwhile team stat. Runners are on base, but they’re not coming in, and that’s how you end up with the second worst batting average with runners in scoring position in the bigs.

So what to do? Well, upgrades on the left side of the infield would certainly be nice, but we’ve been saying that for months. Even if trade possibilities were available there — which they really aren’t — Hanley Ramirez‘ cast is off and he’s reportedly ahead of schedule, though we still won’t see him until well into May. Fans are fond of pointing out that Yasiel Puig has continued pounding the ball in Double-A (.417/.481/.708), but with Crawford playing phenomenally, there’s really not room for Puig right now.

Unfortunately, the only answer to this seems to be time, and that’s probably spelled out as much by the fact that the Mets are leading the NL in most offensive categories more than anything. That’s not going to continue — no, John Buck is not this good — and Kemp isn’t going to hit .189 all season. It’s only been ten games, and they’re just a game out of first at this early juncture due to a pitching staff that’s allowed fewer runs than everyone but Atlanta.

I suppose it’s not satisfying to say, but unless they can suddenly rustle up a replacement for Cruz or Sellers, all we can do is wait. The hits will come in bunches. They always do.