It takes only a few minutes of surfing the various Dodger blog sites or scrolling on Twitter to see that Dodger fans are divided over Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp – almost right down the middle.
Although there are extremes on both sides of the spectrum as to whether or not Kemp is an assert or a detriment to the team, one thing is certain – Kemp still generates tremendous passion among Dodger fans regardless of their position on the 29-year-old Midwest City, OK native.
The one thing that all Dodger fans can agree on is that Kemp’s career path changed drastically on August 28, 2012 when he crashed into the left/center field wall at Coors Field injuring his left shoulder – an injury that would take two surgeries and the better part of two seasons to heal. And even at that, Kemp will never be the player that he was prior to the injury.
Kemp next suffered a series of hamstring injuries that kept him out for much of the 2013 season and on the very day that he returned to the line-up (July 21, 2013), he suffered a very serious ankle injury when he rolled his left ankle on an awkward slide into home plate – an injury that Kemp himself admits was stupid and preventable.
Although the 2011 NL MVP runner-up eventually returned to the Dodgers line-up in late September 2013 just as the NL West Champion Dodgers were preparing to head into the postseason, Kemp was shut down for the remainder of the season when he was told that if he continued to play on the ankle, he could suffer permanent damage that could end his career. During the off-season Kemp had surgery on the ankle, along with what was described as a “clean-up” surgery on his left shoulder.
When spring training 2014 began, Kemp worked out with the team but did not appear in any games. He did, however, participate in several simulated and minor league games in an attempt to catch up with the rest of the team.
It was during spring training that things began to get testy with the two-time All-Star, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner when he publicly proclaimed that he was not a fourth outfielder – a proclamation that set into motion a division among Dodger fans.
“I’m not a fourth outfielder. We can cut that off right there,” Kemp said. “I won’t accept that role. I can’t accept that role.”
While some saw this as a sign of self confidence and a positive attitude, others saw it a selfishness non-team-player attitude – hence the division.
Kemp began the 2014 season on the disabled list and, as such, missed the season opener in Sydney, Australia. He was activated from the DL for the home opener on April 4 and two days later slugged two home runs in one game against the hated Giants and it appeared that ‘Beast Mode’ was back.
…or was he?
After his two-home run game, Kemp began to struggle at the plate and committed four errors in center field – most among the five Dodger outfielders. He also took bad routes on a number of fly balls that he either should have caught or that could have gone for errors but generously did not. But it wasn’t just Kemp making errors, not by any stretch. In fact, through Saturday’s extra-inning loss to the Rockies at Coors Field, the Dodgers have committed 47 errors – fifth most in all of baseball.
Of the 63 games that the Dodgers have played thus far in 2014, Kemp has appeared in 53 of them. He is hitting .245, has an OBP of .301 and a SLG of .410 for a .711 OPS. He has hit 14 doubles, one triple and five home runs. He has driven in 16 runs, stolen five bases while being caught twice, has walked 16 times and has struck out a team-high 55 times. Although Kemp was mired in a horrible 4 for 33 (.121) slump after last Wednesday’s series finale against the White Sox at Dodger Stadium (after which he refused to speak with reporters), he is 3 for 7 (.428) since and appears to be heating up.
Perhaps a result of pressure from above, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly made the decision to move Kemp from center field to left field where he began platooning Kemp with Carl Crawford, who was also heating up at the plate and was showing signs of improving speed after a series of leg issues until a May 27 ankle injury landed Crawford on the disabled list, thus making Kemp the everyday left fielder. At the same time there were those within the Dodgers organization who felt that Kemp had ‘lost a step breaking on fly balls.’ As a result, the Dodgers used Andre Ethier almost exclusively in center field. And even though Ethier ‘…doesn’t have Kemp’s speed,’ he ‘…runs better routes in center.’
And then there’s the baserunning gaffes or TOOTBLANs as they are commonly called – two of which Kemp committed in Friday night’s game against the Rockies. After being called safe on a double that Kemp initially thought was a home run and lollygagged out of the batters box (he even high-fived first base coach Davey Lopes as he went by), a video challenge of the play at second base clearly showed that Kemp came off the bag while being tagged by Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. The call on the field was overturned and Kemp was called out. Kemp was later tagged out while trying to stretch a single into a double in the game. Fortunately, neither TOOTBLAN affected the outcome on the game, but they certainly could have.
When all is said and done, it doesn’t really matter what fans think of Matt Kemp because nothing that is said or written about him has any impact whatsoever on the decision makers within the Dodgers organization. And regardless of one’s viewpoint, the incessant bickering between Kemp factions is entirely counterproductive.
Perhaps this tweet by Roy sums it up best and offers some wisdom: