Digging into Matt Kemp


Molly Knight this week gives us an ESPN the Magazine cover story on Matt Kemp that begins with the moment he re-injured his hamstring: “The harder the game treats him, the more he respects it, cares about it — and the better he plays.”

It’s a terrific story, and the only issue I take with it is a nitpicky one about its micro-analysis of how Kemp reacted to his latest injury. I can only speak for myself, but I’m surprised by the idea that at this moment, people were making judgments about Kemp’s demeanor — whether “placid, seemingly indifferent” in the immediate aftermath or “a guy whose talent is as raw as his composure is unformed” as he digested the severity.

Doubts about Kemp’s attitude were resolved before May 30, and I think the prevailing concern was just whether this player who had reached the pinnacle of his game — mentally as well as in terms of performance — was going to be lost again to injury. By this time, I believe, Kemp had won all but the most reactionary critics over.

Perhaps I’m wrong. Either way, the story offers insight on Kemp that you haven’t seen elsewhere, so give it a read.

  • http://www.facebook.com/scareduck Rob McMillin

    That year was Ned Colletti’s first as Dodgers general manager. “When I
    got here, I saw a guy with more talent than most, who had probably
    played less baseball than most,” says Colletti. “That can be a tough
    combination because you have great expectation, but you can’t microwave
    experience.”

    If ever there were a telling quote from Ned Colletti, it’s gotta be that.

    • Anonymous

      So, good baseball players are not like burritos you get out of a vending machine?

    • foul tip

      And accurate in Kemp’s case.  Where Ned has taken it to excess is with his aging PVLs who once were good but were pretty clearly in decline–apparently not to Ned–when signed.  He’s done OK with a few, due to luck at least as much as anything. But not with enough.

       He richly deserves the image he has of depending too much on PVL.  In his defense he also has given younger players like the current core of the team a chance.  He may not deserve all the credit for that, but if not at least he listened to wise counsel about keeping them around and playing them.

      I’ve said before I think he has grown in the job and would not now make some of his more boneheaded moves, nor commit to some of the more boneheaded FA signings.

      If he had not grown and were still in the same mindset he had early on, it’s highly Herrera would not be on the current roster, for one example.  I think Manny Mota, among others, recommended Herrera.  Once again, Ned least listened and made what appear to this point to be a really good move.

      But for every good thing like that you can find, there seem to be more Kennedys.

      All things being equal, any GM and any manager will take experience over potential.

      Things are rarely equal, IMO. The best GMs can discern the difference.

      • Anonymous

        Yes, but for every Kennedy, there is also a Jamey Carroll or a Jerry Hairston, Jr.

      • Anonymous

        Let’s just completely ignore the fact that free agents are pretty much 99% of them old and in decline by definition. No, Ned’s FA signings were old because Ned just like old people.

  • Anonymous

    I’m willing to give Ned a chance now that he can maybe afford to not sign over 35 year old declining players, but I must say getting Ellis, Capuano, Harang and Hairston are looking like pretty good deals and not getting a starting catcher was another good move.  So let’s give him credit where credit is due.

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

      He was a little behind the curve on not blocking A.J. Ellis, as far as I’m concerned, and the Rivera and Kennedy signings were rough, but it’s hard not to appreciate the ones you mention.  My oversimplified take on Ned – could be better, could be worse. 

      Let’s just not talk when James McDonald is pitching …

      • Anonymous

        I agree on James, though they certainly gave him some chances as a starter.   I always felt he pitched well out of the bullpen and could have provided some quality innings there. I root for him everytime he’s on the mound for the Pirates (sans Dodger games).

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=713935344 Jason Ungar

           It’s not just trading him, it’s what we got in return..an almost 40 closer no longer with us. And gave him some chances as a starter? 5 of em ?

        • Anonymous

          I agree with Ungar here. The Dodgers gave up McDonald, who clearly had at least fifth-starter talent, for an aging journeyman reliever at a time when they had no realistic shot at the post-season.

          • Anonymous

            I disagree.  McDonald appeared in 53 games for the Dodgers – plenty of chance to show what he’s got – and compiled not-at-all impressive numbers like 4.11 ERA and 1.513 WHIP.  They dumped him and got a partial season from an experienced guy with good numbers before the trade.  It made complete sense at the time. Even in hindsight, his Pittsburgh numbers for the full season of 2011 were similar to those with the Dodgers. He happens to be doing much better this year, but it would have been impossible to predict.

      • Anonymous

        Why do I never hear anyone say “Let’s not talk when Trayvon Robinson is hitting .200 in Tacoma,” or “let’s not talk when Andy LaRoche is still really bad,” or “let’s not talk when Blake DeWitt is DFA’d”? Didn’t everyone freak out when those deals were made like we traded away Joe Dimaggio?

        • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

          Hyperbole aside, yes, people did.  Part of it, as was the case with McDonald, was that regardless of how those prospects turned out, there was the belief that Ned wasn’t getting enough value for them. 

          But I haven’t been saying that Ned is all-evil, so maybe I’m not the one to answer your question.

          • Anonymous

            Fair enough, Jon. All the same, I find it bizarre that a nice little piece on Kemp turns into chum for Ned Colletti critiques. It’s like we are so cynical that we can’t enjoy positive things about the team anymore.

          • Anonymous

            The best player for any team in the majors is the guy that the organization got rid of. People like what they cannot have. They miss what may have never actually existed.

            It’s akin to Jon’s post about people being upset that Elian Herrera wasn’t starting even though in April few people even knew he was in the organization. 

        • Anonymous

          >> Why do I never hear anyone say “Let’s not talk when Trayvon Robinson is hitting .200 in Tacoma”

          Because he’s hitting .258 in Tacoma, maybe?  :)

  • Anonymous

    ‘Stros up 5 – zip on Zito and the Gnats.

    • Anonymous

      That didn’t last long, now 5-2.

    • Anonymous

      Do the Astros have any hits today?

      • Anonymous

        6-3 Final.

  • Nick Egan

    I agree with your reaction to the piece Jon.  Good read, but did anyone see Kemp’s reaction and really think “immature hothead” (save, possibly, Larry Bowa)?  While I am bummed to not be seeing him in the lineup every night, it does strike me as exceedingly mature for him to be taking his time making sure the injury heals rather than rushing back to the field less than 100%.  While I imagine he would be more hasty with his return if it were early September and the team was 3 games out, the fact that it’s early June with a 4 game lead gives him time.

    All that said, more than his amazing on-field performance this season, my favorite development of Kemp’s is that of “cheerleader Matt”.  More times this season than I can ever recall, we have heard guys talk about the amazing clubhouse atmosphere the team has.  This is not a 16-game over .500 team talent wise, but somehow they are legitimately playing that way.  I do wonder, from a completely unscientific perspective, how much of that has to do with team chemistry.  Maybe none, but these guys all seem to be playing their butts off every night, and I imagine it’s a lot easier to do that when you have a guys with a $160MM deal and MVP talent sitting on the bench doing figurative cartwheels celebrating your success.

    As a Dodger fan, it’s great to see.  And I am excited at what the next 8 years of Matt Kemp has in store.

    • Anonymous

      >> my favorite development of Kemp’s is that of “cheerleader Matt”.

      Every time there’s a huge win (such as with a game-winning home run), the one person you ALWAYS see first out to form the pile of players on the field is Matt Kemp.  This is not new while he is on the DL or this year; he’s been this way for a while.  Nevertheless, this is A GOOD THING, one more reflection of his importance to this team.

      • Nick Egan

        True, he has been this way for a while now.  I suppose moreso what I mean is that his being injured and not able to help the team win on the field has not hindered his desire to help the team win in any capacity he can.  I can’t say that he wasn’t this type of ballplayer before (seeing as how he has never been on the DL before this), but it seems to be a constant with him right now, and a very refreshing one at that.

    • Anonymous

       The classic example of “immature hothead” is Larry Bowa himself.

  • Anonymous

    Time after time it seems that the players have nothing but good things to say about Donnie’s coaching style and his ability to relate.  And this happened last year before the winning started in the second half, so it wasn’t the winning that made it happen.  Even Ethier seems to have grown up a lot in the last year and a half, keeping his temper mostly under check even during this latest slump.  Maybe it’s Kemp, Kershaw and Dre’s leadership, maybe it’s Donnie’s managing, maybe it’s both, but I’m beginning to change my mind about the importance of good managing on a baseball team’s success.  I would also add the presence of Davey Lopes to that list of important factors.

    • Anonymous

      Let’s not forget Tim Wallach also.

    • Nick Egan

      Agreed.  

  • Anonymous

    Yesterday was a bad day, but when you gain half a game without even playing, it’s a good day.

  • Anonymous

    Caught a good interview of Joe Torre on Mattingly on the way home from work yesterday on the Mason and Ireland show :
    http://espn.go.com/espnradio/losangeles/play?id=8049655
    When Mattingly was being talked about to take over after Torre retired I was not on board (He’s a YANKEE!), but everything I’ve heard and read about the guy since he took over has made me glad he was the choice.

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    Nsxtasy - 

    James McDonald had a 2.72 ERA and a 8.7 K/9 in 2009 as a reliever at age 24.  They traded him less than a year later for a 36-year-old reliever with a 4.28 ERA and 10.8 K/9, when the team was seven games out of first.  Even straight up, that didn’t make “complete sense” at the time. Then when you factor in McDonald’s growth potential, it makes little sense at all. 

    I know why Colletti did it, but it’s still a questionable choice. 

    • Anonymous

      Quoting his numbers only as a reliever (ignoring his starts) and only for one year (excluding his other partial years)) constitute the height of “cherry picking numbers”, a selection bias in which you look only at the numbers that make him look good while excluding those that don’t.  His overall ERA for 2009 was 4.00, and his overall K/9 was 7.7.  That’s because, as a starter, he had an ERA of 8.78 and a K/9 of 4.1.  So let’s not quote one part of his record while totally ignoring the other, okay?

      He was still given a chance to pitch in 2010, too, with a start and 3 relief appearances - and in those 4 games, he had an ERA of 8.22 (and no, that is not a typo).  Throw in those handful of appearances, along with the handful in 2008, and you have the overall numbers I quoted for his time with the Dodgers – the 4.11 ERA and the 1.513 WHIP, which include ALL of his appearances, rather than a subset which makes his numbers look better than they were.

      Dotel, meanwhile, did indeed have 10.8 K/9, along with a 1.300 WHIP, pretty decent.  And 41 appearances prior to the deadline, which showed that he could be a workhorse.

      At the time, it looked to me like a decent trade for the Dodgers, based on all the information available.  And nothing since then has changed my mind.  You’re welcome to disagree if you like, but there was no sign at that time that McDonald was going to turn into anything better than replacement player level material.

      • Anonymous

        We’ll continue to disagree on this, as I thought it was bad at the time, especially when the Dodgers were not serious contenders. We have the benefit of hindsight of course, but it’s noteworthy that Ned dumped Dotel before the season was even over.

        • Anonymous

          Yeah, I am sure that even Ned doesn’t think this was one of his better deals.

      • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

        It’s not cherry-picking.  The Dodgers acquired a pure reliever. That was the role they were filling. So it’s fair to focus at what McDonald did as a reliever, unless you feel that Dotel’s starting-pitcher ability should also be factored into the equation. The fact that McDonald might not have been ready at that time to pitch six innings a game doesn’t eliminate what his value was for one inning a game.

        At the time, despite what happened in early 2010 and even if you didn’t think he would become a starter, a Josh Lindblom-like future for McDonald was a very realistic possibility. Lindblom, after all, had to overcome his own struggles. Young players taking steps back before they take steps forward is quite common.

        • Anonymous

          Well, most people try to justify his as a bad trade by pointing to his performance with the Pirates, which has been exclusively as a starter, not a reliever, so his numbers as a starter before the trade are certainly relevant to that argument. And even if you want to cherry-pick his numbers by looking only at his effectiveness as a reliever, it’s further cherry-picking when you exclude his poor relief appearances with the Dodgers in 2010 (ERA 10.13, WHIP 1.875) from the numbers.

          At the time of the trade, McDonald just wasn’t all that promising.

          • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

            James McDonald’s CAREER MLB numbers as a reliever when he was traded at age 25: 58 1/3 innings, 2.77 ERA, 8.0 K/9. No cherry picking. 

            He also had a CAREER 3.96 ERA and 9.7 K/9 in the Pacific Coast League, a place where ERAs are typically higher. 

            As far as I can tell, you are letting four major-league games in 2010 and the fact that he didn’t arrive in the majors as a fully formed starter override his entire track record before that.  I can’t fathom any other explanation why you would say he wasn’t promising. 

            That’s not to say he wasn’t tradeable, but in my opinion, Dotel is not a sufficient return for that kind of prospect. People who justify the trade for McDonald usually point out that he had potential as a starter, but if that failed, he didn’t merely have potential as a reliever – he had actually shown he could do the job when he wasn’t being moved between one role and the other. 

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=713935344 Jason Ungar

             Well, most people try to justify his as a bad trade by pointing to his
            performance with the Pirates, which has been exclusively as a starter

            It’s to bad we can’t read the comments, but if you go back to the archive of the day of the deal it’s pretty clear what Jon felt at the time of the deal.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=713935344 Jason Ungar

         overall numbers I quoted for his time with the Dodgers – the 4.11 ERA and the 1.513 WHIP.

        .those numbers  aren’t all that much worse than Billz (whom I appreciate that you defend) career numbers for minimum salary. He obviously had the potential. We traded him for 18 innings of Dotel. Obviously agree to disagree and move on…. I don’t mind trading anyone but, much like Edwin Jackson you don’t trade starters with that much potential for 18 IP of Dotel or in Jackson’s case..49IP of Danny Baez.

  • Blue-eyed Gal

    Going back to the original post that started this thread: Knight’s article explains a little more why Colletti and Torre seemed to have it in for Matt Kemp. I understood at the time that he had great talent, but back then it felt to me like they were making a scapegoat of him — at a time when his bat was carrying the team as much as anything, he was leading the team in several stats, and he was already having flashes of defensive brilliance — when the rest of the team was struggling. Others were slumping more than he was. It really irked me that the GM and manager and especially Bowa were all over Kemp and nobody else on the team, just because he had the potential to be better.

    Knight’s column makes a little more sense of that debacle, but I still think that was unfair to Kemp, at the time, to single him out as the scapegoat for the team’s woes. I think fresh management that had his back — no Larry Bowa, no Torre — may have helped Matt’s apparent “attitude adjustment.” At least, that’s my armchair psychoanalysis. 

    • Jibin Park

      Benching Kemp three games for not apologizing seems quite petty to me.  I was wondering why Torre had a string of games in which Kemp didn’t play.

  • Anonymous

    Wasn’t Colletti the GM that let Roberto Clemente get away?

    • Anonymous

      Yeah - and don’t forget about Konerko.

      • Jibin Park

        But we got a proven closer in Jeff Shaw! :)

    • Anonymous

      Is this a joke?

      • Jibin Park

        I think I violated Rule #7.

  • Anonymous

    Another bright development for an off-day: the White Sox are playing and losing a night game in St. Louis, so they should be jetlagged coming into LA. With a little luck, they’ll use up their bullpen.

    • Anonymous

      With a little luck, someone will throw a no-hitter against the White Sox tomorrow night. No-hitters are all the rage right now.

  • Anonymous

    The LADs with a healthy trio of  the Bison, Dre, and Tony A. will likely hold off the Giants in the second half. IMHO, they have a much easier path to the division title than.. say, the LAAs.

    Reacting to how he and Trout (T-n-T) were treated by the Dodger fans in the outfield stands…

    Trumbo: “Apparently, we suck.”

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

     NPUT