Saviors

Life is jagged lines.

In the majors, Yasiel Puig shouldn’t be expected to match the .383 on-base percentage and .599 slugging he has put up with Double-A Chattanooga in 2013, though to be clear, the Southern League isn’t nearly as deceptive a hitting environment as the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Scott Van Slyke, for example, has a major-league OPS with the Dodgers this year of .909 following an Albuquerque OPS of 1.236. The gap should be less for Puig, and if it is, he’ll be hitting better than Andre Ethier is now.

As a result, there are few scenarios in which Puig’s arrival in Los Angeles on Monday won’t improve the Dodgers. Puig will play in the outfield and likely be more productive than the guy he’s replacing, Skip Schumaker. While he will still serve as a late-inning defensive replacement, Schumaker can also spend more time in the infield and be more productive than the guy he takes at-bats away from, Luis Cruz.

By my appropriation of the transitive property, that is the low bar that Puig needs to clear to be an asset. That doesn’t speak to what kind of leap Puig will actually make. Puig could be a band-aid for this struggling team, or he could be bionic. At different times, he’ll be both.

Life is jagged lines. Puig, like everyone else, will go up and down and down and up, his graph of success as prickly as a porcupine. He will have good games and bad games and games where you can’t decide what they were.

He will be like the last savior in the outfield, Matt Kemp.

Some Dodger fans have little sense of irony, but you have to admire how the rapid and rabid revolt against Kemp for his shortcomings in 2013 has been accompanied by urgent calls for him to be replaced by the player who most resembles him.

Seven years ago, Kemp was Puig – the raw kid with talent to burn and lessons to learn. Puig, like Kemp did when he hit the majors at age 21 in 2006, has a hugely bright future. But anyone putting their faith in Puig will almost certainly at some point need a level of patience that many fans have denied Kemp whenever he has struggled, no matter how much he has done for his team. 

In 2007 and 2009, Kemp was hugely productive. In 2008 and 2010, people were calling for him to be traded.

Last May, he was the best player on the planet. This May? Read these letters to the Los Angeles Times.

It’s hard to believe that Matt Kemp has made the Dodgers’ $160-million investment disappear quicker than Bernie Madoff ever could have.

Herb Schoenberg
Tarzana

* * *

I have never heard of a team being worse off if a guy that’s hitting .251 with two home runs and 17 RBIs goes on the disabled list. I’m pretty sure that a minor leaguer could equal or exceed those numbers in half the time. How does Matt Kemp injure his hamstring when he hardly, if ever, goes full speed?

Geno Apicella
Placentia

* * * 

Lest we forget, Matt Kemp is a paid performer and he’s not earning his keep. Baseball is a business. At any other company he would have been dismissed long ago for his woeful performance. Kemp would do well to invoke the ghost of the late Lyman Bostock who memorably asked the late Buzzie Bavasi, then the GM of the Angels, to withhold his salary because of poor performance.

Skip Nevell
Los Angeles

They’re all good, but Nevell’s is my favorite. “At any other company he would have been dismissed long ago for his woeful performance.”

“Long ago.” Just let that roll around in your head for a minute.

It never ceases to amaze me how many baseball fans act as if they’ve never seen a player slump, much less struggle to recover from surgery. They expect straight lines. I don’t know why, because in baseball, they don’t exist. The only straight lines in baseball go from home plate toward the right-field and left-field corners.

Even Mike Trout got the derisive whispers this past April. Imagine.

There’s no mistaking how difficult it has been to watch Kemp play this year. I don’t know exactly what his future holds, but I don’t see any reason to believe that what we’ve seen this season is the best we’ll see from him for the rest of his days. I don’t understand how baseball fans can have such short memories, when it’s a game built on lasting ones.

Kemp made a name – and a nickname – for himself out of the gate in 2006, hitting seven home runs in his first 15 games. A month later, he was back in the minors. I’m excited about Yasiel Puig’s arrival – curiosity, hope and the potential of witnessing the birth of greatness are a good combination to have when tuning into a game, especially when your team is in last place. But I pray I’m not alone in anticipating how uneven the road might be, not only over the coming days, but also weeks, months and years. It doesn’t pay to be too hopeful or too cynical.

Life is jagged lines, and baseball is life.

  • Anonymous

    Nice article Jon

  • Anonymous

    What a wise post. I am as excited to see Puig play as I am hopeful that Kemp’s time off will help heal whatever ails him. My own long history of jagged routes and lines makes me very hesitant to sit in judgement for long, and when I do, I am usually proven wrong (see Uribear, Juan).

  • Anonymous

    Puig isn’t going to be Mike Trout, unless you want him to be the 2011 Mike Trout.

  • Anonymous

    I pretty much only follow through DT, so I am largely spared this sort of drivel about Kemp.

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    I agree completely. Unless his injury is permanent, which I seriously doubt, he will be back slugging away. So many people don’t understand just how hard it is to be at the highest level of anything.

    • foul tip

      And a whole lot of them just cannot get past the juvenile “look at all the money he makes and he’s not worth it” mentality.

  • Anonymous

    Craig Calcaterra’s post on the 125th anniversary of “Casey at the Bat” reminded me of Grantland Rice’s sequel, “Casey’s Revenge” – which all the way back in 1907 perfect captures how fickle fans often are: http://www.baseball-almanac.com/poetry/po_case2.shtml.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you. I love the poem, so true to life (sometimes).

  • Anonymous

    I feel sorry for the kid, our expectations are so high he has to fail. Anything less than two HRs, four RBIs, and a couple of great catches and assists every day will seem like a failure. Welcome to the real world, Mr Puig.

    • Anonymous

      I’m going to the game tonight, and in my scorebook, I have already penciled in Puig for a single, double, triple, and two homers, and seven RBIs, hitting out of the third spot, and coming in to close out the game by pitching a 1-2-3- ninth inning for the save. But no pressure.

      • Anonymous

        Only 7 RBIs?

  • Anonymous

    Vinny has said over and over again “baseball is a what have you done for me lately kind of game.”

    • Anonymous

      Kemp has not been Kemp this year, but the letters seem to imply that Kemp’s issues are more because of effort than just actual performance.

      I’ll just put this out there as a point for what Jon was saying. Before I changed careers, I worked for a recreation department for many years and I was pretty darn good at what I did for the majority of the time that was I was there. The last couple of years, I was burned out and hated my job. Sometimes I did well and sometimes I didn’t do so well. Honestly, I was able to cruise by based on my past performances and I suspect that most people are able to do that as well.

      The last letter is sort of the opposite of what most people have experienced in the “real” world. Matty has had a couple of bad months, but I suspect that there are scores of people that have had a couple of bad months in their job and have been able to remain employed especially when they have performed at Kemp’s level in the past.

      • Anonymous

        Skip has no idea of the “real” world. Kemp is an asset to the club. Dismissing him based on a couple months of less-than-expected performance woud be dumb business.

  • foul tip

    Jonathan Broxton re-acquainted with the long ball…the very long ball, as in 463 feet out of the Pirates’ stadium into the Allegheny River. From AP:

    (Garrett) “Jones’ drive off Jonathan Broxton cleared the right-field stands and
    reached the Allegheny River on the fly. It was just the second homer to
    reach the river without bouncing and the first by a Pirate,”

    • Anonymous

      Somewhere, Matt Stairs is wishing there were a river behind Dodger Stadium.

      • Anonymous

        The River of Tears!

        • Anonymous

          There’s a few of those

    • West Coast Ram

      It can’t be Broxton on the mound, it’s not even close to the playoff yet. I kid because I care. Actually, I was never as hard on Brox as many fans were, because I do think he was quite remarkable for two solid years. Plus he was a great set up man for Saito.

  • foul tip

    More and more these days many fans in all sports seem to leave no middle ground, no nuance.

    For them it’s either complete hero worship or complete scorn, depending on the day.

    Scorn ultimately will win out, since no one is superman every day–whatever his field.

    • http://farinella.com/ David Farinella

      Just another way that baseball is life, eh?

  • Anonymous

    Even though this article is about LaRoche, it does relate to Kemp a little bit: wapo.st/15x9Njd

  • Anonymous

    No one writes in to the LA Times Sports Section asking that Andre Ethier give back his salary. But I can’t think of any major difference between Kemp and Ethier … Well, one…

    • Anonymous

      Bob, I was thinking that angle too, but then Shawn Greene popped into my head.

      When he was scuffling after his shoulder injury, people were saying the same stuff about him that they are saying about Kemp now. Question his effort, passion, etc.

      • Anonymous

        May 19, 2001 LA Times:

        Kevin Malone may be gone, but one of his legacies remains. Unless Shawn Green comes out of his year-plus stupor and learns how to hit National League pitching, the Mondesi-for-Green trade may one day rival in stupidity Martinez for DeShields.

        Herbert M. Schoenberg

        Tarzana

        July 12, 2003 LA Times

        My two sons had Shawn Green pegged long before this recent gaffe. When they went down on the field at Dodger Stadium for Photo Day last year, Green would not shake anyone’s hand. He would point his bat at the crowd so they could shake his bat.

        So why should we be surprised that he would not get his uniform dirty to catch a fly ball? He would not even get his hands dirty by greeting the fans.

        Pat Murphy

        Corona

        • Anonymous

          Dirty-handed fans?

        • Anonymous

          Maybe it is because I have worked with Special Ed kids for so long and just have sort of learned to understand people’s quirks, but Shawn Green could have been a germophobe type. Or maybe he had a kid at home with a suppressed immune system. Heck, at our house (we moved in with the in-laws last summer), any bug that gets into our house scares us because my father-in-law is fighting Pancreatic Cancer right now. Even though he is doing great (for a PC patient, it’s all relative of course), any illness can cause a setback.

          It’s a real stretch for someone to question a player’s effort because he won’t shake a hand, especially when you don’t now what is going on in a player’s personal life.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t think it’s racial. Ethier was never as good as Kemp, so his decline is somewhat more palatable. I used to be one of the biggest Ethier defenders, but then I met him in person. Now I’m off his bandwagon. You do have to give him credit for one thing, however. He always said don’t pay attention to his inability to hit lefties, look at his overall numbers.

      OK, Andre, I’m looking at your overall numbers. You’ve proven that you’re just as lousy against righties as you are against lefties in 2013. Got any other ways to look at things?

      • Anonymous

        I hate saying this (and I even brought up the Green thing.. he is one of my favorites ever), but I do think that folks need to be careful whenever they start throwing out “lack of effort” or “lazy” criticisms at black ballplayers. Even if they don’t mean it, the stereotype is really imbedded in our cultural fabric.

        • Anonymous

          I thought Mexicans were the ones who were supposed to be lazy, and blacks were the ones with god-given natural talent and leaping ability. White players are the ones who have to make up for lack of athletic genes with their hustle, grit, determination, and, of course, clutchiness.

          One look at Juan Pierre and Mike Trout should put all those stereotypes to rest. The fact that it doesn’t brings me back to my first point about most sports fans being dumb.

          • Anonymous

            Trout was drafted right after Randal Grichuk which makes me think he is not such a natural as you say

        • Anonymous

          I don’t think anyone would say Matt Kemp is lazy, so what gives those of us not in the know to the gumption say the opposite of Ethier? Insiders may make comments like this when warranted. They have access to a lot more information than we do.

    • Anonymous

      I believe both have been booed this season. How about that for equality!

    • Anonymous

      Cheerios and Facebook–supports your “well, one…”

    • Anonymous

      My opinion is not the same as yours on the black/white question you seem to raise here. It is a question of “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and
      from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be
      demanded” (Luke 12:48, New Revised Standard Version Bible) I think.

  • Anonymous

    Nothing has aggravated me more this season than booing Matt Kemp, and I take these letters as boos. Geez, Skip Nevell, he’s came off an injury too soon and it’s June 3. Watch much baseball?

  • Anonymous

    Dodger fans should be content to let Puig be who he is – so long as he refrains from being the guy who doubles the speed limit on the freeway.

    • foul tip

      Maybe it’s a language issue…and he thought all doubles were good things…..

      • Anonymous

        In seriousness, it’s perhaps understandable – though not excusable – that an ambitious player who chafed under the Cuban system might now think that there are no limits. I think it’s a good idea to provide him a low-key minder in LA, where temptations will be worse than in Chattanooga.

        • Anonymous

          how you gonna keep em down on the farm after they’ve seen the bright lights of Tennessee?

  • http://farinella.com/ David Farinella

    I’m more curious — and this may be completely naive — to see how Puig’s performance influences Eithier. That said, I’ve been impressed at the times I see him give atta boys to Van Slyke.

    • Anonymous

      The Tyler Houston School of Inspiration?

      • http://farinella.com/ David Farinella

        I had to type that name into the search-o-machine… The name Tyler Houston brings up some interesting images along with that baseball history.

    • Anonymous

      If Ethier’s performance doesn’t improve, he will soon find himself platooning with Puig, if not relegated to fourth outfielder status. Or worse, Repkoland!

  • Anonymous

    Wonder where Mattingly will bat him? My guess is seventh, to relieve the pressure on him somewhat. Imagine, Puig, SVS, and Crawford in the outfield, Hanley, Ellis, Agon, and Punto in the infield. We might score some runs.

  • Anonymous

    And most baseball fans are dumb. That’s why we hang out here–to be free of the stupidity that infects most sports commentary (he said without specifically referencing Skip Bayless, Steven A. Smith, or any of the geniuses on talk radio).

    • Anonymous

      Football fans, though, are even dumber (and usually drunker).

      • foul tip

        Years ago I saw a reference that has stayed with me about sports and the “frequently cloddish people who inhabit that world.”

        When clods get drunk–or are on the way to it–it’s even worse.

  • Jose

    Great post! Couldn’t agree more

  • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

    Well I officially purchased my Puig jersey today. Now to take that jersey along with my new Ryu and Crawford jersey’s to the Sandy Koufax bobble head night on 6/27 to signed

    • Anonymous

      What #?

      • http://farinella.com/ David Farinella

        Heard he was keeping #66.

  • Anonymous

    Old Friend Ramon Ortiz looks like he’s thrown his last pitch. And it’s sad to watch. http://www.cbssports.com/mlb/blog/eye-on-baseball/22346284/video-ramon-ortiz-looks-like-he-knows-he-just-threw-his-final-pitch
    Not sad as in painful, but you can tell how much the guy liked pitching, even though he was never the greatest at it.

    • Anonymous

      This made me cry.

    • Anonymous

      ‘Tis sad. Thanks for that, Bob

    • Anonymous

      Very sad, but I’d bet Tom Browning may have preferred this.

  • Anonymous

    It’s a fine post and I enjoyed reading it but I am amazed at the quality of the reproduction from baseball-reference. That’s not copy and paste or is it? As Scrooge says “I am in earnest.” A reply will be appreciated.

    • Anonymous

      It’s a screen shot pasted in as a jpeg.

      • Anonymous

        that’s what I assumed but wanted to check not that I knew the term jpeg. Thanks

  • Anonymous

    If we learn nothing else from this piece, let us take away the difference between a professional writer and those hacks that write letters to editors.

  • Anonymous

    Enjoyed the write-up Jon – although I believe sports fans get a bad rap – most are not as dumb as the one’s booing Kemp, or the one’s getting their idiotic letters published in the LA Times. I trust that these are examples of the “vocal minority” getting heard over the “silent majority” more than anything else. I have no explanation how a fan of a team could possibly believe that his booing of a player on “His” team could in any way be beneficial to or increase the prospects of said player to perform better. It makes absolutely no sense and makes me hope that those booing Kemp do not have children, as their qualifications for parenthood are obviously lacking.

    Besides, I have many friends who are big sports fans and most of them, uh, well, some of them, uh, ah forget it…

  • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

    Tonights lineup: Puig RF Punto 2B Gonzalez 1B Hernandez C Van Slyke LF Ethier CF Hairston 3B Cruz SS (Fife) P

    • Anonymous

      never thought i would ever see that combination in a lineup

    • Anonymous

      Leading off! Right into the fire.

      • Anonymous

        less time to get nervous!

    • Anonymous

      3.5 has played CF twice before in the Bigs. Should be an adventure.

      • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

        and once in an all-star game

  • Anonymous

    So, so, so good. Thank you Jon.

  • Anonymous

    Crawford to DL to make room for Fife.

    • Anonymous

      Can we limp to the all star break with enough players to even fill out our roster?

  • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

    Mike Petriello ‏@mike_petriello 2m

    Carlos Quentin isn’t in tonight’s lineup for SD (Denorfia LF), so stand down on that front.

  • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

    Eric Stephen ‏@truebluela 7m

    If Hanley back Tuesday? “I’m hoping,” said Mattingly

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for this, Jon. I can’t believe the way the fans at Dodger Stadium have turned on Matt this year. I really do hope it’s just a very vocal minority that’s doing all of the booing/nasty letter writing because it’s pathetic the way Matt has been treated. I think it certainly knocks LA Dodgers fans out of any kind of conversation about the “the best fans in baseball”. :(

    That said, I look forward to Puig’s debut tonight and to following his journey of ups and downs…and to cheering for both he and Matt for years to come.

  • Anonymous

    Regarding the postings on uniform numbers worn by Dodgers, according to my 2009 Dodgers media guide, Duaner Sandhez wore #76 in 2004, but he is listed as also wearing #50 in 2004 and 2005. What is most remarkable about the link to the list of uniform numbers is that Ray Lamb wore #42 in 1969. That was seven years after Jackie Robinson was voted into the Hall of Fame. His number was officially retired, along with those worn by Roy Campanella (39) and Sandy Koufax (32), in 1972. Those were the first three uniform numbers retired by the Dodgers. http://dodgers.scout.com/2/648956.html

  • Anonymous

    What are the odds of Fife outshining Puig tonight?

    • Anonymous

      Fairly good, I like Fife, I think he has great potential

  • Anonymous

    this was up at dodgers.com yesterday for a while,now in news. it addresses, why Mark Ellis is not starting tonight against a LHP who has given up 4 hits in 9 AB to him. It mentions others playing hurt.

    In addition to Carl Crawford being unavailable with a tight left
    hamstring, second baseman Mark Ellis is hobbled, although Ellis wouldn’t
    say what’s wrong. He recently returned from a strained right quad.
    Jerry Hairston is playable, although his gait has looked pretty rough
    since he returned from a stint on the disabled list groin and knee
    issues.(sic)

    Nick Punto started Sunday at second base, despite lower back
    soreness. Skip Schumaker started again in center field, although he’s
    been dealing with a sore knee.

    • Anonymous

      From now on, just let us know when someone is not hurt. ;-)

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

    NPUT