Oct 14

Hustle and flow: The mental game, John Wooden, Matt Kemp and me


One Friday in the summer of 1977, I won an award named after the legend who was born 100 years ago today. The John Wooden Basketball Camp Special Award was given to one member of each of the camp’s basketball teams who best exemplified the values of Wooden’s Pyramid of Success.


Future non-star.

I was 9 1/2 years old, heading into fifth grade, and had been dribbling a basketball (originally with two hands but more recently with one) for five years or more. But I had not made a lot of progress as far as putting the ball in the basket. I was almost unconscionably short, I’m guessing about 4-foot 4 or so, and that 10-foot hoop was still miles high in the sky. As far as playing the game, I was still trying to figure so many things out. And so that week on the campus of Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, I was quite possibly the least talented basketball player in that entire camp, or at least among them.

I think we played about five games in our little camp league that week, and our team’s coach, whom I actually don’t have any bad memories of, decided at about Game 2 that I should play safety. Yes, safety, and by that I mean, he came to the conclusion that offense was such a pointless endeavor for me that I was better off just being on defense. So he designated that I shouldn’t cross the halfcourt line when our team had the ball. He played four-on-five, while I waited for the other team to bring the ball back my way. The game looked pretty interesting from the backcourt …

And then, one time, an opposing player stole the ball. How I remember it, that kid racing (as much as 9-year-olds raced) down the left side of the outdoor court, parallel to some Cal Lutheran dormitories, with only me between him and the basket. I sped up to match him stride for stride. He drove in for his layup, and I leaped up next to him – we’re talking four, five, six inches in the air at least – and tipped the ball away. Clean, pure, perfect. My first extraordinary moment on a basketball court.

Foul!

The referee, some guy whom I’d guess was about 16, whistled me for a shooting foul. I was in utter disbelief. I cried out in protest, and was immediately warned not to argue. You didn’t argue a call at John Wooden Basketball Camp.  I shut my mouth, bitterly, crestfallen that my moment – my moment – had been taken away from me. I looked around, and I’m not sure anyone really believed that I had been robbed, because I’m not sure anyone believed I was capable of having a moment to rob.

My milli-spark of rebellion was an aberration, and it did not prevent me from receiving the Wooden Basketball Camp Special Award, the award praising me for my industriousness, cooperation, ambition and so forth. True, I wasn’t showing much confidence or competitive greatness, but I meant well. I won it, and I accepted it, took a little pride in it, put it on a wall in my bedroom at home and kept it in a box through my adulthood.

There was no mistaking, then or now, that this award was a consolation prize. Practically a booby prize. It’s not that it didn’t mean something. It was a reward for not giving up. But why would I have given up? The implicit answer was that I as a basketball player, I was that bad.

There wasn’t a person who received the John Wooden Basketball Camp Special Award who wouldn’t have traded it on sight for just being a little better naturally at actually playing basketball.

* * *

Ed Andrieski/APMatt Kemp slaps his bat after one of his 170 strikeouts in 2010.

The Dodgers’ 2010 season was defined by two kinds of players: Jamey Carroll and Matt Kemp. Carroll, the overachiever who hustled. Kemp, the underachiever who … well, we really don’t know exactly what he was doing. And that’s the reason for this story.

I am someone who has always had, almost without exception, what adults would call a good attitude toward work. Rarely in my life has my effort been questioned. This is true despite the fact that even before I became aware of it, it has been my goal to do more with less. I’m not a show-my-work guy. I just want it to be easy.

I’m practically a lifelong skier, for example, having taken my first lesson 35 years ago, when I was 7. To this day, I challenge myself, seeking out the hardest possible runs I can, but I don’t do it for the sake of the work. I do it for the sake of the accomplishment. I want to glide, always glide. I want to be a natural.

But I was not a natural, never. Skiing is my best sport, but it has taken me all 35 years to get to the level of ability I’m at today. In my 20s, trying to impress myself and more importantly, trying to impress girls, I was OK, but I wasn’t impressing anyone. I had to grind and grind away at it.

There’s a widespread assumption that Kemp has had things too easy in his athletic life, and that this year he paid a price for it. I think that’s probably both truth and fallacy there. Kemp has made athletics a daily part of his life for probably 20 years or more now, ultimately at a level of intensity that most of us can’t relate to. The idea that Kemp hasn’t worked to get to where he is today couldn’t be more ignorant.

But Kemp undoubtedly, more than anyone sitting at a computer reading this piece, is a natural at sports – even at the game of baseball at which he can sometimes seem clunky. He was a basketball star in high school. He reached the professional level in his No. 2 sport at age 21. He got Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards as presents for his 25th birthday. Generally, Kemp has probably found throughout his life that if he worked a certain amount, he would get better, and that any setbacks were temporary. You grow accustomed to that pace.

Relatively speaking, Kemp is a natural, and it’s completely understandable that he would take pride in that. I know I would. Making it look easy? Come on. How could you not feel good about that? Of course you’d find self-worth in that.

Hustle is great, but not needing to hustle, not needing to make that extra, tear-yourself-up effort, not needing to be told what to do, that can be pretty spectacular. That is a rush and a half. Who wouldn’t become addicted to it? And addictions are not something you easily shed overnight.

* * *

Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty ImagesHappy birthday, Mr. Wooden

OK, there have been times I have actually felt like a natural. Just a few. First-grade spelling: They didn’t call me Speedy Gonzales because I could run fast. Math was never a problem in elementary school. And I could rock a Mattel Electronic Football game pretty hard. It was effortless, and it felt good.

Starting in seventh grade, it started to get incrementally harder. I still had my strengths, but nothing was automatic. And as I went into high school, a philosophy evolved. It took as much effort for me to get from an F (i.e., doing nothing) to a B+ or A- in an average class, as it did for me to get from an A- to an A. In other words, the cherry on top was half the effort. The A, though it seemed so close, was like the last 1,000 “Into Thin Air” feet of the climb to the top of Everest. That was the part where you could die trying.

And so sometimes, going for the A often seemed not worth the trouble. Other times, it wasn’t by choice. I took to science like Kemp has taken to the tailing slider. After sailing along in math my whole life, calculus brought me to my knees.  I made mistakes that I couldn’t fathom, and I made mistakes that were just plain stupid.

I graduated from high school with a 3.5 or 3.6 grade-point average. I probably ranked about 40th out of 130 or so kids in the rather intense environment that was my senior class, better than some, worse than others. I had a lower GPA than my older brother or sister had (though who knows what my grade-point average on balls in play was).

I did have excellent SAT scores, but as the applications were going out, I was warned by our college counselor that I had the wrong combination of strengths. If your SAT scores were in a lower percentile than your GPA, that meant you made the extra effort to place above your station. You were a worker. You had character. High SATs and a lower GPA, however, meant you were lazy. Which, in my case, was not wholly true but partially so.

What did that make me? Did it make me a bad person, to be good but not great? That as hard as I tried, I consciously risked falling short of my goals because I couldn’t or wouldn’t make myself try harder?  Should I be booed? Should I have my ethic questioned?

Ah, but it’s different, right? There’s no comparison between high school classes and major-league baseball. I wasn’t getting paid, first thousands and then millions like Kemp (though I was getting paid, in a sense, by my parents’ investment in my future). I was just a boy. Kemp is a man. I was in school; Kemp is a professional.

I’m going to argue that it’s not so different. As much as your circumstances change, there is a core part of you that remains young and in the midst of development. I am 42 years old, but that’s a chronological age. Or to put it another way, it’s an average of all the ages I feel. Sure, there’s some 42-year-old in me, but part of me still feels 9, and part of me feels about 75.

I approach life a certain way. I want to be better, and I’ll grind at it, but there’s a limit to what I’ll do. I work very hard, I feel, but I can’t emphasize that limit enough. And that limit can change on a weekly, daily, hourly basis. There always has and always will be a part of me that wants to do nothing more than smell the roses, whether those roses are Saturday morning cartoons as a kid or a nice long walk in the twilight as a grown-up. I like the work I do, but I don’t like to work. I accept the process and can even enjoy the journey, but the result is a big part of my reward. I always want my life to be easier; I always want things to go right the first time.

And so that limit of how hard I’m willing to work is a moving target. I suspect that’s true for many of us.

Knowing what to do is not the same as being able or willing to do it. It’s a hard lesson to learn that the effort that you’re comfortable with is not always enough. It’s a lesson that might make you rebel. Matt Kemp and I can’t be the only ones who wrestle with that. Being paid a lot of money might alter the personal battlefield, but it doesn’t eliminate it.

* * *

While on his postseason vacation in Europe with Rihanna, a short break before his offseason workouts begin, Kemp’s baseball mind is probably is at one of two places. He’s thinking that he has overcome hurdles before, and so there’s no reason to think he won’t overcome them again. Or he’s thinking that okay, that philosophy has worked in the past, but this time he really has to find another gear. He is going to have grind even harder than before, and that’s what he’s gonna show us next year.

Or he’s thinking both of the above. He will have to grind, but he will succeed. Because he believes.

I don’t know if it’s one, the other or both. However, I don’t imagine Kemp not caring about improving. There’s too much for him to gain – more money, more glory, more victory – not to care.

But let’s consider the alternative.

There is conflicting scuttlebutt about Kemp. You hear that he does work, very hard. You also hear that he’s not a good listener, that when it comes to instruction or coaching, he’s a mixed bag. People wonder where his head is at a given moment.

Alex Gallardo/AP
Mr. Inspiration, Jamey Carroll, is listed at 170 pounds, the lightest weight on the 2010 Dodger roster.

These are not contradictory reports. Far from it. The beef with Kemp is with his mental game, but that grievance contains an implicit assumption that only a fool, or worse, a scumbag, would operate at less than full mental capacity. That oversimplifies things to a remarkable degree, practically the equivalent of hammering Jamey Carroll because he isn’t bigger and stronger.

The mental game can be hard. For some, it can be unconquerable. The mental game is not a free throw. Carroll is better at it than Kemp, but Carroll is more than 10 years older than Kemp. Carroll didn’t even break into the big leagues until he was two years older than Kemp (who has played in 626 games) is now. Carroll had to hustle more than most, had to think more than most, or he’d simply never have made it in the show, much less stuck around.

Kemp now has to step up his mental game to bounce back from a disappointing 2010 season. Anyone, including Kemp, can see this. But people think it’s a matter of flipping a switch, and that’s simply not true. You don’t power the mental game by flipping a switch. You power it by being the hamster that grinds on the wheel all day long, all so that you might get one extra drop of water.

Everyone is asking the same thing of Kemp – to work twice as hard in order to become, instead of better than 99.9998 percent of the people in the world at his sport, better than 99.9999 percent.

Maybe that’s disingenuous; maybe it’s only fair to look at Kemp in the context of his peers, among whom he ranked poorly in 2010, at least by Fangraphs’ estimation. The point is, everyone is expecting Kemp to be humble about a career that, until a few months ago, he has had every reason to take pride in. That might require more than an overnight adjustment. It might require trying harder, and then thinking you’ve got it, and then realizing you don’t, and then having to search – sincerely search – for new levels within yourself that aren’t immediately apparent.

Kemp, who has averaged more than 20 homers a year with a .285 batting average, who has had Gold Glove and Silver Slugger honors, two playoff appearances, a past income of more than $5 million and a guaranteed 2011 income of nearly $7 million, who came back and improved after disappointing finishes to his 2006 and 2008 seasons, is being told that’s not enough, not nearly. He’s being told that if he doesn’t improve in 2011, he will be a great disappointment, and if there’s any question about his effort, it will be nothing less than shameful.

And here I sit, having worked hard to get where I am but with plenty farther I could go, having consciously and constantly holding myself back. Kemp is considered a mental misfit even though he’s a grown man under constant instruction, while no one questions my dedication to writing even though all I’m subjected to is the occasional edit, and I haven’t taken a writing class in 15 years. Kemp is sliced and diced for his Rihanna romance, even if the sincerity of it – no matter what the future holds – should no longer be in doubt, while I refuse any job that would require travel or night work that would take me away from my wife and kids, even if it would bring in more money, more glory, more victory.

If Kemp were to say to himself – and I personally don’t think for a moment he is saying this to himself – “I have money, I have love, I have a good job and I have my health, and I have this all just by being who I already am, and even though I’m no longer the best, that’s all I need,” no one would think for a moment that this was a legitimate perspective, even though outside the world of competitive sports, it most certainly is. In sports, there’s no greater sin than unrealized potential. And yet in life, in real life, letting some of your potential go at a certain point can actually be a gift to yourself and your loved ones.

* * *

But let’s say you accept your flaws. You’re humbled. You’re trying to get better. You aren’t getting there.

You don’t necessarily decide when it’s going to click.

In ninth-grade history, I had a teacher I was really struggling with. He had a very strong, upper-crust personality and was not afraid to mock you. I simply did not get him, and I felt that whatever I was learning — and I was learning something — I was learning despite him.

Tests in the class typically consisted of a short-answer portion (60 points) and then an essay (40 points). One time, mid-essay, I found myself in deep trouble. I had started with a thesis paragraph that I couldn’t really support. I can’t really recall what it was or why I went with it, although I guess it was basically the argument I thought the teacher would have made or what he wanted to see. But I just couldn’t see it through.

I crossed out the paragraph and started over, arguing the opposite. (Hello, George Costanza.)  I was running out of time but I whipped through it. It wasn’t effortless – I had to think about what I was writing – but the thoughts did follow, one after another. Nevertheless, I didn’t turn in the exam with any confidence.

When I got it back, my teacher had given me 45 points for the 40-point essay portion, and written the following words: “Weisman, I have challenged you, and you have come alive!”

Sounds hokey for sure, but you don’t forget something like that. And not to go all “Dead Poets Society” on you, but I came to realize that the teacher – all 23 years old of him – had come to this class at the start of the school year and found many of us in a stupor before it had even started, and he was trying to shake us out of it. He wasn’t trying to impose himself on us. He was trying to draw something out of us. That’s not something that you necessarily can understand right away. Arguably, it could be even harder to realize when you’re older. I know, despite my best intentions, I don’t love criticism, however constructive.

This moment in ninth grade was a turning point for my life as a writer, as a thinker and as a doer, but there was no straight path to it. I needed to get somewhere, and I got to it, but it couldn’t have been more roundabout. It involved a clash and reconciliation of determined instruction with determined independence. It involved a personal evolution on its own timetable that no one could control.  Though it was largely a mental issue, it wasn’t an issue of effort or desire or choice. Not by themselves, anyway.

And all this leads to is the next challenge, and the next. For a decade in my 20s and 30s, I would pursue the goal of writing for primetime shows and fall short. Today, I have several different paths I pursue, but I’m honestly not sure where I should channel all my energies. Sometimes, I think I’m doing my best; other times I’m not so sure. There is still doubt. Which one of me is right?

* * *

I imagine two types of reactions to this piece. (Maybe more, but these two will be among them.)

1) Yeah, you make some good (if long-winded) points.
2) What kind of pathetic apology for mediocrity is this?

Let me reiterate that I don’t believe that Kemp is actively choosing mediocrity. Nor am I trying to suggest that mediocrity is a worthy end, in and of itself.

Barry Gutierrez/AP
Kemp smiles after teammate Casey Blake’s solo homer in the ninth inning September 28.

I am asking people to understand that stepping up one’s effort is a process, and it’s not an easy process. There really is no such thing as an overnight success. Asking more of yourself than you’re used to giving is — in and of itself — a challenge. More than a challenge, it’s a mystery.

There’s always a limit. There’s always something that holds us back, some level of relaxation we preserve for ourselves, whether it’s money, pleasure, sleep, blissful ignorance or what have you. And the questions, for Kemp or anyone else, are twofold: Where do you want to be on that scale, and how much control you have over that desire?

In the coming year, we’ll see what Kemp is made of at age 26. We’ll see how much he steps up his mental game. It’s silly to assume that he won’t develop at all, but if he doesn’t develop as much as people like me hope, there are all kinds of reasons why. They’re not excuses. They’re reasons.

None of us know how Kemp will respond to the challenge. I’m not sure Kemp even knows. Plus, his performance in 2011 won’t necessarily be an accurate reflection of his work ethic. He could coast, and improve based on just natural development. He could bust his butt, and slide farther back. People will cheer if he does well, boo if he does poorly, draw conclusions based on whatever they see fit.

As I approach the 4,000-word mark on this essay, I guess all I’m really trying to say about turning on hustle and smarts is this: Living up to the standard that John Wooden set … it’s just not that simple.

Oct 02

Dodgers trying to go out in style, 3-2


Adam Davis/Icon SMIChad Billingsley struck out five of the first nine batters he faced.

Alex Gallardo/AP
Andre Ethier, who went 4 for 4, greets Matt Kemp at home plate following Kemp’s two-run home run.

With Chad Billingsley pitching brilliantly, Matt Kemp slugging a homer here and making a diving catch there, and Andre Ethier going 4 for 4 … you’d almost think you had a ballclub.

The reality was you had but one victory, the Dodgers’ 79th in 161 games, 3-2 over Arizona. But, they’ll take it.

Billingsley pitched brilliantly, taking a perfect game into the fifth, a no-hitter into the sixth and a shutout into the eighth. He had whittled his ERA for the season down to 3.47 and struck out nine in 7 1/3 innings before finally getting touched for two runs in the eighth. Kenley Jansen pitched the ninth and, though he allowed the tying run to reach second base, struck out the side for the save.

Kemp homered for the fourth consecutive game, getting a green light on a 3-0 pitch from guest manager Jamey Carroll and drilling it out to break a scoreless tie in the fifth inning. Prime Ticket had great audio of Carroll celebrating his decision in the dugout: “That’s why we do it!” (They also caught Carroll showing his excitement over the potential three-way tie between San Francisco, San Diego and Atlanta for the final two playoff spots in the National League, as well as becoming the second manager in as many nights to as Clayton Kershaw to get him a sandwich.)

* * *

The watch list

3) Ethier will need a heck of a memorable Sunday to catch Kemp, whom he trails in home runs, 27-23.

4) Kemp’s 86th and 87th RBI pulled him within one of James Loney for the team lead.

6) Rafael Furcal did not play again, with Joe Torre telling reporters before the game that the team is consciously trying to keep Furcal’s average over .300. Furcal is not expected to bat more than once in Sunday’s finale.

10) Pittsburgh lost, clinching the worst record in the National League since the All-Star break.

Oct 02

Nice night for a game

It was a vintage Losers Dividend game Friday. By my estimation, fewer than 10,000 people were in the seats when John Ely threw the first pitch of the Dodgers’ eventual 7-5 loss to Arizona, a defeat that guaranteed the team’s first losing record since 2005. Between Friday traffic and disenchantment with the team (“Ennui are the champions”), it looked like we had a minor-league crowd on our hands.

Soon enough, many of the empty seats did start to fill, and the final fireworks night of the season, along with a Dodger rally, kept them sufficiently occupied. It ended up being a good night, except for Ely and the final score.

I’m quite certain about one thing: I’ve never been to three consecutive games in which the Dodgers fell behind by six runs. September 19, they fell behind 6-0 but rallied to beat Colorado. Two nights later, they dropped a 6-0 decision to San Diego. So this, as my brother pointed out, would be the tiebreaker, and it kind of went down to the wire.

Down 7-1 after Ely allowed three singles, three doubles, three walks and a home run in 4 2/3 innings, the Dodgers took advantage of a bullpen weaker than theirs to come back. Los Angeles had only four hits, yet reached base 12 times. After two runs came across in the bottom of the sixth with the bases loaded, pinch-hitter Rod Barajas hit a rocket as the tying run, but the missile fell short of being a grand slam, touching down as a sacrifice fly in speedy Chris Young’s glove. The Dodgers added their fifth run of the game in the bottom of the seventh, but that was all.

I got swept up enough in the hopes of the rally that I briefly rooted for Rafael Furcal to pinch-hit for Chin-Lung Hu in the eighth, before telling myself no, Hu should get the at-bats. Casey Blake did get one last chance to tie the game after Ryan Theriot walked with two out in the bottom of the ninth but struck out on a checked swing.

It was a lovely night at the game, not without its melancholy or any understanding that the baseball world didn’t care about it, but not a night in which it felt I had nothing to root for.

* * *

The Watch List

3) Kemp homered for the third straight game, giving him a team-high 26 compared to Andre Ethier’s 23. It’s the third time this season Kemp has homered in at least three consecutive games.

4) Kemp has eight RBI in his past three games, giving him 85. James Loney keeps holding him off, though. Loney had his seventh RBI of the past week Friday after going 10 consecutive starts without one, giving him 88. Ethier also drove in a run but is seven back of Loney at 81.

6) Furcal did not play and remains at .301. A.J. Ellis needs to go 4 for 4 to get there, and he might not get another start this year.

10) Seattle’s 9-0 loss to Oakland on Friday eliminated the Dodgers from the worst record since the All-Star break competition, though the Dodgers can still tie Pittsburgh for worst since the All-Star Break in the NL:

26-46, .361 Seattle
27-45, .375 Pittsburgh
28-44, .389 Kansas City
29-43, .403 Los Angeles

By the way, the Dodgers are 19 1/2 games behind Philadelphia since Jonathan Broxton’s save gave the Phillies a chance at home-field advantage in the World Series.

* * *

Ned Colletti has no plans to trade Kemp, writes Buster Olney of ESPN.com.

… Colletti made it clear on Friday that he’s not looking to trade Kemp, and feels very good about Kemp’s future with the team.

Colletti, like all general managers, will listen if somebody wants to call and make him a proposal on any of his players. “But there’s not going to be any shopping on our part,” said Colletti.

“I view all of our core younger guys as people who are going to be here for awhile.” …

… Kemp is perceived to have a good relationship with new manager Don Mattingly, and there is feeling in some corners of the organization that his ascension to manager will help patch the relationship between Kemp and the field staff.Colletti met with Kemp a couple of months ago and he walked away from that meeting feeling better than ever, he said, about Kemp’s commitment to becoming a great player. “We had probably the best conversation we’ve ever had,” said Colletti.

The GM believes that once Kemp gets to the offseason, he’ll have a chance to regroup and refocus — maybe in the same way that Cole Hamels did at the end of last season, when he learned from his mistakes and altered his preparation, to set up for a strong rebound season this year.

“I think Matty will be driven to be as good as he can possibly be,” said Colletti. …

* * *

  • Brad Ausmus looked comfortable as acting manager, writes Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com – and ready for retirement.
  • Kirk Gibson still treasures the memory of his 1988 World Series home run, writes Jim Alexander of the Press-Enterprise.
  • Chan Ho Park passed Hideo Nomo to become the winningest Asian-born pitcher in MLB history, notes The Associated Press. “It’s very special, 124 is nothing great for the major leagues, but it’s very special,” Park said. “It makes me think about 17 years ago when I first came, the people who brought me here, who helped me and still help me.”
Sep 17

And that’s the way it is, for Kemp and the Dodgers


Alex Gallardo/APMatt Kemp is congratulated by present and future managers Joe Torre and Don Mattingly after scoring in the second inning.

With the tying runs on, Matt Kemp struck out to end the game. He did. He swung, he missed, Rockies 7, Dodgers 5.

He had a beautiful triple in the second inning, taking an outside pitch hard the opposite way. He singled, stole second and scored in the fourth. In the seventh, with the bases loaded, he again went with the outside pitch, sending it into the stands just to the right of the foul pole.

And then he grounded out on the next pitch. And with the tying runs on base in the ninth inning, he got ahead 2-0, and he struck out.

And that’s Matt Kemp’s terrible, no good, horrible, very bad year.

And I still think he’ll bounce back. That he’ll find the way.

  • Andre Ethier walked four times, the first Dodger to do that since he did it last August. His bid to become the first Dodger to walk five times in a game since Greg Brock in 1983) was thwarted by a single up the middle on an 0-2 pitch. Five times this year, a Dodger has reached base five times in a game; Ethier twice, Rafael Furcal twice and Matt Kemp once.
  • Furcal’s first-inning error enabled a two-run home run by Troy Tulowitzki (12 taters in his past 14 games), two unearned runs that matched the margin of defeat. Furcal also went 0 for 5 and is now 8 for 45 with six walks and one extra-base hit since returning from the disabled list this month.
  • Two runs were also charged to Jonathan Broxton, who allowed three walks and two hits in two-thirds of an inning.
  • Hiroki Kuroda: six innings, three earned runs, eight baserunners, seven strikeouts.
  • Thanks to his three-hit night, A.J. Ellis (.237) actually a chance to finish the year with an unshameful batting average.
  • Jay “Pabst Blue” Gibbons had three more hits and is now OPSing .973.
  • Saturday’s game will not be televised live, but rather on tape delay at 4 p.m.
  • Tweet of the night, passed along by Dodger Thoughts commenter CraigUnderdog: “RT @charles_star: I don’t care what your contract says, Mattingly. Jay Leno will be managing the Dodgers by the All-Star break.”
Sep 16

The Big Blue Wrecked Crew: 2010-11 Dodger offseason primer


Kirby Lee/US PresswireRussell Martin: Just one of the many questions the Dodgers face this winter.

The Dodger roster heading into the 2010-11 offseason, and I don’t say this lightly, is a mess.

It’s not a hopeless mess. But it is a mess, and it’s going to take some skill from the crew in charge to clean up. It’s a goop of oil and water, an unsightly combination of having to fill holes while also figuring out which rising salaries to jettison and which to risk holding onto.

Oh, and when the 2010 season ends, the No. 5 starter on the 40-man roster, at least by major-league experience, will be someone who hasn’t pitched in a professional game in four months: Scott Elbert.

The Dodgers have one absolute jewel on the team: Clayton Kershaw. The team’s top player won’t be arbitration eligible for one more year and only figures to earn approximately $500,000 in 2011.

Then, there are a few players whose higher salaries the Dodgers won’t mind paying. Chad Billingsley, who will command somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 million, knocked down many of the questions others had about him with a resurgent 2010 season. Hong-Chih Kuo will draw low seven figures, and after the way he has persevered and performed, no one should begrudge him. Kenley Jansen will make people swoon, and only receive the major-league minimum pay and meal money in return.

So much for the good news. Now, the concerns:

  • Rafael Furcal surely remains talented, but the Dodgers have $12 million going to a player who has averaged fewer than 100 games per year since 2008.
  • Slumping reliever Jonathan Broxton’s final season before free agency is tagged with a $7 million salary.
  • Coming off an injury that ended his second straight disappointing year, arbitration-eligible Russell Martin would also get as much as $7 million if the Dodgers don’t non-tender him.
  • Andre Ethier looked like an MVP at the start of the year; by the end, his $9.25 million 2011 salary for an outfielder who struggles against lefties didn’t seem like quite as much of a bargain.
  • Lightning Rod Award-winning outfielder Matt Kemp has $6.95 million coming next year.
  • Casey Blake, game but aging, gets $5.25 million in the final chapter of his three-year deal.
  • By now, James Loney should have developed enough that the $4.5 million he is projected to earn next year should have seemed closer to a bargain than a burden, but his second-half disappearance hasn’t helped matters.
  • Incumbent second baseman Ryan Theriot and his sub-.700 OPS will bring home about $3.5 million if the Dodgers hang onto him.

In sum, that’s about $55 million committed to a series of question marks, some small, some large. In addition, Los Angeles owes approximately $17 million of its 2011 budget to (swallow hard) Manny Ramirez, Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones and Jason Schmidt — the price for turning past mistakes into the playoff teams of the previous two years.

Overall, the Dodgers on paper have close to $100 million – a figure that might well be at or above their budget limit – committed before they make a single offseason move.

Now, all is not lost. The Dodgers can and probably will gain roughly $12 million in breathing room if and when they bid farewell to George Sherrill, Octavio Dotel, Scott Podsednik and Brad Ausmus (who has said he will retire). Meanwhile, free agents Jay Gibbons and Rod Barajas should start to help shore up the bench for under $2 million combined. And it should be noted that not all of the above question marks will have negative answers.

Nevertheless, that still leaves the Dodgers at about $90 million in payroll, with John Ely as their No. 3 starter and serious questions about most of their offense. As shaky as their lineup now looks, and however aggressive the Dodgers might want to be with the latest crop of prospects, the Dodgers absolutely have to add at least two more starters, whether through free agency or trade, whether Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda or outsiders.

It’s for this reason that unless the team salary budget goes up, the Dodgers almost certainly will trade or non-tender a 2011 contract to at least one from the group of Broxton, Kemp, Ethier, Loney and Martin. Loney, because he has the lowest salary, might be most likely to stay – he’s finishing the year as a disappointment at first base, but he’s not finishing the year alone as a disappointment. In any case, all of them have something to offer other teams that might be, as hard as it is for some to digest, more willing to spend than the Dodgers are.

An Ethier trade would be a shock, for example, much more than a Kemp trade, but who can say it’s out of the question now?

However this plays out, the Dodgers may well bring back many of the same players next year who boosted them to National League Championship Series appearances in 2008-09 and sunk them in 2010. In one respect, nothing will have changed: You’re always hoping players move forward, like Kershaw and Billingsley, and not backward, like Kemp and Loney and Broxton and Martin and so on. Good does sometimes follow bad, after all. But still, it’s going to be a nervous offseason for a lot of us.

Sure, BP had it tougher. But as cleanup goes, this is as thick a goop as Chavez Ravine has seen in quite some time.

Sep 02

The 2010 Dodgers and the reinvention of lying

White lies, little and giant, have always been part of baseball — even the creation of the game is rooted in myth. But I can’t remember a year since I’ve been following the Dodgers that seems as defined by misinformation as 2010.

The tone was set last fall by Frank and Jamie McCourt as they prepared to do battle for ownership of the franchise, with the he said/she said battle positions flowering during numerous public revelations this year, leaving us with the bouquet of stinkweed at the trial that began this week. I’m not saying that someone’s been trying to pull a lot of wool over someone’s eyes, but lambs across the country are shivering in 90-degree heat.

It hasn’t only been the McCourts. Matt Kemp is held out of the starting lineup for days at a time, and the explanations richochet like bumper cars. He’s tired, he needs to get his head together, he’s in a battle with a coach, he needs to go talk to Joe Torre, Joe Torre needs to talk to him.

Manny Ramirez is finally ready to play after a painfully long absence, and yet he’s not playing. It’s matchups against the pitcher, it’s the square footage of the opposing outfield, it’s Torre playing a hunch, it’s to protect Ramirez for his waiver sendoff to the American League, it’s Ramirez’s own pigheadedness.

And then there are the media columnists who will bend and even break the truth to suit the stories they are determined to write, heedless of the facts.

This all comes on top of the game’s typical lies, such as a player hiding an injury (often to the detriment of the team), that are so familiar and yet so tedious.

It has bred a cynicism so rampant in many of us that even when a Dodger executive of unimpugned integrity like Logan White said in June with complete honesty that he drafted Zach Lee with the full intention of trying to sign him, few believed him – and most of the few who did simply believed he was lying to himself.

Baseball in general, and the Dodgers in particular, don’t necessarily owe us the truth, and I understand little white lies will always be part of the game. Baseball is a business, a culture and a family, and in all three fib to protect themselves. But this year, the cumulative effect of the lying has had a punishing effect. Last week, when Ramirez missed his final four chances to start after reaching base in his final four plate appearances as a starter, I rolled my eyes so much that they bowled a 270. It would be a bit much to pull the “have you no decency” card, but surely there doesn’t need to be such contempt for the truth to operate a baseball team in Los Angeles.

The grievances of Dodger fans are many, perhaps too many and perhaps sometimes too petty. But the feeling is almost unshakable that the Dodger organization has gone too far in insulting the intelligence of the fans. If our expectations are sometimes too high, that doesn’t mean the Dodger players, coaches, manager, executives and ownership don’t need to aim higher. In the end, winning is all that matters, but integrity goes a long way toward soothing the spirit when you’re losing.

Let’s put it this way: If you as an organization choose to espouse the heart and hustle and grit and gristle of players like Scott Podsednik and Jamey Carroll, then maybe you need to apply those values to your own, you know, values. Character in a baseball team is defined by more than how fast you run down the line. You’re telling me character matters, yet you’re not acting like it.

Aug 13

Kuo, Dotel to share Dodger closing duties for now

Reacting to Jonathan Broxton’s slump, the Dodgers have moved Hong-Chih Kuo into the primary closer role, and Octavio Dotel will close on days that Kuo can’t, Joe Torre told reporters today. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has details.

Kuo is not available tonight (neither is Kenley Jansen), so Dotel is the man if the Dodgers have a ninth-inning lead. Broxton is available depending on the game situation.

Torre also said that Manny Ramirez is finally making progress … but then added that a rehab assignment might or might not start in the middle of next week. Rafael Furcal is probably not going to be activated from the disabled list when he becomes eligible Wednesday.

* * *

Hiroki Kuroda has fared much better against the National League East and Central divisions than he has against teams from the NL West, according to Stats LLC (via the Dodger press notes). His lifetime ERA against the NL West is 5.05 (.294 opponents’ batting average); against the rest of the league, it’s 2.57 (.220).

Odd.

* * *

Justin Havens of ESPN’s Stats and Analysis group sent along some stats about Matt Kemp that won’t surprise you: on-base percentage down from .352 last year to .319 this year, for example. Strikeout rate up from 22.9 percent to 27.4 percent. His fielding woes have been well-documented, and his Wins Above Replacement figure has fallen from 5.1 in 2009 to 0.6 so far in 2010.

I was curious about how much batting average on balls in play might account for the OBP dip, and found that his BABIP has dropped from .345 to .314 – or .031, almost exactly the same amount as the .033 OBP drop. And then I looked at Kemp’s walk rate, and this is what surprised me the most.

2009: .078 walks per plate appearance
2010: .078 walks per plate appearance

That’s sort of remarkable, amid all the chaos around Kemp’s 2010 season, that he’s walking at the same rate. The BABIP really accounts for much of Kemp’s falloff at the plate.

Anyway, as far as this regression thing with Kemp goes, do people remember that we’ve been through it before? Kemp’s 2008 season was a disappointment relative to the promise laid out in 2007.

* * *

Hot dogs at Dodger Stadium? There will be on August 21 if the weather heats up on Bark in the Park night.

Sounds fun, but why do I think something is bound to go wrong? Must be the worrywart in me.

Aug 11

Someone needs to grow up

If Matt Kemp has done something that justifies his benching for the second day in a row — something more than striking out four times Sunday — he needs to get his act together.

But if Joe Torre really thinks that the reason his team scored 15 runs Tuesday was because Kemp didn’t start, and that the Dodgers are better tonight with Kemp on the bench, Torre needs to get his act together.

The Dodgers began 2010 with eight regular position players. Other than Blake DeWitt, who was platooned for much of the year, Kemp is the only one of the eight who has been held out of the lineup on consecutive days while healthy.

News flash: Kemp is not the only problem with this team. Casey Blake, for example, has had an unequivocally worse season than Kemp, yet he’s never been given three days to get his head together.

If Kemp truly merits this scapegoating, then by all means, he needs to shape up. But if he’s being held to a standard that other aren’t — a standard that Blake, James Loney, Rafael Furcal, Andre Ethier, Russell Martin and Manny Ramirez all escaped even when they slumped at the plate at different times this year — it’s time to question whether the Dodgers have made Kemp into a much bigger target than he deserves to be.

Like it or not, Kemp is one of the Dodgers’ best players. Have the Dodgers gotten to the point where they can only see where he fails and are blind to where he succeeds?

Update: Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com filed this report …

… Torre likened the situation to last season, when the Dodgers acquired veteran utility man Ronnie Belliard late in the season and Belliard got so hot at the end that three-time Gold Glove-winning second baseman Orlando Hudson, who would eventually win his fourth, was benched during the playoffs in favor of Belliard.

However, Torre said he was a long way from relegating Kemp — who is hitting .260 with 18 homers and 63 RBIs but has struck out 120 times in 435 at-bats — to a reserve role for the rest of the season.

“I’m not going that far down that road,” Torre said. “I’m just looking to play it a day at a time right now. You don’t just play with the same people all the time. If you want to win, everybody needs to contribute. Matty knocked in two runs [Tuesday] night. I just don’t want to go too far down the road right now.”

I still can’t believe there even is a road.

Aug 02

My thoughts turn to Vin


US PresswireVin Scully, during last year’s offseason.

I have no insight into whether Vin Scully will retire after this season. My hunch is that he won’t walk away easily. He still sounds filled with so much spirit – more than any of us have, I’m guessing – that I think with whatever schedule adjustments continue to be necessary, he will press on.

But there is always the possibility that these are the final two months of our time with him on the air. And however the Dodgers are playing, I have to find a way to appreciate that time. Even if they are not his final two months, I so want to savor them.

Thirty-six regular-season games remain at home and on the road against National League West opponents.

* * *

“Leave it to the Dodgers, going back all the way to the borough of Brooklyn, to get three hits in the inning and not score a run,” Scully said at the end of the first inning tonight.

Scully doesn’t get upset when the Dodgers play badly, and fans don’t mind. In fact, they appreciate it.

There are things that bother Scully – from people who fail to acknowledge the heroes of D-Day, to the way the post-O’Malley organization discarded Mike Scioscia – but even then, he measures his words carefully and civilly.

The result on the field never bothers him. And fans don’t mind.

I do get upset when the Dodgers play badly, but sometimes I’m told I’m not upset enough, not angry enough. I’ve certainly been told that I’m not angry enough about the ownership situation, even though I’ve expressed my displeasure with it more often than I can count.

No one ever complains that Scully isn’t angry enough. I mean, it sounds silly that someone ever would, right? Maybe it’s because he doesn’t identify himself as a fan. Maybe because I get excited when the Dodgers do well, it’s considered my duty to get angrier when the Dodgers lose.

But Scully was and is an enormous influence on me. He sees every game as part of something bigger. He sees the team as part of a larger team, going all the way back to the borough of Brooklyn. He sees the grand timeline of the Los Angeles Dodgers and baseball, and knows that one bad inning, one bad game, one bad month, one bad season and more, are just part of the journey. He’s able to see all that even as he nears the end of his own journey, however far away that hopefully remains.

* * *

Matt Kemp went 5 for 5 with a double and home run in the Dodgers’ 10-5 loss to San Diego tonight, but his night was marred when he failed to score on that first-inning play Scully described above. James Loney was thrown out trying to reach third base on Casey Blake’s single, the tag coming before Kemp crossed home plate.

When Kemp came up in the eighth inning, Scully discussed the play, not shying away from dealing with it objectively, but also without venom.

Scully certainly wouldn’t say that fans aren’t entitled to be upset about the fortunes of the Dodgers this year, but I do wonder why more fans don’t follow the tone he sets. They worship him, but they don’t emulate him. I don’t judge those fans for it; I just find it interesting.

If the Dodgers don’t salvage the 2010 season, you’re going to see me continue to channel my inner Vinny, as best as I can. I hope to be insightful; I hope to be entertaining. I hope to comment without anger, to find joy amid the sorrow, to see the forest for the trees (and avoid cliches when I can). It’s something I don’t do enough of in my non-Dodger life, but here, in the one place I seem to be able to pull it off most of the time, I mean to sustain it.

In a life replete with doubt and disappointment, go with Vin.

Aug 02

No denial from Matt Kemp

Those who have been waiting for Matt Kemp to man up, as it were, might find some satisfaction in T.J. Simers’ column in the Times today, in which he talked to Kemp and Dodger coach Larry Bowa. (I say “might,” because the flip side is that those same people will probably be wondering what took so long.)

“There’s more there,” Kemp said. “I agree. It’s something I need to sit here and think about and then change.” …

Why doesn’t Kemp go all out? Why doesn’t he break from the batter’s box with all he has?

“That’s a good question,” Kemp said.

Ordinarily Kemp is quick to brush aside any talk about potential not realized. But this time he sat there, listened to everything Bowa had to say, and there was no argument.

“I need to help this team out and I’m not doing it,” he said. “I’ve wasted a lot of at-bats this year. Pitchers have gotten me 70% of the time, but it’s not them getting me out, it’s me.”

So why doesn’t he lay off that outside pitch as he did in April, when he might have been the best hitter in the game — seven home runs to start the season?

“I feel it, trust me,” he said. “Everything being said, I’ve said to myself. I have no excuses. I’ve never hit below .290 in my life.” …

Jul 22

Back-to-back: 2-0, 2-0

Wednesday it was Chad Billingsley and Casey Blake; tonight it was Hiroki Kuroda and Matt Kemp – with a Hong-Chih Kuo cherry on top, and perhaps that’s the biggest news of the evening.

After pitching two innings Tuesday and warming up Wednesday, Kuo pitched the ninth inning tonight for the save – further suggesting that the protective gloves have come off the precious reliever. It might not be quite accurate to say the Dodgers are going for broke, but it’s definitely a different mentality than we’ve seen for the past year and a half. Actually, maybe it is accurate to say they’re going for broke, figuratively if not literally.

Earlier today, Joe Torre talked about the bullpen situation with Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Before signing off this short post, a quick tip of the cap not only to Kuroda for his eight standout shutout innings and Kemp for his RBI double and solo homer, but to Russell Martin, who threw out two runners stealing tonight in a tight game.

* * *

Bill Shaikin of the Times has some new and interesting Dodger attendance analysis. Check it out.

Jul 13

Another Yankee titan passes

Farewell, George Steinbrenner. Friday at Yankee Stadium, they’ll be mourning both Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard. That’s going to be quite a night.

The great Alex Belth has a remembrance of George Steinbrenner at SI.com.

* * *

  • Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has the fun story of Hong-Chih Kuo interviewing All-Star Dodgers about Hong-Chih Kuo.
  • Manny Ramirez went 0 for 9 with five strikeouts in three rehab games with Inland Empire, but hey …
  • Joe Torre on Matt Kemp, to John Perrotto of Baseball Prospectus: “Everyone thought I was punishing Matt, but it was just clear to me that he was pressing and needed to take a few days to clear his head and get his confidence back. There are no statistics to tell you how a guy is feeling on the inside, but I don’t think there was any question that Matt wasn’t in the right frame of mind. We all want to be perfect, and sometimes Matt has a hard time coming to grips with the fact that nobody is perfect. He holds everything inside and always tells you everything is all right, but it can’t always be all right and it wasn’t all right with him. However, I see him being back to the old Matt Kemp now. He’s playing with confidence again and that’s only going to make us an even better team for the second half of the season.”
  • The trade market for starting pitching gets a thorough analysis from Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness. The options probably won’t bowl you over. Meanwhile, I contributed a very short, on-the-fly comment about Ted Lilly to View From the Bleachers, saying that I wouldn’t want the Dodgers to give up much for him.
  • Baseball-Reference.com looks at the Hall of Fame case for Kevin Brown. The ultimate conclusion seems to be “no,” but the “yes” case might surprise you.

Update: Meant to mention this above: Alex Rodriguez has an acting role in the upcoming Mila Kunis-Justin Timberlake film, “Friends With Benefits,” reports Tatiana Siegel of Variety. My understanding is that he’s not playing himself.

Jul 06

Padilla stays on track in Dodgers’ 7-3 victory


Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesVicente Padilla

Two starts ago, Vicente Padilla allowed two runs in seven innings. Last start, Padilla allowed one run in seven innings. But with a shutout through 6 2/3 innings tonight, Padilla lost a chance to keep that progression going and create a lot of anticipation among mathematicians and physicists for his next start.

Nevertheless, it’s been a real hot streak for the enigmatic righty.

Padilla left after those 6 2/3 innings in the Dodgers’ 7-3 victory over Florida, allowing five hits and no walks while striking out nine before surrendering a two-run home run on a 1-2 curve to Marlins’ rookie Mike Stanton. With the exception of a 12-pitch at-bat by Cody Ross with two runners on base to end the fourth inning, it was a breezy outing for Padilla, who allowed two runners to reach second base and none to reach third before Stanton’s homer.

Matt Kemp (2 for 5 with two of the Dodgers’ five season-high steals) followed Rafael Furcal’s two-run single in the second inning with a monster homer to left field – Kemp’s fourth homer in his past six games and 16th of the year – to give the Dodgers a 4-0 lead. Furcal tied Gil Hodges’ 57-year-old franchise record by scoring a run in his 12th consecutive game. (Correction: Furcal is the first to do this since Hodges, but Hodges does not hold the franchise record.)

Casey Blake and Andre Ethier each later hit solo home runs, while Kemp almost topped off his night with a near-three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth that was caught at the wall. Furcal bookended his evening with an RBI single in the eighth.

Blake DeWitt had a single, two walks and his first two steals of the season.

Jonathan Broxton warmed up in the bullpen with the Dodgers leading by four runs in the eighth inning, sat down after the lead went up to five, then warmed up again and entered the game once Travis Schlichting gave up three hits and his first run of the season in the ninth. With visions of the Yankee game from nine days ago and Colorado scoring nine in the ninth to beat St. Louis, 12-9 tonight, Broxton retired both batters he faced to get the save.

Jun 30

Matt Kemp’s agent, Dave Stewart, talks about recent struggles


Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
Matt Kemp went 2-for-4 Tuesday with two running catches in his first meaningful game action since Saturday.

Matt Kemp happens to be represented by an agent, Dave Stewart, who made a reputation as a player as someone who took the game of baseball very seriously.

In an interview with Dodger Thoughts this morning, Stewart made no bones that it has been a struggle for Kemp the past two months, but expressed confidence that the experience has helped Kemp grow and, having cleared the air with Dodgers manager Joe Torre before Tuesday’s game, that he’s ready to turn a corner.

“It’s not been a really happy period of time the past couple of months for him,” Stewart said. “I think the gathering with him and Joe will help improve that mental frame and get him in a better place where he’s able to concentrate and play the game in a different state of mind. I think probably he’s going to be a bit happier. … I think that the pressing will discontinue.”

Stewart

Stewart

Stewart said that the critical radio comments by Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti in late April, at a time when Kemp was hitting at an All-Star level, didn’t go unnoticed, but that they weren’t an excuse for Kemp’s play in recent weeks.

“Those comments were unexpected,” Stewart said, “and obviously not well taken. But that should only last for a period of time. I don’t think that should be a two-month holdover. You know what I’m saying? I think at that time it was hurtful and probably caused a bit of a problem for a period of time, but like I said, that’s been two months ago, and I think we should have been able to turn the page on that and get to a new place. I think in today’s game that’s so behind that we can’t look at that.”

An MLB.com report that Kemp had “a disagreement … with a member of the coaching staff in the dugout while discussing a game situation Saturday,” combined with Torre’s on-the-record comments Tuesday that he wouldn’t have necessarily put Kemp in the starting lineup for today’s game if Kemp hadn’t approached him, makes it seem logical that Kemp’s benching was related to a clubhouse issue. Stewart was limited in addressing that, but emphatic that Kemp is not taking things for granted.

“The truth is, whatever it is that has taken place with the coaching staff and with Joe, my guess would be that those things are going to be behind [Kemp],” Stewart said. “I’m not at liberty to talk about what goes on in that capacity. That would be something I’m sure that if Matt wanted to talk about it, he would have, and he didn’t.

“Joe is the manager,” Stewart added, “and with that comes a lot of responsibility for 24 other guys, which Matt and I both understand, which is also the reason Matt has really had no outward complaints toward what Joe has done.

“We’ve talked about it, and I think the conclusion we’ve come to is that there can be and there have been misconceptions of Matt. I’ve read it so many times and I’ve heard it so many times that he walks around as if he doesn’t care. That, I can guarantee you, is the furthest thing from the truth.”

Stewart said that Kemp will continue to work with Dodgers coach Don Mattingly on his hitting, but also implied that he needs to tune out some other advice so that he doesn’t get overwhelmed.

“I’ve never seen him ever not open to instruction,” Stewart said. “You have to be careful when things are going bad to being open to too much instruction. There’s a fine line in there. What I’ve learned in this game is that people have a way of feasting on other individuals when you’re in a weak moment. Matt’s smart enough to understand what’s helpful and what’s not, [but] in this game, when you’re in a down period, getting opinions and instruction from everyone can be worse than no instruction at all.

“That’s not talking about the coaching staff. I’m sure he’s gotten calls from different people around the league, and God knows I’ve been a part of that problem, too.”

Stewart also claimed, in what might be an unpopular viewpoint, that even though the 25-year-old Kemp has now been in the majors for most of the past four years, his baseball youth remains a factor.

“I can tell you from my own experience, it took me until I was 28 years old to get an idea of what I was doing in this game,” Stewart said, “and I consider myself to be a guy who played baseball for a long time, from 7 years old.

“I’ve read that we can’t use youth as an excuse. I think when you haven’t played a game for a long period of time, or as long a period of time as some of his teammates, there are still going to be some things Matt is going to learn about the game and learn about himself.

“This sport is not an easy sport, even for veteran players. There is always something around the corner, people will tell you. … For a guy who hasn’t played a lot of baseball, and I’m speaking of Matt, and to have as much success as he did coming into the league – it’s been a gradual success, but I don’t think anyone can look back and say this guy hasn’t played well in any year – and then to run into a wall as he has this year, that’s a difficult process for anybody. He has struggled. Sometimes that manifests itself in different ways … but you can never accuse him of not trying to play the best that he can.”

There is no physical issue to explain Kemp’s struggles that Stewart knows of.

“Base stealing and baserunning, there’s an art to that, and I think in time he’s going to learn different techniques. Baseball makes adjustments, and Matt was sneaking up on some people before, and now baseball is aware of him and they’re doing different things to do exactly what they’re doing, which is to cut him down while he’s trying to steal a base. There are some things technique-wise that he’s going to have to learn, to put himself himself in that same category of a base stealer.”

So while Kemp remains a work-in-progress, there is reason to hope that the worst is behind him for now.

“What Matt understands clearly, and we both have had an opportunity to talk about this through the last couple of months, is that he wants to play better,” Stewart said. “My guess, and it’s a very good guess, is that this period he’s been through the last month and a half to two months is just that, a period, and eventually he is going to start hitting as he’s capable.”