Dodger Thoughts

Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball and life

Tag: Matt Kemp (Page 1 of 14)

Who will represent the 2018 Dodgers at the All-Star Game?

A year after they sent six players to the MLB All-Star Game, it’s more likely than not that the Dodgers will rely on the “every team gets a guy” rule simply to get one player to Washington D.C.

We still have nearly two months before the game is played (so you can question why I’m even writing about this right now), but if I were to make a prediction about who the 2018 Dodger All-Star will be, I might just pick a guy who has played in only seven games so far this year: Clayton Kershaw.

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So many Dodger thoughts,
so little time

Dodgers Instagram

When you don’t post daily about the Dodgers, a lot builds up. So here’s a stream of thoughts that have crossed my mind in the final days before Spring Training ends and Opening Day arrives for the Dodgers …

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With or without Matt Kemp, Dodgers stacked in left field

If the Dodgers had nothing more than a platoon of Kiké Hernández and Joc Pederson entering the season, I’d be fine with the Dodgers in left field.

In a typical Dodger batting order, left field might basically be the No. 7 spot. If Logan Forsythe bounced back from his 2017 struggles at the plate, the left fielder could bat as low as eighth.

Chris Taylor, CF
Corey Seager, SS
Justin Turner, 3B
Cody Bellinger, 1B
Yasiel Puig, RF
Austin Barnes/Yasmani Grandal, C
TBD, LF
Logan Forsythe, 2B

You don’t want left field to be a black hole in the lineup — certainly, by the time the postseason race heats up, you don’t want any black holes in the lineup. But entering the season, the Dodgers are in fine shape with Hernández, who in his career has an .883 OPS with 19 homers in 382 at-bats against left-handed pitching, and Pederson, who has OPSed .823 against righties with 54 homers in 953 at-bats (23 homers per 400 at-bats).

Each player has gone through an extended slump in his career, but both recalibrated by last October — in the glare of the postseason, no less. And, both Hernández and Pederson will be 26 years old for most of the season. It might seem like they’ve been around for a while, but they’re just entering prime time.

In particular, Pederson is a buy-low candidate. His contact rate has improved each of the past three years. His on-base percentage was a career-worst .331 in 2017, but his batting average on balls in play (.241) was the unluckiest of his three full seasons in the majors. In his poorest year, Pederson’s OBP was only .023 behind Chris Taylor in Taylor’s best year.

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Dodger trades, from simple
to screwball

So by all appearances, Matt Kemp — the once prodigious if not prodigal son –is going to Spring Training at Camelback Ranch, and it got me wondering about how complicated is the composition of the Dodger roster.

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Look who’s haunting his old team

San Diego Padres vs Los Angeles Dodgers

Padres at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Jimmy Rollins, SS
Yasiel Puig, RF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Yasmani Grandal, C
Carl Crawford, LF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Joc Pederson, CF
Brandon McCarthy, P

By Jon Weisman

Well, with all that’s been going on in this Dodgers-Padres series, it’s about time we confront how much damage that All-Star slugger is doing to his old division rival.

Yes, Adrian Gonzalez is hammering the Padres.

No, the Padres didn’t trade Gonzalez directly to the Dodgers, but they did part ways with him, and now he’s in Los Angeles taking his old team to task.

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Storytime theater ends happily for Dodgers

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By Jon Weisman

Opening Day at Dodger Stadium usually makes for a good story. But it’s hard to remember one when there was so much story.

Game 1 of 162 wasn’t merely a contest between the two top contenders in the National League West, it was a full-throated battle for narrative.

Matt Kemp took the early lead in the bid for headlines, Clayton Kershaw threatened to sneak his way back in, and Adrian Gonzalez, Howie Kendrick and the Padres’ defense all had their moments in the sun (literally and figuratively). For good measure, you had Hanley Ramirez threatening to show up the Dodgers, hitting two home runs out in a far-off time zone.

But standing large-font triumphant at the end of the day were Jimmy Rollins, the Dodger bullpen and ultimately, the Dodgers themselves.

Los Angeles did its fans the big favor of sending them home with a 6-3 victory over San Diego — and plenty of tales to tell.

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Matt Kemp’s Opening Day visit to Dodger Stadium is unprecedented

Matt Kemp first faced the Dodgers in a March 12 exhibition game. A week from today, it counts.

Matt Kemp first faced the Dodgers in a March 12 exhibition game. A week from today, it counts. (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

For photos from Sunday, visit LA Photog Blog.

Dodgers at Diamondbacks, 1:10 p.m.
Jimmy Rollins, SS
Yasiel Puig, RF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Carl Crawford, LF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Joc Pederson, CF
A.J. Ellis, C
Brett Anderson, P

By Jon Weisman

If you’re like Vin Scully, and you think it’s going to be weird to see Matt Kemp suit up for the Padres against the Dodgers on Opening Day in his first official career game for another team, you’re right.

Nothing like it has ever happened.

In the history of Dodger Stadium Opening Days, no other former Dodger — let alone one of Kemp’s current magnitude — has made his debut for an opponent before Scully and friends.

There have been a few former Dodgers to play for the opposition at Dodger Stadium on Opening Day, most recently Dave Roberts for the Giants in 2008 and Ismael Valdez for the Padres in 2004, but not very many, and they were always years removed from their last appearance in Dodger blue. (If you want to include road openers, former Dodger knuckleballer Charlie Hough pitched the Marlins’ first MLB game ever, against the Dodgers in 1993.)

Steve Garvey — the biggest name to go directly from Los Angeles to San Diego before Kemp — was at first base for the Padres at Dodger Stadium on Opening Day 1986, but Garvey was already in his fourth season with San Diego.

WelcomeThe highest-profile Dodger ever to play his next game for an opponent on Opening Day at Dodger Stadium was Reggie Smith, who started at first base for the Giants on April 6, 1982 — Los Angeles’ first official game since winning the World Series. Even this couldn’t be considered a big a deal as Kemp. Though revered by this author, Smith was not a career Dodger, and he had already ceased to be an integral part of the team by 1981, collecting seven hits and seven walks the entire year.

To find a Dodger regular who played an Opening Day for an opponent in Los Angeles the very next year, you have to go all the way back to a different venue and the very first Game No. 1 played in Los Angeles: April 12, 1960. (The Dodgers opened on the road for their first two seasons after moving from Brooklyn.) That player was Don Zimmer, who had been pushed to the bench by shortstop Maury Wills midway through the 1959 season.

That’s not to say there wasn’t some shock for local fans: Zimmer was traded to the Cubs on April 8, only four days before the start of the season, which found him at third base for Chicago at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Still, Don Zimmer playing for the Cubs at a Dodger home opener is nothing compared with what it’s going to be like to see Matt Kemp playing right field for the Padres a week from today. Surreal is a word that comes to mind. As Scully put it, the idea of Clayton Kershaw facing Kemp with the game on the line is, for now at least, mind-blowing.

That being said, time marches on, and so eventually will our sensibilities. If we could get used to Garvey in a Padre uniform, anything’s possible. (Well, almost anything.)

Bye to the Bison, hi to the Jimmy: Digesting the Dodger transformation

Juan Ocampo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Matt Kemp heads toward first after his 185th home run (including postseason) in a Dodger uniform, October 4 against St. Louis. (Juan Ocampo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

By Jon Weisman

A player who won our hearts leaves. A player who put a knife in our hearts arrives.

Dodger fans naturally are having emotional reactions to the departure of Matt Kemp to San Diego or the arrival of Jimmy Rollins from Philadelphia, the capper to the past week’s massive talent migration in and out of Chavez Ravine.

But don’t count out the scoreboard.

Baseball has shown, time and again, that nothing eases the whiplash of losing a beloved player or acquiring a formal rival the way wins do. That includes both winning on the field, and winning the trades themselves.

You loved watching Kemp play (though some abandoned ship when the going got tough). I loved watching Kemp play. And I was so invested — deeply invested. Players come and go — that’s been baseball reality for me since the first favorite I lost, Bill Buckner to Chicago for Rick Monday. Then the older you get, the more you have to shake and wake yourself. “Wasn’t this guy just 21 years old? Didn’t he just get called up?

Bison

Matt Kemp became “The Bison” thanks to Dodger Thoughts (click above to enlarge), and although his embrace of the nickname was ambivalent, you don’t sever those ties without a thought.

But if the Dodgers are a better team than they were a week ago, the trade will be worth it. And there’s great reason to think that they are, that the Dodgers took a comeback season from a player and turned it into something even more. The talent received in exchange for Kemp is anything but a dismissal of his value.

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Dodgers set Los Angeles record in BABIP … what happens next year?

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Yasiel Puig had a .356 BABIP despite declining from 2013. (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

By Jon Weisman

Were they feeling lucky?

The Dodgers had a team batting average on balls in play of .318, which was third in the Majors but the franchise’s highest in 84 seasons, since the Brooklyn Robins had a .321 BABIP in 1930.

In general, the Dodgers’ BABIP has trended upward in recent years, thanks in part no doubt to strikeouts becoming a larger percentage of outs. It was a different story, for example, in the 1960s, when the Dodgers’ BABIP bottomed out at .266 in 1967 and .268 in 1968.

The oddity is that several prominent Dodgers underperformed their recent or career BABIP marks in 2014 …

BABIP chart

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Down but not out, the Dodgers can still make a splash

Jill Weisleder/Los Angeles Dodgers

Jill Weisleder/Los Angeles Dodgers

Things happen that you don’t expect. Things happen that you should expect but aren’t ready for. Prepare, step up and believe.

— Jon Weisman

Matt Kemp, grinder

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By Jon Weisman

This was big. It was loud in here tonight. We continue to grind.

I just continue to grind. This is where I want to be. Last year, it was tough, battling the injuries, but I came back strong, I kept grinding, my teammates were behind me, my family was behind me, we kept grinding and here we are now.

This was big right here. On this stage, in the playoffs, this was a must win for us, we needed this. Gonna continue to grind, go to St. Louis and get two more wins.

We told each other when J.P gave up that home run, we’re gonna back him up. We were gonna find a way to win this game. That’s what good teams do. We back each other up when we make mistakes. We just keep on going.

— Matt Kemp

Kemp

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Right field, Dodger Stadium, 3:37 p.m.

Sun horiz 1

By Jon Weisman

This was the view from the warning track in right field at 3:37 p.m. Tuesday at Dodger Stadium, exactly three days before the first pitch of the 2014 National League Division Series between the Dodgers and the Cardinals.

Come Friday, the ballpark will be empty of sprinklers but full of intensity and fans, waving towels, while that sun slowly drops like a magnum fly ball. The current forecast, by the way, is for a high of 97 degrees.

Standing in the field, even in sunglasses, I found it hard to believe that our lifegiving sun wouldn’t prove a death-defying experience for the game’s right fielders, but a chipper Matt Kemp said Tuesday that defense wouldn’t be an issue. Offense was another matter.

“You can see the ball in right field,” Kemp said. “It’s seeing the ball at the plate, which is important to scoring runs. So you know, I’m going to swing with my eyes closed and see what happens.”

photo 1

As you can see in the photo above, shadows won’t have crossed the Dodger Stadium infield at first pitch. But you’ll see them lurking off the third-base line, ready to creep and make facing Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright that much more perilous or paralyzing.

“You know, honestly, I don’t get why we play during the shadow times, but it’s one of those games,” Kemp said. “But both teams got to do it  — we’ve got to find a way to win.”

Matt Kemp named September’s NL Player of the Month

LAD_14-KEMP-POM-SEPT-TW

Matt Kemp, who in September led the National League in home runs (nine) and slugging percentage (.700) and was third in weighted runs created (192), was named the league’s Player of the Month.

Kemp previously won this honor in April 2012. In August, he won his fifth NL Player of the Week award.

In the second half of 2014, Kemp was No. 2 offensive player in the NL, according to Fangraphs, behind San Francisco catcher Buster Posey.

Clayton Kershaw had a 1.95 ERA in September but fell short of his third NL Pitcher of the Month award for 2014, losing out to his opposing number for Friday’s National League Division Series opener, St. Louis righty Adam Wainwright, who had a 1.38 ERA.

— Jon Weisman

Turner bout is fair play: Utility sensation helps Dodgers clinch tie for division title

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By Jon Weisman

The past two nights, I couldn’t pre-write.

Normally, if I’m writing about a game or even just some aspect of a game, I’ll get it going in the middle innings. But in these games against the Giants, I was so sure the angle would keep switching that I couldn’t do it. And with Monday’s life-on-the-edge game, that anxiety was validated.

Then came tonight:

  • In the first inning, Zack Greinke shut out the Giants, and Justin Turner homered.
  • In the eighth inning, Zack Greinke shut out the Giants, and Justin Turner homered.

The Dodgers took the lead early, extended it late, and lo and behold, they clinched a tie for the National League West title tonight with a 4-2 victory over San Francisco.

The victory and share of the division comes with Clayton Kershaw taking the mound in his final start of the regular season Wednesday. That’s how soon the Dodgers can claim the NL West outright.

Against all reality, Turner’s dream season continues to get dreamier. His two home runs tonight matched his season totals in 2012 and again in 2013 for the New York Mets, who made Turner a castoff left unsigned by every Major League team until a week before his reporting date to Camelback Ranch. He now has a .397 on-base percentage and .482 slugging percentage in 315 plate appearances.

“Going around those bases, I was floating,” Turner said of his second homer to SportsNet LA’s Alanna Rizzo. “It was a good feeling, and the guys in here were beating the crap out of me and bubbles were flying everywhere. It was a good time.”

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Don Mattingly on Matt Kemp’s improved mechanics

Los Angeles Dodgers at Chicago Cubs

Giants at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Justin Turner, 2B
Yasiel Puig, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, RF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Scott Van Slyke, LF
Juan Uribe, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Zack Greinke, P

By Jon Weisman

Matt Kemp turned 30 today, and his birthday comes at a happy time in his career. With a .363 on-base percentage and .580 slugging percentage, Kemp is among other things the No. 5 hitter in the big leagues in the second half of 2014, according to wRC+ (weighted runs created plus).

Much of this has been attributed to Kemp’s improved health, but as Don Mattingly discussed today (audio above), an adjustment to Kemp’s mechanics has also been a factor.

“I think the biggest change Matt’s made is to straighten up,” Mattingly said. “I think you see him taller, you see his feet a little bit more straight. A guy that dives or is striding into the plate, he limits himself what he can do.”

Mattingly drew a comparison between this and the mechanics of Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner, an earlier topic of discussion today, noting the effect of unusual angles Bumgarner uses.

“As a hitter, when you cross into the plate and you dive, you block yourself off certain parts of the plate you can’t handle and you can’t get to,” Mattingly continued. “Certain areas and even certain areas on both sides, you get cut off, and you don’t have the same leverage. So to me, with Matt straightening up, he was able to get through the ball a lot better and really create more bat speed and then backspin.”

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