Making the rounds today is this story in the LA Times depicting an odd situation in Los Angeles. Ned Colletti, the teams general manager, had some unpleasant things to say about the team’s best player, center fielder Matt Kemp:
“Some guys, I guess, think that they’re better than they are. They think the opposition’s just going to roll over and get beat by them. That obviously doesn’t happen.
“The baserunning’s below average. The defense is below average. Why is it? Because he got a new deal? I can’t tell you.”
Let’s handle this baseball-wise first. Kemp is just about every sort of awesome imaginable. He hits for power and average, is improving his walk rate, and has flashed serious base-stealing ability. Just 25 this year, he’s certainly one of a handful of the game’s brightest young starts.
That said, he’s not an excellent center fielder, or even a good one. While I think his relative inexperience and tremendous athleticism mean it’s premature to consign his future to left field gods just yet (as Rob Neyer does here), he definitely has some strides to make in the field. The Gold Glove he won last year will end up being held against him by many. As for his baserunning, yeah: he’s been caught stealing five times in seven attempts. Fine.
But, you know what, you just don’t call out a guy playing an adequate center field and carrying an oh-by-the-way .376 wOBA. Especially when the rest of the team kind of, you know, stinks, and this center fielder is one of the few bright spots. Rany Jazayerli wrote about this the other day in the context of the Royals’ struggles and Trey Hillman’s bullpen management–bad teams tend to blame their failures on their best players. And while the Dodgers probably aren’t, in the big picture, a bad team, they sure are right now.
And make no mistake: Matt Kemp is their best player. On the list of factors contributing to the Dodgers’ ugly start, Matt Kemp‘s defense and baserunning don’t make the top 10, and probably fall somewhere between ‘George Sherrill is having some control issues’ and ‘oh dear God, Garret Anderson has been allowed to bat 39 times.’ Which is to say: yes, Kemp’s defense and baserunning could be better. But a good team doesn’t play poorly because one thing this mild goes badly; it takes a combination of several bad things happening at once, and that’s precisely what’s happening.
And please: spare me the notion that this has anything to do with Kemp’s ginormous, Howardian two-year, $10.95 million contract. Kemp still has to earn the big payday, and I’m sure that’s motivation enough. Odds are we’ll forget this brouhaha ever happened in short order. The Dodgers will be, at least, in striking distance of the division title come the middle of August, and we’ll have much more interesting things to talk about than Matt Kemp‘s supposed complacency.