Dodgers GM goes after Matt Kemp…but why?

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.

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  1. Bob Timmermann said...

    Wasn’t it simply a case of two things:
    1) Colletti was asked about Kemp.
    2) He was generally ticked off about the team’s performance of late.

    Colletti can give grouchy answers from time to time. He wasn’t particularly happy when J.D. Drew opted out of his contract. And he’s been far from sympathetic with Ronald Belisario this year. And Belisario has responded in kind with some pretty bad pitching.

  2. D4P said...

    Matt Kemp is dead last in the entire MLB in UZR/150, and he’s tied with Blake DeWitt for 8th place on the Dodgers’ roster in WAR (behind, among others, James Loney and Ronnie Belliard).

  3. Josh Fisher said...


    I’m not going to put an ounce of stock into UZR/150 before the calendar’s even turned to May. And does anyone believe that Casey Blake and Ronnie Belliard will end up outhitting Kemp on the year? And while Manny and Ethier might (I guess), both are strong negatives in the outfield, as opposed to just below-average-to-average.

  4. Andre Mouchard said...

    Ned might want to look in the mirror—and at least glance at the corner office—before going off on Kemp.
    The Dodgers are below average (for now) at 2nd because Ned/McCourt/Torre didn’t like another year of Orlando Hudson at $5 million and Ned traded Tony Abreu for four starts of Jon Garland. We’re trotting a below-average starter, Haeger the Horrible, to the mound every fifth game because Ned/Torre didn’t believe in Eric Stults/Scott Elbert/James McDonald (and because McCourt wouldn’t pay for free agents like Ben Sheets or, gulp, Randy Wolf.)
    Ned’s right. Somebody isn’t doing their job. But, as usual, he doesn’t have a clue who it might be.

  5. Jeremy Greenhouse said...

    Josh, I think it’s absolutely noteworthy to mention that Kemp is the league worst in UZR and DRS so far this year.

  6. Josh Fisher said...


    I think that depends on the context. If the point is to say Kemp *has been* pretty bad out there this season, fine. But you can’t use four weeks’ worth of UZR to say he *is* bad. I think Rob Neyer is very, very premature on forecasting Kemp’s move to left. He might never be a consistently above-average defender, but if he can be even average, keeping the corner spots open is a huge plus.

    Dude’s 25 and athletic as all get-out. I’m not about to write off his potential to stay in center field into his 30s just yet.

  7. David Young said...

    Jeremy Greenhouse – The point is that UZR and UZR/150 are completely meaningless in a small sample size such as one month.  Heck, one season is sometimes considered a small sample size for UZR.

  8. wsk said...

    a gm being honest?
    giving a full response to a question?
    more praise to him.
    kemp is just haphazardly bad in cf; he doesn’t set out to go the wrong way on broken bat flairs, but he just does.
    and one can see it in his eyes—the oh shoot moment, the ball is going over there, way over there, and i am running in the other direction.
    very nice talent; livable for a really good team as a cf, and if he is andy van slyke—wretched outfielder—, the dodgers are apt to win with a plus bat in center, and a fielder in centerfield whose glove occasionally meets ball.
    not a bad thing.

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