Sarah's Take: Kemp needs to get it together
The Los Angeles Dodgers had to put Matt Kemp on the disabled list on Wednesday. This is the third time that Kemp has been on the DL this season, and all these trips have had a different cause.
In the middle of May, many pundits blamed Kemp for the Dodgers' problems. At the time, I thought these pundits had a narrow view of the club. Oh yes, Kemp has been an important player in the past, but the Dodgers are a better and more varied team than they were during the Frank McCourt era.
The first time Kemp injured his hamstring in late May, I thought it might have been the last nail in the Dodgers' coffin. Although I don't think having a certain player in a lineup should decide a team's fate for the season, the Dodgers had gone through so much at that point that I thought they wouldn't earn a playoff berth.
It was difficult for me to blame Kemp for his team's poor performance. His teammates went on the DL at an alarming rate, too, and those injuries undermined the Dodgers' efforts.
Nevertheless, Kemp was an easy target for everyone to point at for Los Angeles' shockingly poor performance. After his 2011 banner season -- narrowly missing the National League Most Valuable Player Award -- he signed a humongous 10-year contract. This made him the face of the Dodgers' organization, and the clubs' fans and the media expected him to lead Los Angeles to the playoffs. Since signing that contract, Kemp has been a disappointment.
During the month of April, immediately after agreeing to the 10-year deal, Kemp had one of the greatest months ever for a Major Leaguer. Even though his defense wasn't up to the same caliber as it was in 2011, the Dodgers could live with that, because his offensive production was awesome.
Then Kemp suffered a hamstring pull. Because he had played the most consecutive games in the Majors at that time, he resisted coming out of the lineup. Though he played, he wasn't the same player. A couple days after the original injury, he aggravated the injury, and the Dodgers had no choice but to put him on the DL.
Kemp, anxious to help his team, hurried back before the hamstring was fully healed. Two games after his return, he reaggravated the hamstring, causing him to miss almost two months of the 2012 season. When he returned, he had lost his eye for the strike zone, and this made him easier to get out. He didn't have as much power as he did. Defensively, he couldn't get good jumps on fly balls, so his problems in center field also hurt the Dodgers.
Last August, a couple days after the mega-trade with the Boston Red Sox, Kemp ran into the center-field fence at Coors Field. He hurt his shoulder badly but insisted on playing until the Dodgers had fallen out of contention. His offense was nonexistent while he kept misplaying balls in the outfield, costing his team runs that they couldn't afford. Don Mattingly should have sat Kemp, but it's difficult to bench a possible difference-maker, especially when the team struggles to score. In hindsight, playing an injured Kemp might have cost the Dodgers the playoff berth that they should have had.
Two days after the 2012 season ended, Kemp underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery, where the doctor found more damage than he expected. Although Kemp had a serious injury, the Dodgers said that he would be ready for Spring Training without any restrictions. They were right, even though Kemp wouldn't pick up a bat until this past January.
During Spring Training and the early part of the season, Kemp's shoulder didn't appear to be right. Oh yes, he could make strong and accurate throws from the outfield, however, while playing center field, he sometimes appeared to be lackadaisical, and sometimes he couldn't find a fly ball. Misplaying some balls contributed to the Dodgers' poor defense.
Offensively, he was a mess. He had no power and consistently chased balls outside the strike zone. After seven years in the Major Leagues, Kemp should have learned how to hit a breaking ball and lay off of pitches outside of the strike zone; he struck out too much. Since Kemp has been a valuable player to the Dodgers' offense, Mattingly didn't move him down in the lineup. Whenever Kemp came to bat, he had runners in scoring position, magnifying his offensive failures.
Although the hamstring injury was classified as minor, Kemp missed a month. While he couldn't play center field, the Dodgers discovered Andre Ethier as a wonderful replacement. Ethier might not make spectacular plays, but he doesn't make errors. The Dodgers started scoring runs without Kemp making an important out in the middle of the lineup.
Kemp came back in early July, and his offense was better. A couple days later, while swinging the bat, he hurt his other shoulder. He returned to the DL for 15 days. Just before the Dodgers activated him, Mattingly revealed that Kemp might have to have another shoulder clean-out surgery this upcoming offseason. The day that he came back, he had three hits -- including a homer -- but he twisted his ankle when he slid awkwardly into home plate. He hasn't been able to play since, and on Wednesday, the Dodgers had no choice but to put him on the DL, again.
Kemp, arguably, had one of the greatest seasons by a Dodger in 2011, but since he signed that contract, he has been a fragile ordinary player. The Dodgers have gone from last place to first in the NL West virtually without his help. If Kemp can't remain healthy and solve his offensive problems, the Dodgers should consider trading him.