The Sad Decline Of Matt Kemp


Poor Matt Kemp. Nobody knows his sorrows, nobody his woes. Let’s have the smallest violin in the world play a tune for him.

Let me preface this article by saying that I love Kemp. He’s been a great player. He’s been an incredible talent. Perhaps Kemp may be the greatest home grown Dodger talent to come along in our generation. Notice I said “been”, as in past tense. Let’s face it, Kemp is not the player he was once, not even close. As a matter of fact he’s a shell of his former self. This is his third straight year of decline. 2012 injury riddled. 2013 injury riddled. 2014, just plain riddled.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

I mean, it’s very disconcerting. Believe me when I type this, I take no pleasure or gratification in writing this piece. However I feel it’s something that has to be said. Matt Kemp is probably in steep decline because of injury, and no amount of sentimentality will change this. Playing time may not either. Only Kemp himself has the power to turn this around.

Kemp is now the player that everyone either loves to hate, or hates to love. It seems there is no in between with him. I find myself somewhere in between. I think it would be unfathomable to imagine him not with the Dodgers anymore. Although the Dodgers have a younger and more talented outfielder waiting in the wings. Don’t tell me Joc Pederson couldn’t do better than Matt Kemp. I think you know the answer to that.

The Kemp supporters have been crying for over a week now. Crying that he’s not getting playing time and the Dodgers are treating him unfairly because they benched him for a measly five games. Let me tell you something, Kemp should be thanking his lucky stars he’s with the Dodgers.

Take for instance Hanley Ramirez. He had one bad year with the Marlins, and they shipped him off faster than you could say overpaid veteran. Any other MLB team would have jettisoned Kemp a long time ago for his poor play. The Dodgers are unbelievably patient and understanding.

I agree that benching Kemp for that long was probably not the best way to handle things, but can you blame the Dodgers? Kemp has still played in 46 of the Dodger’s 55 games. He’s gotten plenty of playing time, so I don’t feel bad for him in that regard.

I don’t. Not one bit. Kemp has been pretty bad this year, on both sides of the ball. His poor play necessitated this. His defense has been the main problem. Kemp can no longer play center field. Well duh. Anyone watching the games could have figured that out. How it took the Dodgers two months to figure this out is beyond me.

The problem with Kemp’s defense has always been the same. He can’t judge fly balls. He never has been able to. He gets horrible reads on balls and as a result takes horrible routes. But back when he was healthy, he had the speed to make up for it. He could catch up to those balls he misjudged. But now after being hobbled from the ankle and hamstring injuries, he can’t. He doesn’t have the speed anymore. Ergo, you have a guy who can’t read fly balls, nor run. That’s a bad combination in the outfield.

So the Dodgers sat him for five games. They’ve moved him to left field, where they think he could do far less damage than in center. The funny thing is, Kemp’s almost been just as bad with the bat as he has with the glove.

Yeah guess what? Kemp isn’t hitting either. Yes I know he had been swinging the bat better in the month of May than April (hitting over .300). But still. He’s not hitting. And that was the area that was supposed to be fine. The Kemp supporters will use advanced metrics that don’t mean anything to support their case for this. “Oh but he’s got a WRC+ of 122! That’s ten points better than Andre Ethier or whatever”. I DON’T CARE. You should take a look at the most important stat. That’s the “Kemp doesn’t pass the eye test……Plus” stat”.

Look at the rest of Kemp’s numbers. He’s batting just .248 after another 0 for 4 night. His OBP is .317. His OPS stands at a paltry .755, before his latest ohfer game. He’s had just 18 extra base hits this year in 167 plate appearances. 18. That includes his five home runs, in which two came in the same game. What happened to his power? This is the guy that hit 39 home runs in 2011. He constantly fails to make contact (46 whiffs), and his walks have decreased exponentially (14 in just 167 plate appearances). These numbers are well below his career norms. These are all numbers that have declined steadily since 2011. He’s just not the same player anymore, and the sooner we stop fooling ourselves the sooner we can move forward.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

He’s lost several steps. All of the injuries were just too much on his body. The shoulder, the ankle, the hamstring. It’s all bad. Kemp never recovered.

People will make the “he’s better than Andre Ethier” argument. Which frankly doesn’t fly with me. Ethier has been a better player than Kemp this year on defense. But this isn’t about Ethier. This is about Kemp. And he’s clearly in decline. He’s barely the fifth best hitter on the club now. He used to be the best hitter and player in the league. I think the last time Kemp drove in a run was when Manny Ramirez was hitting behind him. Even Drew Butera has nearly driven in as many runs as him.

The Dodgers have no choice but to play him now, with the injury to Carl Crawford. But how long before they end up benching him again?

Look I get it. Kemp sacrificed his body for the club. He crashed into an outfield wall for the Dodgers. He should get some special treatment. He deserves respect. And he has, based on the fact the Dodgers haven’t permanently benched or traded him for his lousy play.

But don’t feel sorry for him. He’s making 21 million dollars this year to bat .248 and play horrible defense. The club still owes him 107 million dollars of his contract. I have a hard time feeling sorry for him at all. He’s making 21 million dollars, while I’m sitting here in my dumpy apartment eating cheerios for lunch because I have 12 dollars in my checking account. Yeah Kemp’s just fine trust me.

Kemp may one day regain his mojo. But it might not be with the Dodgers. It’s terribly sad if it happens that way. This is what happens when players suffer severe injuries. The Dodgers will give him another chance to prove himself, which he should be very thankful for.

But don’t feel sorry for him. Don’t feel sorry for him one bit.