Wednesday, December 29, 2010

So I guess it's time to talk about Matt Kemp


Seeing posts like this and this make think it's time to talk about Matt Kemp. Or more accurately, what the Dodgers need out of him to succeed next year.

Ned Coletti took the "let's make our pitching staff awesome and consistent, and hope the offense gets a little better than last year" approach, by re-signing Hiroki Kuroda and Ted Lilly, and then signing Jon Garland to contracts. They also resigned Vicente Padilla for depth as a 6th starter/reliever. Those 3, combined with Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley round out a formidable, top 5 pitching staff. He didn't sign Adam Dunn, he didn't sign Carl Crawford/Jayson Werth, he didn't sign Cliff Lee, and he probably won't go after Adrian Beltre. And of all those players, Dunn was the most realistic anyway. With teams like the Cubs, Rays, Orioles, Diamondbacks, Nationals, and Braves needing First Basemen at the beginning of the off-season, and teams like the Padres joining them as transactions occur, James Loney, a consistent, good contact, slick fielding First Basemen with great numbers outside Dodger Stadium could have been very appealing. I'm not Loney's biggest fan, and it's always easier to be the Sofa/Armchair GM than it is to actually run a team, but I would have liked to see Ned go after Dunn as a LF initially, and then try and flip Loney.

Alas, that wasn't the case, and Juan Uribe, a great defender, with good power will likely man 2B for now, and SS when Rafael Furcal gets hurt, will be our biggest off-season bat signed. Is that disappointing? A little bit, but it's better than going into next year with the same team. Ideally, Ivan Dejesus Jr., a top 2B prospect, plays out of his mind in Spring Training, and wins the starting 2B job, pushing Uribe to 3B, and Casey Blake to the bench. Then, Casey plays for Loney at first whenever an opposing team starts a Lefty Pitcher, as Blake still crushes lefties, and Loney does not, to put it lightly. This is assuming the Dodgers sign an Outfielder who crushes lefties to platoon with Jay Gibbons in Left Field.

Those pieces are all important, but not central to the team. If Dunn isn't going to be the 3 or 4 hitter for the Dodgers, then Matt Kemp needs to step up. Last year was a disappointment, but only because the expectations were probably unreasonably high, and his ridiculous pace in the first 14 games, in which he hit 7 Home Runs and crushed everybody, only made it hurt more. Is he a 30HR/30SB player? Well he could be, but I wouldn't count on it. He needs to make sure his walk rate is always high, and he needs to swing less at pitches outside of the strike zone. He's going to strike out quite a bit, that's just the nature of the kind of hitter he is, and I don't think it's a bad thing if he's still a free-swinger, but if he can lay off of those sliders down and away, that will go a long way to making him better. His power won't be amazing when half of his games are played at Dodger Stadium, but he could still be a 30-35 HR guy. With Davey Lopes as the First Base Coach, he SB numbers should be better too (Davey Lopes had a noticeable impact on the Phillies running capabilities). Ideally, he will hit around .285-.300, hit 25-35HR, drive in 100+ runs, and steal 20+ bases. There would be nothing to complain about there. He's already shown that he can play very good defense in CF, and even just being above average would be good enough for every fan after last season.

Honestly, unless Ethier magically learns how to hit lefties all year (he won't), then Kemp will have to step up to be that consistent 3-Hitter who can be depended on. He's not a terrible player who doesn't try as some might tell you. He's certainly not the first rising star to stumble a bit. If he improves in a couple key areas, he will be a great player, and it's not as if he was bad last year, he just didn't live up to expectations.