Think this could be a problem?
Matt Kemp, the one outfielder who was direct in declaring he was “not a fourth outfielder,” was on the bench Saturday for second consecutive game.
Don Mattingly, forever the players’ manager, wasn’t saying a whole lot about the situation, though he clearly hinted the previous day it was about Kemp’s wanting defense and not his offense, which has also been sub-par by Kemp standards.
Kemp is prideful, enjoys the spotlight and its ensuing attention, and cannot be happy about sitting consecutive games for the first time this season. But he doesn’t live in a cave, either, and was direct Friday when he said: "I have to keep working and practicing on my defense."
Despite his reputation otherwise, the truth is Kemp has never been a great defensive center fielder. He commonly gets poor jumps and runs bad routes. In the past, he could make up for a first-step mishap with his great speed.
But hamstring injuries, ankle surgery and the years may have robbed Kemp of his trademark explosion and speed. And without it, his defensive shortcomings are being exposed.
“Obviously center field has been a situation we continue to look at,” Mattingly said Friday. “We need to continue to get better out there.”
It’s not that Andre Ethier is the prototypical defensive center fielder. He’s not the speediest outfielder, but he typically makes good breaks on the ball, runs proper routes, and is probably a little faster than you think. At this moment, he is their best defensive center fielder.
I thought it odd that Mattingly had recently declared that Yasiel Puig and Kemp had earned everyday playing status, while Carl Crawford and Ethier would battle for the other spot against right-handers.
Kemp is hitting .303 this month (20 games), but with just one home run and five RBI. In his last 20 games, Ethier is batting .362 without a home run and eight RBI, while in his last 20 games Crawford is at .343 with four homers and 11 RBI.
Kemp is a better defensive outfielder than he’s shown recently, but right now he’s costing them on the field and not really making up for it at the plate. He can’t count on his athleticism to save him to run down balls.
“It doesn’t look the same,” said Mattingly. “Just the burst, that kind of outrun-the-ball thing.”
Maybe Mattingly is just trying to send Kemp a message by sitting him the last two games, and maybe he’s just tired of the team’s disappointing defensive play. The one certain thing is, if Kemp continues to play irregularly, he will not be happy.