As the fans of both Los Angeles franchises piled into Dodger Stadium for the Freeway Series, it would have been easy to overlook the struggles, both last evening and for the entirety of the 2013 campaign, of Kemp. After all, it's hard to find more than a few players in the entire town playing up to or above expectations.
Despite the disappointing start to the season by both teams, the Dodger faithful had had enough on this night, booing Matt Kemp during his at-bats, at one point when the count reached two strikes in anticipation of the impending strikeout.
Bill Shaikin @BillShaikin
That's 4 consecutive K for Matt Kemp. This time, the crowd started booing with 2 strikes, and nasty loud after third strike. #Dodgers5/28/2013, 3:42:41 AM
Of course, Kemp is struggling mightily. After finishing second in the 2011 NL MVP vote and signing a lucrative long-term deal, the Dodgers' center fielder was supposed to be a linchpin, along with starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw, in Los Angeles' run to the top of the NL West.
Instead, Kemp has been a below-average offensive player, posting a career-worst slugging percentage and an OPS (.637) that ranks 60th among 66 qualified outfielders this season.
If the boos and jeers were intended to spur on better play from Kemp, the tactic could backfire for the hometown crowd.
Although it's early and sample sizes are still too small to conclude much from, Kemp has hit much better away from Dodger Stadium than he has at home. His .748 road OPS isn't spectacular by any means, but it's leaps and bounds better than the .537 mark in front of the fans at Chavez Ravine.
While booing is a longtime tradition in sports, the reasons for it can vary from case to case. It's unlikely that Kemp isn't giving 100 percent to snap out of his slump. If heart and desire were being questioned in Los Angeles, the jeers would be far more justified.
Instead, a lingering shoulder condition is much more likely the reason for Kemp's power outage and issues at the dish in 2013.
As pointed out in a tremendous piece by Peter Gammons this weekend for Baseball Analytics, Kemp's injury issues in 2012 were culminated with a labrum tear and rotator cuff issue suffered when crashing into a wall in late August against Colorado.
While Kemp's shoulder has been surgically repaired, it can take a good deal of time for the strength and comfort to return. As a right-handed hitter, the left shoulder acts as Kemp's lead shoulder when hitting. It's clear that he's not swinging through the baseball with his lead arm the way he did in 2011.
Booing the star of a poor Dodgers team won't motivate Kemp beyond the motivation he already takes to the field on a daily basis. In fact, if he's still hurting or not strong enough to get the job done at the level expected, it could lead to him pressing at the plate or playing through soreness, potentially damaging the shoulder again or delaying the full healing process.
Ultimately, when talking injuries, poor play from the entire team and the cloud hanging over manager Don Mattingly's head, it's futile to waste time and energy chiding Kemp.
I hope Matt Kemp shows up at your job tomorrow and boos you whenever you make a mistake.5/28/2013, 4:47:03 AM
Over the course of the next few months, he's one of the players that can carry the Dodgers out of their funk and back into contention (if his shoulder allows it).
Fans are fickle, demand success and can become frustrated when expectations aren't met, but Kemp is far from the only problem.
But he could be the solution.
If Dodgers fans are lucky, the boos will motivate him. If they're not, the town runs the risk of a star player doubting his skills and ability in his own park.
In a season of disappointment, that would rank up there with the worst developments for the 2013 Dodgers.
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