Jeff Kent: The Dodgers’ Surprising Backbone for ’07 and ‘08?

Molly GraySenior Analyst IJuly 2, 2008

Two years ago, Jeff Kent had everyone, including myself, wanting him to retire at the season’s close.

He had struggled with injuries all season, and was relatively old for the league, at 39 years old.

Kent already undoubtedly held a spot in the Hall of Fame, and had a good long run in the league since 1992.

In 2006 Kent played in only 115 games, his lowest number since 1996, had 14 home runs and a .292 batting average. His 61 runs were also the lowest they had been since ’96, and his 68 RBI were a 37% decrease from his average RBI from 2000-2005.

While he was unarguably an asset to the team, it seemed to many as if he was done, should take every accolade he’s achieved and bow out gracefully.

The Dodgers also had young talent that looked to be promising in the infield with Wilson Betemit and Tony Abreu, and seasoned infielder Ramon Martinez who could have taken Kent’s spot.

All three however, turned out to flop in 2007, batting .271, .231, and .194 respectively. As well, all three fell below Kent’s 2007 fielding percentage of .976: Betemit with .952, Abreu with .947, and Martinez with .972.

Betemit, Abreu, and Martinez have all three not played for the Dodgers since last season: Betemit was traded to the Yankees, Abreu hasn’t appeared since being put on 60-Day DL, and Martinez was not invited back to the roster and has left the league.

The Dodgers were lucky Kent stayed however, because in 2007, while other veterans, such as Nomar Garciaparra who appeared in only 43 games, fell victim to injury and fatigue, Kent exploded.

In 2007 Kent led the Dodgers in home runs (20) and doubles (36), while finishing second in RBI (79), walks (57), and on-base percentage (.375) and batted .302, only the third time in his career in which he had batted over .300 for the season (.313 in 2003, .334 in 2000).

Kent reached base in 39 consecutive games from June 7 through Aug. 7, which was the second-longest streak in the MLB in 2007.

In July of 2007, Kent hit .447, which was the highest average in the Majors and the third-best in Dodgers history for a single month. Similarly, after the All-Star break, Kent batted .337 to take the Dodgers down the home stretch.

So what about 2008?

Well, it hasn’t been a year like 2007 but so far Kent has put up 9 HR, 12 2B, 36 RBI and 27 R in 70 games.

However, where Kent comes in as the surprising backbone of the team, is in his leadership and experience for the young Los Angeles team.

So far in 2008, Kent has been able to play consistently while GM Joe Torre has worked young players Angel Berroa, Andy LaRoche and May Rookie of the Month Blake DeWitt into the infield rotation.

If any of these three players had been called on to lead the charge at second base, they would have probably cracked under the pressure, but with Kent’s reliability they have the chance to learn and grow in the infield.

In his last 10 games, Kent has hit .333, and had the go-ahead run in the 11th inning in last night’s game against the Houston Astros, Jul. 1.

All in all, I think I join all Dodgers’ fans in thanking Jeff Kent for staying on the past two seasons, and apologize for my lack of faith in 2006.