Los Angeles Dodgers: 6 Reasons Why Matt Kemp Will Rebound in 2011
Just about every single fan across Dodgertown is elated the 2010 campaign is now in the past, yet Matt Kemp, although his season was not a total bust, holds both higher hopes and expectations for the journey ahead.
Although he led the Dodgers in RBI, extra-base hits, runs scored and home runs (setting a career high in the process), it was a tough year in many other ways—his batting average dropped dramatically over last season, he was caught stealing 15 times on the basepaths, he set a club record for strikeouts and at times his defense was much less than stellar.
Considering his 2010 salary was $4 million, most teams around Major League Baseball would sacrifice that expenditure in a heartbeat for a player who will produce 28 home runs, 89 RBI, 25 doubles, six triples, 19 stolen bases and 82 runs scored—despite a .249 average.
Yet the media, his own general manager, his coaching staff and the fans came down especially hard on Kemp for one reason only: They all know he has the talent to be a better player.
After the season was over, Matt Kemp himself admitted he could have been better. But what the typical misinformed fan doesn't realize is that last year was a crazy roller-coaster ride for all of the Boys in Blue, especially for Kemp.
The following slides illustrate several of the obstacles Kemp had to deal with in 2010, show several of the changes made moving forward and explain why Matt Kemp will rebound in 2011.
Gone Are Larry Bowa and Bob Schaefer
At the 14-game mark of the 2010 campaign, the Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder was a terror at the plate, batting .334 with seven home runs and 20 RBI.
Yet at the end of April, when the Dodgers were 9-14 and in last place in the NL West, the blame game began—and most of the fingers were pointing toward Kemp.
Then the bombing brigade began.
During a Sports Nation chat session, Tony Jackson of ESPN conveyed: "I have it on good authority, not from [Ned] Colletti but from others, that if anything, Ned understated the issues with Kemp. This kid is really full of himself, to the point that it is an issue in the clubhouse."
Later on in the same program, Jackson went on to say: "Kemp has been somewhat difficult with the media almost from the time he came to the big leagues. What I'm hearing now is that he is difficult for some of the coaches to deal with, that he gets his dander up when they try to offer him advice on certain things. I do know that one coach, I can't say who, has gone so far as to recommend to the front office that they trade him."
It would later be uncovered that the "good authority" and "that one coach" would be Dodgers third base coach Larry Bowa. Rather than dealing with the issues at hand personally behind closed doors, Bowa's best judgement told him to consult the media, specifically Jackson, and expose the dirty laundry for the entire world to see—not exactly the smartest move.
Consequently, towards the end of June, Kemp found himself in a heated argument with bench coach Bob Schaefer in the middle of a game. Schaefer accused Kemp of not backing up second base during a stolen base attempt, and Kemp became heated.
There's absolutely no doubt that Schaefer was indeed correct and Kemp should have used better judgment, but in reality, this instance was one of the few times during the season that Schaefer decided to do any type of coaching. Because Schaefer mostly kept silent and rarely offered any type of coaching advice, Kemp viewed it as a personal attack.
Unquestionably, Matt Kemp was indeed part of the problem, but because Bowa and Schaefer used the improper judgment, or lack thereof, the turmoil increased to unnecessary levels.
Although Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti is criticized often by the fans, the offseason moves he made by replacing Bowa and Schaefer were not only beneficial, but also necessary.
New Batting Coach Jeff Pentland
Although it is said that Matt Kemp has an excellent working relationship with former batting coach and new skipper Don Mattingly, either something in Mattingly's hitting instruction wasn't working correctly or most pitchers across the NL discovered the secret of getting Kemp out.
It seemed as if Kemp was deadly when given fastballs either down the middle or towards the inside of the dish. However, breaking pitches that were low and away often made him look foolish.
Kemp himself admits that during the season, much of his spare time is spent watching film, specifically of opposing pitchers. Add that to the hiring of new batting coach Jeff Pentland, and a recipe for almost sure-fire success exists immediately.
Years of experience, coupled with a thorough understanding of the "biomechanics" of hitting, have made Pentland into one of the finest batting instructors in the game today.
Last year Pentland was the primary hitting instructor for the Dodgers at the Camelback Ranch facility in Glendale, and he brings a ton of experience to the table.
A pitcher during his playing days, Pentland spent his entire career in the San Diego Padres organization in the early 1970s. After working at Arizona State University as an assistant for more than a decade, he became the hitting coach for the Florida Marlins in 1996.
Prior to landing with the Dodgers, Pentland also worked for the Chicago Cubs, the Kansas City Royals and the Seattle Mariners.
Seeing that last year was a total nightmare for the Dodgers offensively, Pentland and the other coaches are expected to encourage a more aggressive approach at the plate and allow for the players to have more fun and enjoy the game between the lines.
Considering the dozens of moves that general manager Ned Colletti has made during the course of the offseason already, none could be more beneficial than the hiring of first base coach Davey Lopes.
He hasn't worn a Dodgers uniform since 1981, and with his return to the team that broke him into the majors, he hopes to offer a fresh approach and new ideas heading into next year.
Davey Lopes began his career with the Dodgers in 1973 and quickly elevated to the top of his game as a second baseman with both speed and power.
Over the course of his nine seasons with the Dodgers, he was a pillar of the legendary infield with Steve Garvey, Bill Russell and Ron Cey. After being traded at the end of the Dodgers' 1981 championship season, Lopes also spent time with the Oakland Athletics, the Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros organizations.
Following his retirement as a player, Lopes coached for several teams, including the San Diego Padres and Washington Nationals, before becoming manager of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2000.
Lopes later joined the Philadelphia Phillies, where he was responsible for the highly elevated running game. He was highly influential in both the Phillies' championship in 2008 and World Series appearance in 2009.
Lopes could very well be the link to enhance the relationship between Matt Kemp, Kemp's agent Dave Stewart and Dodgers management. Stewart and Lopes often refer to each other as brothers and have been best friends since their playing days with the Dodgers in the early 1980s.
Lopes has already reached out to Kemp and has communicated with him on several occasions so far this winter. Under the guidance of Lopes, Kemp's baserunning is expected to improve immediately, and with Stewart, the players and the fans being very happy with the hiring of Lopes, a huge amount of positive anxiety is brewing in Dodgertown even before the 2011 season has begun.
The Air Is Finally Clear with Ned Colletti
Along with the problems Kemp had with Larry Bowa and Bob Schaefer, on April 27, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti appeared publicly on KABC Radio's "The Peter Tilden Show," and when asked about the dismal performance of his team, Colletti was quick to give fault to Matt Kemp.
Colletti told Tilden that Kemp's defense and baserunning were below average and speculated aloud whether Kemp's new contract, a two-year, $10.95 million deal he signed in his first season of arbitration eligibility, might have made Kemp a little too comfortable.
Eventually Kemp and Colletti met behind closed doors, and when asked if everything was fine, Colletti stated, "It's fine with me." Kemp refused to comment about the details of the meeting.
After a phenomenal start to the 2010 campaign, during the course of the following 28 games after the Colletti incident, Kemp's all-around numbers suffered drastically—he had one home run, five runs batted in and a .254 average in that span.
At that time, most fans went as far as to think that after the Bowa, Schaefer and Colletti incidents, Kemp's days as a Dodger were numbered, especially when Dave Stewart went public and criticized Dodger managers and coaches for the way they were treating Kemp. After all, Kemp is arbitration-eligible in 2012 and could potentially enter his first year of free agency after the 2013 campaign.
However, Colletti made the first gesture in clearing the air by conveying to the media more than once that by no means will Kemp be dealt away. Paired with the hiring of Lopes, Dodgers fans couldn't ask for a better chapter to the saga.
In late November, just shortly after Lopes had joined the Dodgers' coaching staff, Colletti informed the media that Kemp had reached out and contacted him, finally burying the hatchet. Credit must be given to Colletti for helping accommodate Kemp, and to Kemp himself for showing signs of humility.
The Whole "Rihanna Thing"
Quite a few sportswriters and a number of fans have the opinion that Kemp's relationship with recording artist Robyn Rihanna Fenty has negatively affected his performance on the field, while others believe that Kemp's personal life has no bearing whatsoever on his production with the Dodgers.
First, considering Rihanna's celebrity status, rumors and gossip will occur, and Kemp should expect the publicity—it comes with the territory, as much as it is their own personal business.
However, theoretically, this relationship isn't much different than those between other players and their significant others around Major League Baseball.
Although Kemp is only 26 years of age, other players around the Majors his age have children, are going through divorces or have much more difficult personal issues with which to deal. Kemp's personal business is irrelevant, as it is put on hold when he steps onto the diamond—it becomes a totally different world.
With all that being said, on a positive note, Kemp has a full season under his belt in terms of dealing with the situation. It's old news, and the media will eventually grow tired of reporting of where the two have been seen last or which direction the relationship is headed. If indeed the relationship has an impact, the effect is fading away quickly.
Regardless, one wonders if the day will ever arrive when the media finally uses some common sense when breaking this type of news. It's strictly the personal business of the players only, and any professional with any type of human value should realize this. Let the players play the game of baseball, and report on that.
2012 Is a Contract Year
And finally, the contract year phenomenon.
When Ned Colletti and the Dodgers re-signed Matt Kemp in January of 2010, they agreed upon a two-year deal worth $10.95 million, including a few incentives.
The contract was constructed in such a way that Kemp would be paid $4 million in 2010 and $6.95 million in 2011. It was specified in the deal that if Kemp notched more than 650 plate appearances in 2010, his salary for next year would increase by $100,000. Kemp logged a total of 668 PA this year and will in turn earn $7.05 million next season.
Fans everywhere debate endlessly the effects on a player heading into a contract year. Some folks go as far as accusing players of coasting until the contract year arrives and then playing at full capacity to assure a generous payday moving into the future. Whatever the truth is in the eyes of the players themselves, it does become a relevant issue.
After all, it is the players' livelihoods being discussed. There's no doubt they're going to try to impress heading into a contract season. But for Kemp, it goes far beyond that. In addition to increasing his player value, his intentions are to prove to his teammates, coaches and the fans that he is indeed capable of being better and living up to the expectations that were set for him so early in his career.
Outside of his own personal performance, just about every player on the team increases his value when the team on the whole is successful, and winning is a philosophy that Davey Lopes has been instilling in his players for many years.
"You have to make a commitment to winning. That is what we'll talk about once we get to spring training," Lopes says.
Despite all the offseason negativity and criticism, with all of the top-to-bottom changes that have been made, the future looks much brighter for Matt Kemp and the Boys in Blue.