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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Los Angeles Dodgers 2012 Season Preview: Centerfield

My Season Previews reached their conclusion over at ChadMoriyama.com, and the most enjoyable to write was my take on The Bison. So I'm belatedly posting it over here as well, in its original form, because I like to skew analytical every now and again.


This is one of the few pieces in this 2012 Season Preview that I am going to truly enjoy penning. How could I not find joy in recapping one of the greatest seasons in franchise and National League history, one of the handful of players on the Dodgers who will actually be productive in 2012 and beyond, and the man who should have won the 2011 NL MVP, PED test or no PED test?

Following a down 2010, many sought to have Matt Kemp shipped out of Los Angeles. Accusations of laziness, an inability to mentally impress and comprehend the game itself, and caring more about a personal relationship than his on-the-field performance, plagued the Dodger centerfielder. Heading into what unfortunately was a make-or-break year in 2011, few stood behind Matty - mostly Dodger bloggers who skew analytical - and I'm proud to say I was one of those believers in The Bison.

You simply don't give up on a 26-year-old who hits for power, can run the bases, and has a rocket arm, particularly at a time when his value was at its absolute lowest (and his luck on balls in play was the worst it had ever been, with a .295 BABIP that was well below his career .352 BABIP).

Kemp backed up his supporters' beliefs and proved all of the doubters wrong with a season that had him atop both the fWAR (8.7 - NL leader, second in baseball) and rWAR (10.0 - MLB best) leaderboards. Kemp mashed to the tune of a .324/.399/.586/.985 slash line with 39 long balls, 76 extra-base hits, 40 stolen bases in 51 attempts, a 171 wRC+, and a phenomenal .419 wOBA.

Matt improved the areas of his game that most affected the productivity of his '11 campaign. He reduced his whiffs from 25.4% to 23.1% while simultaneously keeping his unintentional walk rate steady (7.3%/7.3%). Both his raw total of free passes and his walk rate increased (53 to 74 and 7.9% to 10.7%) due to 24 intentionally-awarded trips to first base. While many would discount this as simply a product of a horrid lineup around him, Matt's dominant offensive season and ability to go yard in any situation also led to more four-ball, no-strike walks.

The lineup around Kemp is yet another reason to praise him for a season-long Beast Mode that earned him the NL Hank Aaron Award as the top performer in the Senior Circuit. Matt crushed both lefties and righties (.341/.461/.682/1.143 and .319/.380/.560/.940, respectively), increased the amount of line-drives he hit (20% to 23.2%), and continued to not make weak contact, as he popped up to an infielder only 2.2 percent of the time. All of this occurred with guys like Juan Uribe and James Loney providing "protection." It was nothing short of an awe-inspiring performance.

Defensive metrics for one season should really mean nothing, and I'll never be convinced that Matt's 2010 season actually yielded a -27.5 UZR/150. 2012 saw an improvement in the fielding numbers, with a -4.7 UZR/150. With some conflicting numbers on defense (an average of a -9.5 UZR/150 over the last three seasons, with the one atrocious year sandwiched by a positive season and the aforementioned -4.7 campaign), I believe that we can all agree on the basis of Matt's glovework as this: he has a tremendous arm, great speed, and can run down a lot of balls despite the occasional bad route.

I don't fault Kemp for the poor route reading; as long as he makes the play, that should be all we care about. Even if he were to be moved to right field, his bat plays anywhere, and he's an elite player period. His 2012 season is the outlier, not 2011, as he has produced two 5+ WAR seasons with the one poor and unlucky one in-between, as well as a pretty good 2008 season as a 23-year-old.

Questions regarding Matt Kemp's aptitude and Baseball I.Q. were misguided from the start, and frankly were intellectually lazy as well, bordering on TMZ-ish analysis. These ideas ignored the numbers which clearly pointed to where Matt's game had fallen off between 2009 and 2010, and his 2011 performance cemented that he was more than just a big bag of tools.

The Bison is an elite talent and an elite player, and a franchise cornerstone now locked up for almost a decade. He and Clayton Kershaw are the guys you build a winner around. Now, if only Ned Colletti was baseball savvy enough to be that builder....


  1. That was an excellent read.It's been a pleasure watching him play so far this year and I know he'll keep it up and earn that NL MVP.

  2. Thanks DB!

    Charles- Love the powder blue throwbacks. Powder blue anything is fantastic.

  3. That was fun to read. Kemp is my 2nd favorite center fielder after Cutch. Kemp deserved the MVP last year and is on his way to ensuring he gets it this year.

  4. Thanks Brian! And without a doubt, Matty was MVP last year.