2012 Los Angeles Dodgers Season Review: Center Field

Matt Kemp

After an amazingly elite 2011 that saw him finish second in MVP voting — even though he was the best player in the National League last year — Matt Kemp had to spend far too much of 2012 as you see him above. Kemp’s season is really quite easy to break down: when healthy, he was elite, but unfortunately, he was injured often.

Kemp, through the first month of the season, picked up right where he left off in 2011, to the tune of a monstrous .417/.490/.893/1.383 slash. Let that sink in for a moment; through the season’s first 23 games, Matt Kemp was getting on-base nearly half the time and slugging just shy of .900, a number most players would dream of for their OPS. He had 12 homers, four doubles, and a 21:13 K:BB ratio in that span, and while he wasn’t going to be able to maintain that type of slugging prowess, it just goes to show how dominant a stretch he was in.

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Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, but for Matty it wasn’t just normal regression that leaped in his path. He injured his hamstring in early May, and after attempting to play through it, hit the shelf for a 15-day DL stint. He returned when first eligible and managed to make it two games before re-injuring the same hamstring.

After missing the next 37 games, Kemp returned and once again swung the bat with authority, hitting .325/.372/.488/.860 over his next 40 games, ending on August 26. Why August 26? Because on August 27 and 28, Kemp’s season changed for good, as The Bison injured the labrum in his left shoulder, his knee, and likely suffered a minor concussion after running into the center field wall in Colorado on consecutive nights.

Though he had a small stretch at the end of the year where his old powerful self was on display at the dish, Kemp massively struggled while playing with what was revealed to be a serious labrum tear. His slash line was a putrid .214/.267/.420/.686, and as I wrote multiple times, the simple fact that the Dodgers allowed him to play through it is idiotic.

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Even with such an injury-filled season in which he appeared in just 106 games, Kemp still managed to be the Dodgers’ best hitter, going .303/.367/.538/.905 with a .383 wOBA, .236 ISO, 146 wRC+, 23 HRs, and 47 XBHs. We know Kemp is, at his best, average defensively (with a plus arm), but in 2012 he cost the Dodgers roughly 9 runs in the field. How much of that could be attributed to his hamstring and shoulder injuries I won’t begin to assume, but I’ve never felt Kemp was as much a detriment in the field as the numbers suggest.

His running was obviously affected by the hamstring though, and by the end of the season Kemp had swiped nine bags and been caught four times. Taking into account the severity of Kemp’s hamstring and shoulder injuries, he should trend upwards in 2013 on the basepaths, though probably not to the level of 2011.

Following his 8.0+ WAR campaign in 2011, Kemp’s ~3.5 WAR in ’12 is impressive considering what he had to deal with injury-wise. A return to health in 2013 will hopefully bring with it a return to his 2011 numbers.

Tony Gwynn Jr.

On the roster solely based on his excellent defense, Tony Gwynn Jr. appeared in 103 games before being designated for assignment. Gwynn would clear waivers, accept a minor-league assignment, and find himself in AAA Albuquerque to finish off the season.

Gwynn started 43 games in center, but both his offense and defense suffered in comparison to 2011. Gwynn hit just .232/.276/.293/.569 overall with an atrocious .251 wOBA, and after saving the Dodgers roughly nine runs in 2011, that fell to ~2.5 runs saved in 2012.

Gwynn can easily be a fourth/fifth outfielder for a team because of his defense, even if it is on the decline, but he’s not the right fit for this Dodgers team, even with their need for a backup center fielder.

Elian Herrera

Elian Herrera had to fit into these reviews somewhere, and considering that he started nine games in center, he’ll slot in here. In those nine starts, he hit .214/.371/.286/.657, not far off from his slash line overall in 2012 of .251/.340/.332/.672 with a .304 wOBA. Herrera did show an impressive eye at the plate, walking 10.7% of the time.

Defensively, he was below-average in center and above-average at the corners, not necessarily demonstrating a defensive prowess that would make him valuable in spite of his hitting.

Heading towards age 28, he profiles as an end of the bench player, at best.

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Greg Zakwin is the founder of the site Plaschke Thy Sweater Is Argyle. Follow him on Twitter @ArgyledPlaschke.

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