2013 Los Angeles Dodgers Season Review: Center Fielders

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Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp entered 2013 coming off serious shoulder surgery to repair a badly torn labrum in his left/lead shoulder. It was an unavoidable injury, but the recovery time was stalled by the club allowing him to play through it down the stretch in 2012. Ned Colletti, Don Mattingly, and everybody involved allowed the emotions of trying to sneak into the postseason overwhelm them and cloud their judgment. Six years of Matt Kemp’s future were far more important than a month or two, and the staff’s job was to recognize that and protect the player from himself.

They obviously failed in that respect, and it clearly hampered Kemp early in the season. His shoulder was not 100%, as he struggled early on; he couldn’t get his weight-training regimen to where he needed it to be until June; and his lack of production hurt the team and himself.

Matt hit a horrific .251/.305/.335/.640 through his first 51 games with two homers and ten doubles before injuring his hamstring and hitting the DL for a month (which followed a short bout with numbness in his elbow). After returning from his first DL trip, he was only available for 10 games before returning to the 15-day disabled list with irritation in the AC joint of his left shoulder. During his brief return, Kemp hit .273/.333/.485/.818 with a pair of dingers.

Kemp returned to action again in mid-July and put forth one of his best games of the season, reaching base safely four times via a homer, double, single, and walk. He drove in three and scored a run, but Kemp injured his ankle badly in a ninth-inning freak play at home plate and missed the next two months, returning as the regular season was winding down.

Kemp got into 11 September contests in preparation for a postseason run, and he was sort of back to the Matty of old. Including that July game that resulted in his ankle injury, Kemp mashed to the tune of a .359/.432/.615/1.047 slash line over his final 12 games, with two long balls, four doubles, nine RBIs, and a 5:7 BB:K mark. Extending that back to his last 22 games, he hit .319/.388/.556/.944. Of course, the issue is that those 22 games stretched from late June to late September.

As well as Kemp played down the stretch, and as promising as his presence was for a deep postseason run, the club ultimately made the right decision in shutting him down, as his ankle flared up and was at a serious risk of breaking. Of course, the irony in shutting him down with the playoffs guaranteed and not doing the same thing last year with a long-shot at the playoffs doesn’t escape me, but at least the club learned from their error in judgment.

There’s something key in this season summation that can’t be emphasized enough, so I’ll lay it out once again:

.251/.305/.335/.640

.273/.333/.485/.818

.359/.432/.615/1.047

As The Bison got healthier — and he was never truly healthy during the entire season — he began to hit more like the Kemp of 2011 and early 2012 than the Kemp of late 2012 and early 2013, who was playing with one shoulder. He’ll have an entire off-season to heal from his ankle and shoulder surgeries and move further away from the cleanup of his torn labrum.

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I’ve seen countless trade rumors surrounding Kemp this off-season, and of course the team should listen to any GM who proposes a trade. That being said, selling low and trading away Matt for pennies on the dollar is a foolish idea. It’s not at all far-fetched that health will find Kemp this upcoming season after a full off-season of recovery, as we’ve seen players like Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury rebound from seasons lost to injury to still be productive players.

2011 and early 2012 may never happen again after the various ailments that have felled Kemp, but success going forward is more likely than many are willing to believe.

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Andre Ethier

The Dodgers were in need of a center fielder following Kemp’s lost season, and the options they had were not plentiful and not appealing.

The team could have called up Joc Pederson from Double-A, though he was in need of more seasoning and some experts have him pegged as a corner outfielder long-term. Skip Schumaker, who would man center during the NLDS, has made his name on positional versatility, except for the fact that he doesn’t field any position well, including center. Yasiel Puig, the most athletic of all the replacement options, is a perfect right fielder with his cannon of an arm, but lacked the route-running and experience playing the position to be a feasible option in the club’s eyes.

That left Andre Ethier, who had played all of one game and nine innings in center as a major leaguer (that game coming last year), and oftentimes has appeared as though he can’t efficiently man even right field. But the Dodgers were short on options, and they made the choice to go with the safer Ethier over the higher risk/higher reward all-out-style of Puig. It appeared to pay off.

Andre started 70 games in center, 50 in right, and seven in left. And while it’s tough to judge any player on less than one year of defensive metrics, I’m not a big fan of the eye test either. The DRS and UZR metrics had him below average in center, while FRAA had him as well below average overall this season. That said, Dre wasn’t horrendous like many thought he would be in center. Granted, he wasn’t exactly Mike Trout out there either, but he clocked in at -3 DRS and -1.8 UZR, which is actually quite impressive considering some of his earlier seasons in right were outright poor. Given the circumstances, and later his injury, he did an admirable job even if he was exposed at times (like the playoffs) through no fault of his own.

With the lumber, Dre once again failed to adequately hit southpaw pitching, with a line of .221/.275/.338/.613 (.272 woBA, 73 wRC+). But he slashed .272/.360/.423/.783 overall with a .340 wOBA and 120 wRC+, fairly in line with his career numbers minus a drop in slugging of almost 50 points and a drop in wOBA of almost 20 points. Dre walked about 3% more than in 2012 and cut down on his strikeouts by 3% as well.

He once again dealt with injury, missing time down the stretch and being rendered wholly ineffective in the postseason as he battled an ankle malady suffered in early September.

At this point, Dre is what he is, a 2.5-3.5 WAR player who can’t hit lefties and needs to be platooned, but still has value because he can rip righties. Dre has a ton of money left on his deal — 4 years and $69 million plus a 2018 club option for $17.5 million — but he’s still the likeliest of the four outfielders to be dealt, especially if the Dodgers would eat a large portion of his contract.

What 2014 holds for Andre is anybody’s guess. He could easily be traded prior to the season, clearing the logjam in the Dodger outfield. Or — and it would be a pretty sound idea — the Dodgers could decide to keep all four guys, thus deepening a weak bench and covering themselves in the event one of the four outfielders gets hurt, as all four were injured at some point in 2013. Should Andre remain and the club run with four outfielders, he’ll still find plenty of playing time. Kemp, even healthy, will certainly see more rest than he did when he was playing in 399 consecutive games a few years ago. Carl Crawford will be given days off, and the Wild Horse will occasionally find himself in the stable getting a breather.

Andre Ethier is not really a center fielder, nor is he really a star. But if the expectations are toned down and he’s used properly, he can be the great hitter and a highly-effective role player for as long as he remains a member of the club.

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Greg Zakwin is the founder of the site Plaschke Thy Sweater Is Argyle. Follow him on Twitter @ArgyledPlaschke and find him contributing at Yahoo! Sports.

About Greg Zakwin

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