Much has been written over the last 24 about Joe Torre's decision to start Juan Pierre over Matt Kemp in tonight's game vs. the Diamondbacks. Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness breaks down the statistics to ground the argument, and Jon over on Dodger Thoughts rightfully points out that if Russell Martin were given the same early hook based on his 2-for-20 start, we wouldn't have seen his game-tying double yesterday afternoon.
True, Kemp hasn't earned the kind of job security that Martin deserves, but the numbers don't lie: Pierre is batting .091 with a .182 OPS.
The problem is, Kemp is batting .125 with a .250 OPS. (Martin, BTW, is batting a microscopic .095.)
Pierre has one hit on the year; Kemp has two. Pierre has zero RBI; Kemp has one. Pierre has zero runs; Kemp has one. With a sample size this small, in a season so early, it's too close to call. And with the Dodgers batting .229 this year after six games--50 points below even their pathetic batting average last year, and currently ranking 13th in the NL--it's understandable that the scrutiny on our offense is pretty high.
But even with the small sample size, there appears to be one widely variant statistic: Slappy has one strikeout in 11 ABs; Kemp has an astounding seven Ks in 16 ABs. Apparently, Bison's long walks from home plate back to the Dodgers' dugout weigh more heavily than Pierre's quick gait from another unproductive fly ball back to the dugout. And despite Torre's spring-training announcement that Kemp would be the starter, he's already signaling that Kemp's status is in question.
As a Dodger fan, this is disheartening, but I remain hopeful that logic will prevail over time and order will be restored. Competition for a position isn't all that bad--look at how Chin-Lung Hu shined yesterday on both offense and defense, downing the Padres--and maybe one of the two rises to the occasion. And I don't have a lot of doubt that Kemp will find his swing again (he hit .310 this spring over 42 ABs with 2 HR and 12 RBI, while Pierre hit .204 over 54 ABs with an unsurprising 0 HR and 2 RBI).
What I'm worried about, however, is the impact that Torre's quick hook will give to the impressionable young mind of Matt Kemp. The media have already started to portray Kemp (either rightfully or wrongfully) as a surly young man with gifted athletic skills but an inability to listen (hence the baserunning mistakes) and a short fuse. I for one think this is largely ridiculous hyperbole (having never met Kemp personally), and possibly the result of some unfortunate stereotyping. But I'm hoping that we don't hear of another "trash can incident" as Kemp starts thinking that the world is against him and management is just waiting for him to screw up before benching him for the $45M alternative.
If Kemp can show the maturity to let his bat do the talking, I'm sure he will return to his rightful place in the starting lineup. To be fair, we haven't heard any mouthing off from Pierre either, despite a constant pillorying in the press and calls for his head among Dodger bloggers; Pierre has dealt with his own situation maturely and admirably.
Let's hope that Kemp (seven years younger than Pierre) can show that kind of poise, too. For the Dodgers' sake.
UPDATE (12:18P): I just figured out how Joe Torre can instill confidence in an insecure Matt Kemp. All he has to do is oull Kemp aside, and recite to him the immortal words of Rick Astley:
Never gonna give you up!
Never gonna let you down!
Never gonna run around and desert you!
Never gonna make you cry!
Never gonna say goodbye!
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you!
It all comes back to Rick. But of course.