In the 34 games before his first hamstring injury, Matt Kemp batted .359 with 12 home runs and a 1.173 OPS. The Dodgers went 23-11.
He played in two games over the next two months (re-injuring his hamstring in late May) and the Dodgers went 24-29.
When he smacked into the center-field wall at Coors Field on Aug. 28, hurting his knee and shoulder, the Dodgers were eight games over .500 and trailing the San Francisco Giants by 3 ½ games, and the St. Louis Cardinals by 2 ½ games for the wild card.
He batted .214 with a .686 OPS the rest of the way and the Dodgers played two games over .500 and failed to make the playoffs. But they did make a frantic dash to get there, winning six in a row from Sept. 26 to Oct. 1, a period over which Kemp batted .458 with four home runs and a 1.583 OPS.
It all kind of leaves you with the impression that the Dodgers are a bit reliant -- perhaps overly so -- on their best player, doesn’t it? Even after adding Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez, Kemp is easily the Dodgers' most talented position player.
Few players of his size can run with such grace. Few hitters have such effortless power.
In a season in which the Dodgers were offensively overmatched when Kemp wasn’t playing early, then seemingly flummoxed by a series of trades in the middle, the team rose and fell with Kemp’s fortunes. When he was at full strength he was a major catalyst for the offense, when he was hurting the team was hurting too.
Given that the Dodgers came up short in September, some might ask whether it would have made sense to sit Kemp and treat his shoulder (an injury that proved serious enough to require a 60-minute surgery last week, complete with labrum repair) down the stretch. But the Dodgers had few promising alternatives.
By the time Kemp hurt his shoulder, Tony Gwynn Jr. was no longer on the roster, Jerry Hairston Jr. was out for the season with a hip injury. The only remaining options were a pair of former Angels cleanup hitters, Juan Rivera and Bobby Abreu, with Shane Victorino sliding over from left to center field to accommodate one of them.
Rivera was in the midst of the worst season of his career, batting .244, grounding into 15 double plays and posting a WAR -- according to Baseball Reference -- of -0.9. Abreu, 38, had lost so much bat speed, his only real value was in his ability to draw walks. He batted .246 with a .344 slugging percentage and -0.3 WAR. And his outfield play?
There's a reason he'd become a full-time designated hitter with the Angels.
Playing Kemp just pointed out perhaps the Dodgers’ biggest failing in 2012: a lack of offensive depth. It’s possible they would have won a couple more games if he hadn't played. But it’s also easy to understand why a player coming off an MVP-caliber season who had carried his team for four months by then wouldn’t be able to check himself so easily out of the lineup.