NEW YORK -- The Dodgers have problems.
That's easy to see.
How much of their problem is a Matt Kemp problem? That's a lot harder to say.
The statistics say that the 25-year-old center fielder can't be held responsible for the Dodgers' less-than-impressive 8-13 start (including today's 7-3 loss to the Mets). As of this morning, he was tied for the National League lead with seven home runs, and also tied for the lead with 20 RBI.
And yet, as Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti rightly said today, "I know that I don't see the same player I saw at the end of last year."
In a radio interview Tuesday, and again in a session with reporters at Citi Field today, Colletti said similar things about the Dodgers' team as a whole. He said that he didn't mean to single out Kemp, and said he only talked about Kemp on Tuesday because he was asked directly about him.
But Colletti didn't mention any other players by name, either in the interview with the Dodgers' flagship station, KABC radio, or today. Also, in responding to a question about Kemp, Colletti himself raised the possibility that Kemp's lapses on the bases and in the field could be traced back to the two-year, $10.95 million contract Kemp signed over the winter.
Kemp, who was eligible for arbitration for the first time last winter, saw his salary rise from $467,000 last year to $4 million this season.
Colletti obviously did feel a need to mend fences with Kemp. He met with the outfielder in the Dodger clubhouse after today's game, and later told Tony Jackson of ESPN Los Angeles that Kemp "has a chance to be the best Dodger in the history of the franchise. He has the ability to do that."
Speaking to the Los Angeles Times earlier today, Kemp said the contract was not an issue, and also referred to how early he gets to the ballpark and how much work he does.
That's fine, but a Dodger coach said Kemp does work hard -- at hitting. Left unsaid was that the Dodgers believe Kemp doesn't put enough effort into the other parts of his game.
And when manager Joe Torre was asked about Kemp today, he said, "He is here early. He gets a lot of work. That's the physical stuff. A big part of this game is mental."
Kemp was a Gold Glove outfielder in 2009, but one scout who watched him regularly said, "He won the Gold Glove because he hit .300."
His defense this year has been so bad that it has caught the attention of scouts who follow the Dodgers. His defense and baserunning lapses in the Dodgers' doubleheader loss to the Mets Tuesday were severe enough that Keith Hernandez took him to task on the Mets telecast.
In the radio interview, which aired before the doubleheader, Colletti said of Kemp, "The baserunning's below average. The defense is below average." He also said, "Some guys, I guess, think that they're better than they are. They think the opposition's just going to roll over and get beat by them."
So is the Dodgers' problem a Matt Kemp problem?
As Colletti pointed out today, the Dodgers were among the top three teams in the National League last year in runs, ERA and fielding percentage. Through 20 games this year, they were tied for second in runs scored, but 12th in ERA and dead-last in fielding percentage.
"And if they had a category for execution, we'd be at the bottom in that, too," Colletti said.
Another issue: In the first six games after putting Manny Ramirez on the disabled list, the Dodgers have scored just 13 runs (with Kemp going 5 for 26 (.192) with no RBI, and Andre Ethier going 4 for 20 (.200) with 1 RBI).
That continues a trend that has been evident ever since Ramirez joined the Dodgers. Over the last two years -- not even counting how good Ramirez was after the Dodgers acquired him in July 2008 -- the Dodgers are 64-46 with Ramirez in the lineup, averaging 5.3 runs a game. They're 39-34 in games he hasn't started, and they've averaged 4.2 runs a game.
As one scout said, "When Manny plays, it's a heck of a lineup."
The Dodgers had hoped that by playing the way they did when Ramirez was suspended for 50 games last year, their young players would realize they can do it without him. They hoped that all their young players would be maturing and improving, from Kemp and Ethier to catcher Russell Martin and pitcher Chad Billingsley.
It's not all Kemp.
"When you have the best statistics, you're going to get the most attention," Torre said. "Matty has been like a lot of young kids have been. They're still finding their way. I think he's still learning. I don't think this problem is terminal."
And yet, Matt Kemp is a problem -- just one of the Dodger problems.