MLB Baseball News, Scores, Standings, Rumors, Fantasy GamesDodger center fielder Matt Kemp has had a poor April, coming after a year when some measures valued him in the top ten in the game. When I saw him in two games in Washington, batting third, he grounded out to short or third five times, struck out twice, and had two singles—not stellar. General Manager Ned Coletti, after giving him a raise and two-year contract in the offseason, publicly criticized him last week. In his defense, sportswriter Tim Brown writes:
Kemp will be fine. He can be great, if he chooses. At 25, it’s as good a time as any to decide.
Brown implies that Kemp is stubbornly deciding not to be as good as he can. Is he not training hard, as Coletti hinted, or is he just not giving it 110% on the field? I feel the temptation of this kind of thinking, that poorly performing players are willfully hurting us the fans by just not being very good. Those darn Capitols, who blew a three games to one lead before losing in the first round to an eighth-seeded Montreal, just choked. They lacked the will to win.
As far as I can tell as an casual armchair analyst, the overwhelming majority of professional athletes work as hard as they can almost all the time, both in training and in games. The most successful of them will earn hundreds of millions of dollars, and that's a pretty strong incentive. And if you're not a driven, abnormally competitive person, you probably didn't persevere through the ten or twenty years of effort, starting in childhood, required to become a professional athlete. And statistical analysis has proven that, at least in baseball, there's no measurable, consistent ability to be "clutch", to outperform your baseline in high-leverage situations.
So when a sportswriter says that greatness, for Matt Kemp, is a choice, what could that choice possibly be? What could he possibly do to be greater that he hasn't already done?