Matt Kemp’s Wish is a Pitching Staff’s Nightmare

The Dodgers’ outfield situation might be more complicated than ever. Yasiel Puig is one of the league’s better young players, you’re all familiar with the three expensive veterans, Scott Van Slyke is a better player than even the Dodgers might’ve recognized, and Joc Pederson is hanging out in Triple-A with a four-digit OPS. It’s pretty obvious that some bodies are going to have to be moved, and one trade possibility is Matt Kemp. Kemp was the subject of rumors over the offseason, and those rumors haven’t gone away now that Kemp’s on the field and getting kind of squeezed out. The idea is he isn’t yet 30, and he’s an athlete who can be a source of right-handed power. If the Dodgers were to cover some of Kemp’s remaining contract, they would be able to find a destination.

On paper, Kemp is a two-time winner of a Gold Glove. Yet one of the problems here is that Kemp doesn’t appear to be a good defender. He’s been moved away from center field by a team without a true center fielder, and Kemp’s reduced mobility reduces the value he can provide, to the Dodgers or to someone else. Worse, Kemp isn’t accepting the aging process. From a newsy article Wednesday, by Ken Rosenthal:

The outfielder’s agent, former major-league pitcher Dave Stewart, told FOX Sports on Wednesday that Kemp again wants to be an everyday center fielder, something that isn’t in his immediate future with the Dodgers.

“Whatever they want to do we’re favorable to, as long as it gives him an opportunity to play every day,” Stewart said. “He’d like to eventually go back to center field. He’s not opposed to right or left. But his hope at some point is to get back to center.”

It’s not a hard line. Kemp isn’t saying center field, or else. Ichiro has always wanted to pitch, and he hasn’t been allowed to pitch to date, and it hasn’t stopped him from having a successful and reasonably happy career. Players want lots of things. But Matt Kemp probably shouldn’t be a regular center fielder ever again. It’s an open question as to how much longer he even belongs in an outfield at all. Power isn’t Matt Kemp’s only question mark as the Dodgers and other teams consider their options.

This is a post that has to talk about the advanced defensive metrics we have. There’s no getting around it. This season, among regular and semi-regular center fielders, Kemp ranks second-worst in UZR/150, and first-worst in Defensive Runs Saved/150. Meanwhile, this season, among regular and semi-regular left fielders, Kemp ranks first-worst in UZR/150, and third-worst in DRS/150. Kemp has played two positions in 2014, and he’s been lousy at each. This much is hard to deny.

Of course, last October, Kemp had ankle surgery. It wasn’t a minor procedure, and Kemp might still be trying to get back to 100%. So we can look over a longer scale, to see how Kemp ranked before going under the knife. Over the 2004 – 2013 decade, among center fielders, Kemp ranked sixth-worst in UZR/150, and ninth-worst in DRS/150. Over just the four years between 2010 – 2013, he ranked third-worst in UZR/150, and fourth-worst in DRS/150. This is one of those situations where both the advanced metrics agree, and they agree on the idea that pre-operation Kemp was a comparable defensive center fielder to Shin-Soo Choo, who is not a center fielder.

So, before having surgery, and when he was younger, Matt Kemp was a statistically poor center-field glove. Now his trunk has a few more rings, and his ankle’s been opened up by sharp metal knives. Kemp doesn’t turn 30 until September, but the deeper you investigate, the less there is to like. He might want to return to center down the line, but a team might instead prefer he DH.

Repeated hamstring problems have presumably taken their toll on Kemp’s numbers, but it’s not like that’s the kind of thing that goes away with age. Kemp would appear to be more delicate than most, and to watch him make a diving attempt in the outfield is to also watch him return to his feet with a grimace. Infrequently does he really look comfortable, and one can only play the surgery-recovery card so long. Particularly when the track record is what it is.

It’s of some interest that Kemp doesn’t score awfully according to the Fan Scouting Report. Perhaps the fans have seen something the numbers haven’t caught. Between 2010 – 2013, the league-average center fielder had a 59 overall rating. Kemp came in at 62. But let’s look at an actual breakdown.

Player Instincts First Step Speed Hands Release Arm Strength Arm Accuracy Overall
League CF 59 70 75 59 53 47 50 59
Kemp 42 60 78 59 56 75 62 62
Difference -17 -10 3 0 3 28 12 3

Kemp scores well above average in arm strength and arm accuracy. However, he’s well below average in instincts and first step. Instincts and first steps are of a greater importance for center fielders than having a good arm. Worse, Kemp’s speed has steadily declined, from an 84 rating in 2010 to last year’s 69. Pre-surgery Kemp was seemingly getting slower, and fans didn’t think he got good breaks. Post-surgery Kemp isn’t likely to be in far better shape.

Thanks to the Inside Edge data, we can look at some plays that Kemp hasn’t been able to make in 2014, playing both left and center fields. Perhaps some of the issue in left has simply been a lack of familiarity, but that excuse doesn’t carry over to center, which is Kemp’s historically regular position. Here comes the .gif frenzy.

clip1454

clip1455

clip1457

clip1458

clip1460

clip1459

clip1463

clip1462

You see a lot of slow breaks. Those Curtis Granderson plays came in the same game, and the Mets broadcast couldn’t say enough about the difficult game Kemp was having in the field. We might even be able to learn a little something from a play that Kemp did make successfully.

clip1464

Kemp had to catch the ball behind him, awkwardly, which is part of the reason he fell down. He wound up out of balance, having nearly overrun the ball. He overran one of the Granderson hits above. Kemp just might not get great reads on routes, and that would certainly explain a lot of what the numbers are indicating. And elements of defensive play can improve, but Kemp’s got 7,000 big-league innings in center so it’s not like there’s much more room to grow. Perhaps he’s simply not gifted in the way Peter Bourjos is gifted.

Matt Kemp is still an incredible athlete. He can still move quickly even when he’s not sprinting, and he does have a good arm. He can make most of the plays hit to his position. But in the outfield, whether it be in left or center, Kemp isn’t defending in isolation, really; he has to be compared against the rest of the league, and the rest of the league also values good outfield defense, so Kemp is being compared against other high-level athletes. Matt Kemp’s outfield defense doesn’t suck, just like Pete Kozma‘s hitting doesn’t suck. But when you’re looking at only the uppermost tier, among the players there will be better ones and worse ones.

Matt Kemp would one day like to return to center field. That’s almost certainly not going to happen in Los Angeles. And one hopes that’s almost certainly not going to happen anywhere else, either. Kemp wasn’t a very good center fielder even before having a major operation, and pretty soon there’s going to be a 3 in front of his age. It’s not even clear he’s a particularly capable corner outfielder, and though his bat remains sufficiently intriguing to justify a trade pursuit, Kemp should probably be traded to a team in the American League that down the road could slot him in at DH. That might not be what Kemp wants, and that might be a future obstacle, but what Kemp wants could drive a pitching staff crazy. What Kemp wants would make his baseball team worse.




Print This Post



Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


70 Responses to “Matt Kemp’s Wish is a Pitching Staff’s Nightmare”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. D. Goat says:

    sigh

    +10 Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Bip says:

    This absolutely passes the eye test, unfortunately.

    +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Balthazar says:

      Man all he needs is the stained apron, Mattie Kemp is a butcher out there. Late breaks. Bad reads. Terrible routes. Stone hands. His stride is awful; looks exactly like a guy with bad hamstrings, no extension, no rhythm.

      Kemp isn’t an outfielder. He’s never going to be. The ankle is the least of his issues, frankly. If he found the ‘hit stuff’ again, he’d be a DH, but at this point all he is is a disaster. To me, he’s going end up Uggla. The contract is untradable unless Kemp starts delivering some value again. There’s no place to play him on the team. No rational org should acquire him unless he was going to earn the league minimum, and even then he’s not hitting so what do you use him for? I’m betting Kemp gets released long before the contract is up. But he has no business being put on a lineup card to play the outfield at this point.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Michael says:

    Terrific article. Kemp is a poor defender in both center and left. Agree that he appears destined to become a DH. When healthy, Kemp is a productive hitter and an above average baserunner.

    Could certainly see a team like Seattle or Boston pursuing Kemp. At this time, the Dodgers would probably be better off retaining Kemp and dealing Ethier, while calling up Joc Pederson to patrol CF. The Dodgers can re-evaluate Kemp’s role on the team in the offseason.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Vin B says:

      Let’s try a bit of Cameron math here. Steamer projects him to be a roughly 1 win player for this year. At that rate, he’d be worth 7 Mil per year instead of the 21.5 he’s owed through 2019. So the Dodgers would have to eat $72.5 Mil from 2015-2019 for him to break even.

      On a more optimistic side I’d say if his ankle further improves and some of the power comes back, he could be worth around 10 mil/year. His contract also runs out at age 35 instead of late 30s/early 40s like some other former superstars so that’s a slight plus also.

      My guess would be he gets traded to an AL team and the Dodgers eat half of the money. The dodgers may net back a #10 type prospect depending on the system.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • The Foils says:

        Well, that math is only right if he continues to be a huge negative on defense. Super possible, but he could also figure out LF. He’s only been there a month.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • tz says:

          Good point about LF. The ball carries different off the bat, which could give Kemp even more trouble with his initial read (see the 3rd GIF).

          If his ankle heals to where he gets much of his speed back, perhaps he could go back to being a RF. His arm has always been decent, and his problems with getting a jump on the ball would be minimized (unless he goes to a team with a lot of space in right like the Red Sox).

          I’m thinking that a team with a real need for a bat might be willing to live with a net cost around what Swisher’s making ($13m a year). More realistically, I agree with Vin B that the Dodgers eat half Kemp’s contract and get a scrub in return.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Edgardo says:

          Also, there are some parks where LF is easier to cover. This is a young player with great potential to bounce back at least offensively speaking. I wonder if his working habits are ok.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Phil says:

        This trade makes a lot of sense for both teams

        Dodgers trade Matt Kemp + $68M to the Indians for Michael Bourn and a B/B- level prospect.

        Bourn is owed $39.5M after this season. Kemp is owed $107M. The Dodgers eat the difference in salary ($68M) and get a true center fielder, who seems more suited to the NL.

        Obviously this move works best if another OF move is made (trading Eithier?), but it does give them a bonafide CF. Bourn has been battling hamstring problems this year so his numbers (offensive and defensive) are down a bit, but his track record is there.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Atreyu Jones says:

          Even if the Dodgers think Bourn is a better player and/or fit for them, they would certainly rather 5 years of Kemp over 2/3 years of Bourn.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. BenRevereDoesSteroids says:

    He used to be the master of the Universe. Now even his own feces won’t give him the time of day. This should be a cautionary tale for the kids out there: don’t be Matt Kemp.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Atreyu Jones says:

    How much money per year would the Dodgers have to eat in order for his contract to have break-even (neither negative nor positive) trade value for a team such as the Red Sox?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Vin B says:

      Shoot, I wrote the reply to Michael instead of you.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Preston says:

      It depends on what you believe he’ll do over the next five years. He’s been worth negative WAR so far this year and last season. But any team that thinks that’s what he’s going to be going forward isn’t going to trade for him. He’s owed 107 million after this season. If we say it costs about 6 million per WAR and we think on average he’s going to be a 3 WAR player over the next five years then they’d have to eat 17 million. If they think he’s only a 2 win player now then they’d have to eat 47 million. I think most teams would probably expect him to fall somewhere in between.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. C. Goat says:

    sigh

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. She Goat says:

    sigh

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Mike Hampton says:

    The land of hemp is a pitching staff’s worst nightmare.

    +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Yeah says:

    Man that second gif was terrible. Kemp looks lost in the outfield, his reads and his routes all look confused. I still have a hard time believing a team can’t find some position where he could succeed but it might have to be somewhere in the infield. Maybe he can adjust to left I don’t know.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Cheechmo says:

    Before pigeonholing him into a DH position, couldn’t somebody try him at 3B or 1B? Bad fly ball routes don’t really matter at third, and since he apparently still has a decent arm, it seems like he could work there. Maybe?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • bdhudson says:

      You still need things like instincts and the ability to read a ball off the bat – two things with which he obviously struggles.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • atoms says:

        I guess, but the read is pretty different. It might be easier for him to read a liner/groundball right in front of him than judging a fly ball from distance. The angle is lower, he’s not looking up in the sky and trying to figure out how it relates to his position on the ground… he’s a good athlete, you never know.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Bip says:

          There’s also a whole other set of hand agility skills that he’s never needed in the outfield. It’s just a total risk and we have no real reason to think he’d be any good at it.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • atoms says:

          Right, but we just don’t know, one way or the other, is my point.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • both says:

          The problem is that he’d be going up on the defensive spectrum. Most people can’t do that.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Dag Gummit says:

      1B makes sense. 3B, no. There are unique defensive requirements to be even a bad-but-tolerable 3B and that’s not the case at 1B.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Zak says:

      Very highly doubt about 3B. Think about Ryan Braun at 3B. Kemp and Braun are both good athletes with good arms and good speed, but for whatever reason, they are not very good field. Now Braun at least plays an average OF (at worst just slightly below average) while Kemp is a very bad outfielder. If Braun was historically awful at 3B, I would hate to see how Kemp would look.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Stank Asten says:

    Kemp was always this bad in the field and he did fine. He just needs to get his legs back and he’ll be decent for a few more years.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. pisstake says:

    Just from the title, I kinda thought maybe he wanted four strikes for his at-bats, or ten more feet on his fly balls.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. Finn the Human says:

    I’m sure he could play left in Boston and shag doubles off the Monster. If Manny got away with it…

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Preston says:

      LF in Fenway or RF in Yankee Stadium seem to be good fits for him (not a lot of ground to cover). Those teams would also be able to absorb his contract better than most. Those stadiums might help his power come back too.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Jim says:

        I agree. Left field in Boston makes the most sense to me. If you’ve been comfortable with Gomes patrolling the Green Monster for a 1/3 of your games the last two years you can live with Kemp. Plus Boston is desperate for offense out of their outfield and there aren’t a whole lot of attractive FA options this winter, LA picks up half the contract and sends one of their 15-20 ranked prospects back to LA. If LA picks up that much of the contract and you don’t have to part with any of your top prospects it’s worth the risk for Boston.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. MLB Rainmaker says:

    I don’t necessarily disagree with your thesis, but it is important to note that UZR should not be viewed as dogmatically as batter data or even Pitch F/x data.

    UZR data comes from human source so is somewhat subjective, and has rudimentary adjustments (in any) for things like defensive positioning, balls at the wall or on the lines. So it will grade a play on range for example on whether the average defender would make a play on a ball hit in the same spot, regardless of where the defender was playing. Now given that everyone is graded on the same curve, these issues with UZR matter less, but still I’d suggest you take the numbers with a grain of salt.

    That said, I don’t think the data even shows Kemp was a bad fielder before his injury issues started in 2012. He was league average; and considering his offensive production that was OK. Since the hamstring issues started in 2012, he just has not been the same.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • pitnick says:

      Agree that fielding data needs to be considered in the right, limited context. It’s only a rough estimate.

      This is not right though:
      “That said, I don’t think the data even shows Kemp was a bad fielder before his injury issues started in 2012″

      UZR has his overall outfield work graded as negative every year of his career except 2009. DRS has him negative every year except 2008. Both agree his 2010 was atrocious. I believe single year defensive metrics are still prone to sample errors, so you have to weigh having a bigger sample against the possibility that sometime in that multi-year sample he became a different player. Might be fair to say he was average-ish from 2006-2009 and then fell apart. Or he was always pretty lousy and the numbers took a while to catch up. I don’t know.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Bip says:

      He was below average every year except 2009 when he was slightly above, and 2010 where he was way way below. Based on observation, he has always been terrible at reading fly balls, but in the past he has sometimes had the athleticism to make up for it and bring him back to average. Considering he’s only going to get older, the chances that he will ever be an average fielder again are pretty slim.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Grant says:

      Is there anyone working on calculating the error of the defensive metrics?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Jason B says:

        I think that’s why Jeff cited multiple metrics. They all have some level of error embedded in them, but when multiple metrics point to similar conclusions over multiple seasons, I think we can take them pretty confidently.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • MrKnowNothing says:

      UZR isn’t perfect?!? OMG. WHY HASN’T THIS BEEN NOTED BEFORE?!!!!!?!?!?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. K. Lastima says:

    Has anyone ever thought about checking his eyesight? It looks like he just can’t see the ball off the bat, or in the air…..

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. D says:

    This year Kemp has a 117 RC+ and a negative WAR. Shows you how bad his fielding is. He needs to hit 120 RC+ just to be replacement value.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  17. Abtrube says:

    The Dodgers will be happy to trade Kemp. This latest declaration is just the latest in a long history of manifestations of Kemp’s oversized ego. As a young rising star and for a couple of years as a superstar player there might have been a match for his self-image and reality. But there is no match for his self-image and his current diminished state. When he doesn’t get what he wants and believes he deserves he will have no problem voicing his opinion to management and teammates.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Bip says:

      As problematic personalities go, Kemp really isn’t that bad. Of course he wants to play CF, it’s the position where he will be considered the most valuable. However, he’s handling this position switch better than many other players do: Ian Kinsler, Hanley Ramirez, and the consummate teammate Michael Young come to mind.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  18. Tommy Lasorda says:

    Where’s Tony Reagins when you need him?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. Colin says:

    I guess the Dodgers can’t be complaining too much. A surplus at a position isn’t a bad problem to have at all. But it makes you wonder what the Dodgers could have received in a deal for Kemp a few years ago. It’s better to trade a player a year too early than a year too late, as Branch Rickey said. This is a prime example.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Bip says:

      A surplus can be a bad thing when you’ve got a below replacement level player that you can’t realistically dump or bench getting playing time, and there are no real center fielders in this whole group, and this surplus is preventing a MLB-ready prospect who can play center from getting his chance.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Dave Dombrowski says:

      I prefer to trade them at exactly the right time.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  20. octelium says:

    How about a trade to Kansas City? ;)

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  21. Bat says:

    The Mets are in need of a LF but even if the Dodgers were to assume a significant percentage of the contract like Vin B outlines, such a deal strikes as too rich for the Mets blood in terms of dollars.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  22. tommy lasorda says:

    How did he win two gold gloves?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  23. Bat says:

    Something to mention here although not sure it’s just me or if others agree:

    I find the back-to-back (and especially back-to-back-to back…or more) GIFs very hard on the eyes.

    Much easier to view these if they are broken up by even a single line of text. For example, the text in front of the first GIF introduces the stream of GIFs and more specifically the first GIF and then says something after the first GIF like “And this is also indicative: (insert second GIF)” and “A third example: (insert third GIF)” and “Even more evidence: (insert fourth GIF)”.

    I don’t want to be seen as overly critical because this is a fine article. And again maybe it’s just me but the consecutive GIFs (especially the ones sandwiched in the middle because the first and last ones are a bit easier to view and digest) are kind of hard on the eyes.

    Thank you for your good writing and insight in this and other articles Jeff.

    +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  24. Andruw Jones says:

    So, Matt Kemp is a lousy outfielder. Got it. Thanks for the update.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  25. Schuxu says:

    Matt Kemp takes pride in his defense.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  26. Garyth says:

    lol Padres.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>