Matt Kemp has a reprieve. He’ll be starting in left field while Carl Crawford nurses a turned ankle back to health. So Matt Kemp is starting again. But he hasn’t been starting much recently, and for a man that was a homer short of 40/40 and wanted to go 50/50, that seems strange. We don’t talk about real life baseball that much here, but in this case, real life is the reason his fantasy value is in tatters. And those real life concerns threaten to shatter it permanently.
“Real Life” is, of course, code for “not in my scoring system.” For most, that means defense and patience. And yeah, Kemp does not offer good plate discipline or glove.
Since the beginning of last season, he’s paired a below-average walk rate with a bottom-25 strikeout rate. His defense has been second-worst in the game over the same time-frame. He’s been a half-win worse than replacement.
Of course, Kemp is still a right-hander with a career 153 wRC+ against left-handers (only 115 against righties), and he was in a sea of lefties when all the Dodgers were healthy. So he was still getting starts against lefties.
But those real life flaws had put him on the bench against righties. Since Andre Ethier offered better offense versus righties, career (141 wRC+) and Carl Crawford offered better defense and similar career offense (114 wRC+), it’s not even that crazy that Kemp found himself on the bench.
Now, he gets a chance to play again. And he should add some power, and some speed, and an iffy batting average, and be the reduced Matt Kemp that we have come to expect. And that will be valuable.
But will any of those real life concerns change while Carl Crawford is hurt? Perhaps he shows better defense, but perhaps not. After all, they’ll probably use him in center, where his worst defensive numbers have come recently. He’s not likely to walk much more (career 8.0% walk rate), and his swinging strike rates were always a harbinger of this strikeout rate doom. You can’t even ask much of his batted ball luck (.333 BABIP).
Given that Yasiel Puig plays like a man on fire, and Crawford is 33 and brittle, and Ethier is 32 and has had his own injury problems, you might be able to bet on Matt Kemp playing mostly a full season in a game of musical chairs.
More likely, you should use the next couple of weeks to nurse some fantasy value into Matt Kemp and then sell him. Because his real life value is just going to murder his fantasy value without a big improvement in his defense. And that’s probably too much to ask for at 30 years old.
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