Monday, June 02, 2014

Kemp, Out Left? Or Kemp, Left Out?

Matt Kemp's move to left field has received a lot of talk, given how recently we all considered Kemp an elite centerfielder. However, defensive statistics show that Kemp is far from elite form today, and if he goes anywhere in the Dodgers' outfield, it must be left field (link insider only):

When Don Mattingly benched Matt Kemp for five straight games recently because of poor defense, I couldn't help but think of how recently Kemp was considered one of the best players in baseball.

In 2011, Kemp hit .324 with 39 home runs and 40 stolen bases, leading the National League in WAR and finishing second in the MVP voting. Injuries have precipitated a decline in Kemp's offensive production since that amazing season, but his defense has been a problem for much of his career. The Dodgers seem to recognize this and are now playing Kemp in left field. This is a smart move.

Since 2010, Kemp has cost the Dodgers an estimated 73 runs with his poor defense, per the defensive runs saved (DRS) metric. That is the worst total of any player at any position, and that is despite injuries that limited him to only 179 total games in 2012 and 2013. This season, Kemp has cost the Dodgers 12 runs, again the worst total in baseball.

Worst DRS totals, 2010-14

  • 1. Matt Kemp: -73
  • 2. Rickie Weeks: -70
  • t-3. Michael Young: -59
  • t-3. Raul Ibanez: -59
  • t-5. Michael Cuddyer: -57
  • t-5. Hanley Ramirez: -57

When you watch Kemp play, you wouldn't expect him to be a poor defender. Obviously he is fast; you don't steal 30 or more bases three times in your career without speed. And he has a good arm. Since 2010, he has thrown out 20 baserunners without the use of a relay man, a total that trails only Adam Jones among center fielders. However, those tools have not translated into the ability to consistently turn balls in play into outs.

Baseball Info Solutions measures how frequently a player turns balls in play into outs relative to other players at his position with a stat called plus/minus, which is an approximate measure of a player's range (essentially the range component of DRS). Kemp's minus-78 plus/minus runs saved is 30 runs worse than the next-worst center fielder, Adam Jones, since 2010.

With Carl Crawford going on the DL because of a sprained ankle, Kemp may find himself playing a lot of left field over the next few weeks. Given his profile of poor range but a good arm, that move may be the best thing for Kemp long term. [...]

The bigger issue for the Dodgers may be that they don't have a strong alternative in center field on their major league roster. Other than Kemp, Andre Ethier is the only other Dodger with more than a few innings in center field this season. And Ethier has cost the Dodgers three runs in limited time in center field since the start of 2013. Of course, that's better than Kemp. And top prospect Joc Pederson, who has a 1.077 OPS for Triple-A Albuquerque, is the long-term solution anyway.

If the Dodgers want to maximize Kemp's value, left field is the place for him.

Unbelievable that Matt Kemp has already cost us 12 runs this season, and we're only two months in. After watching him double-clutch a ball in Sunday's game (in the top of the sixth), allowing Andrew McCutchen to advance from second to third on a fly out to left (you read that correctly, it was mind-boggling), one can see where these twelve runs went (McCutchen ended up scoring).

We've got to get our shit together, Dodgers.


Dusty Baker said...

And the article leaves out the more recent issue, that Kemp has lost his burst and some speed since he stole those 30 bases.

At this point, he has to be re-cast and for all the grief folks give Ned and Don, they have had the guts to make this happen in front of everybody in the middle of a season.

Fred's Brim said...

I really hope this turns into a "remember all that left-field bullshit back in May? Why did we care so much?"

Dusty Baker's Toothpick said...

Is it time for Kemp to move an AL team and go DH full time?

Steve Sax said...

Come on, guys. I think Matt is playing injured. He will be back...

Neeebs (The Original) said...

Need to trade one of those contracts in the OF.

With the exception of YP, all others are fair game.

Who will take on those contracts? Contribute to some salary and get it done. It's not like this team has money problems.