Thursday, July 24, 2014

Kemp's Doing Great! (Caveat Emptor) trumpeted yesterday that players' coach Don Mattingly was awful impressed with Matt Kemp's two-game record in right field. Hmm:

PITTSBURGH -- Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez missed another start Tuesday night nursing left hand injuries, so manager Don Mattingly had Matt Kemp back in right field and Justin Turner at shortstop.

Kemp, in fact, impressed Mattingly so much with his natural play in right field Monday night that Mattingly said he is considering trying Puig in center field.

The reason center field is an issue is that Mattingly took that job from Kemp, who hasn't regained his center-field form after ankle and shoulder injuries. Mattingly has started Puig in center on rare occasions, but hasn't been at ease with it, opting more for Andre Ethier or Scott Van Slyke.

"Pretty much because he's out of control most of the time," Mattingly said of Puig's unbridled aggressiveness. "I don't mean that in a bad way. But for a tweener that both guys can catch, nobody wants to get hit at full speed. You have to have communication and you have to have trust. Yasiel doesn't give up on balls and I think guys know that. Scott said [there was] one ball he could have caught, but he knew Puig wasn't going to stop."

As for Kemp, Mattingly said he wasn't completely surprised that the outfielder would take to right field, even after a five-year absence from the position at which he broke in.

"He always said he felt better in right than in left," Mattingly said. "It looked like it last night."

Wow, that's a pretty solid endorsement from a manager who was just recently questioning Kemp's defensive range, judgment, and ability in the outfield scant months ago.

Oh...wait a second. has the Matt Kemp trade outlook; I get it now. (link insider only):

The Los Angeles Dodgers have maintained a crowded outfield for some time, and there are always plenty of teams looking for a quick fix to their lineup. As such, Kemp's name has come up often over the past two years as a possible acquisition for production-hungry teams such as the Seattle Mariners.

But consider this a word of warning: No matter who's in the hunt, acquiring Kemp would be regrettable.

A crowded outfield

While the Dodgers have demonstrated that they are not particularly troubled by a high payroll, they have a surplus of outfielders. Yasiel Puig is one of baseball's young superstars, a player who seems to up his game every time a baseball writer complains about his conduct. Joc Pederson, one of the top prospects in baseball, is hitting .327/.452/.582 for Albuquerque and is the Dodgers' only outfield candidate with any business playing center field.

If we look at Puig and Pederson as keepers, that leaves Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford for the last open outfield spot. Those players are currently guaranteed $244 million in salary. Even for the cash-flush Dodgers, moving at least one of them would be prudent.

Ethier and the always-overachieving Scott Van Slyke make for an ideal platoon. Also, neither Ethier nor Crawford has significant trade value, which leaves Kemp as the most realistic trade candidate.

A fallen star

Thinking of Kemp as a high-upside addition at this point requires one to have been in deep hibernation or abroad without Internet access since the middle of 2012. Over the past two seasons, Kemp has hit .269/.329/.411 with 14 homers in 641 plate appearances for a 109 OPS+, numbers that aren't remotely close to his monster .324/.399/.586 line in 2011.

While a 109 OPS+ is still quite useful from a center fielder, Kemp has enough business being in center field at this point in his career as I do in a swimsuit competition.

Several years ago, it appeared Kemp would maintain a below-average yet acceptable level of defensive play in center. While defensive numbers are volatile and different measures sometimes don't match up, there's a good deal of consensus regarding Kemp's defensive performance. The numbers from the gang at Baseball Info Solutions have Kemp's defense in center field at 18 runs worse than average over 88 starts going back to the start of 2013. And that might be generous; ultimate zone rating puts the figure at a hair under 25 runs worse than average over the same period.

What's even more concerning is that Kemp doesn't even play solid defense in left. BIS and UZR have Kemp's defensive performance this season as a left fielder -- in fewer than 400 innings -- at minus-11 and minus-9 runs, respectively. The loss of Kemp's speed is reflected in the numbers. While baseball doesn't hold a combine with measured 40-yard dashes like the NFL does, it does have measures that approximate speed, with Bill James' speed score taking into account stolen base rate, triple rate and other things that reflect a player's in-game speed. In 2009, Kemp's speed score of 7.0 was 10th in the majors (leading were Michael Bourn, Jacoby Ellsbury and Elvis Andrus). In 2014, his speed score is 4.0, 77th in the majors, just below Seth Smith and just above Edwin Encarnacion. Neither of those players is known for having blazing speed.

The defensive numbers aren't a mirage; they simply reflect the real-world consequences of losing a great deal of one's burst.

A heavy weight

While there are a number of teams that may be willing to take on Kemp, the obvious issue that we haven't directly addressed is that doing so would also involve taking on his contract. With roughly $114 million guaranteed through 2019, the Dodgers likely would have trouble trading Kemp without eating a hefty portion of his contract. To get an idea of what Kemp's performance is likely to be worth to a team over the next 5 1/3 seasons, I ran his ZiPS projection (to the right). It ain't pretty. In fact, it's perhaps even more frightening than my involvement in that theoretical swimsuit pageant.

Though ZiPS projects Kemp to hit better than he has over the past year and a half, it predicts just 8.2 WAR from him over the remainder of the contract. His projected value for next season checks in at $5.7 million, and with a 5 percent yearly salary growth, his actual value for the course of his contract is right around $51 million. That is, of course, a much smaller number than the $114 million he's owed.

If a general manager decides he likes Kemp more than the evil supercomputer and its algorithms do, then maybe Kemp is worth $70-80 million, which would mean the Dodgers would need to be willing to eat $30-40 million. None of this factors in on-the-field compensation for losing Kemp; if the Dodgers want actual prospects in return, they would likely have to throw in even more cash.

I don't want to see Dan Szymborski in a swimsuit competition. However, I do still hold out hope that Kemp is just playing injured and he will regain his form. Wishful thinking?


Steve Sax said...

SF loses 2-1 to Phillies. 1.5 GB

karen said...

And we can't lose today so we get to keep that half game we picked up!!

For now.