Analyzing the Misconception of Matt Kemp

The Mariners are apparently interested in acquiring the likes of outfielder designated hitter Matthew Ryan Kemp. Supposedly they view him as a backup plan, but their interest in him is “very real.” At his best, Matt Kemp was an 8.4 WAR player that hit 39 dingers in 161 games while slashing .324/.399/.586. In that season, he put up a .412 wOBA and 168 wRC+. He was really fuckin’ good. He also stole 40 bases. At his worst, Matt Kemp was a -0.4 WAR player that slashed .270/.328/.395 with a .316 wOBA and wRC+ of 103. He swiped 9 bases that year. Unfortunately, “that year” was just last year. He’s a different player nowadays, as evidenced by his steep decline in stolen bases, on base ability, and power numbers.

In 2012 and 2013 combined, Kemp played in 179 games. In these seasons he displayed really really really poor defense in center field. At this point he isn’t a bad hitter, he’s probably a little above league average. He still strikes out a lot (25%-26%) and he isn’t quite the base stealer he once was but he can still hit well enough. Unfortunately, “well enough” doesn’t rationalize paying a DH/bad defensive corner outfielder $20M+ a year until 2019. Even if the Dodgers were willing to eat half of his contract, we would still be on the hook for ~$10M and we would have to ante up some solid prospects for him. To me, it’s really an easy question: Would you pay a 29 year old, injury prone Matt Kemp $129,500,000 over six years? Probably not. Let’s say theoretically the Dodgers would kick in a good chunk of cash. They would cover half of his contract. Would you even give Kemp 6/$65M at this point in his career? You probably still wouldn’t. And now you still have to give up a Nick Franklin and Edwin Diaz type of package along with “signing” Kemp to that hypothetical contract. If you’re not following me, I’m saying if you wouldn’t sign Kemp to the same deal he currently has, it’s a little irresponsible to give him that contract now.

There’s a lot of issues with this trade, and we don’t even know if the rumors are accurate. It’s been reported to be true, but so have a lot of things. One issue with Kemp is a pretty major one — he doesn’t fit. The Mariners just traded for Kendrys Morales, who figures to be their DH from here on out. If Kemp can’t play DH, where do you put him? You’re not taking the bat out of Dustin Ackley’s hands. At least not now. You’re not putting him and his terrible defense in center, even over James Jones. If we did acquire him the best case scenario to me would be to move Saunders to center and stash Matt Kemp in right field. But wait, there’s issues with that. Again! Saunders has had issues with injuries not only this year, but before and putting him in center field isn’t going to help things. His defense there is below average as it is.

His hitting doesn’t rationalize his contract. This year Victor Martinez and David Ortiz will be paid $12M and $15.5M, respectively. Nelson Cruz, who has hit 29 dingers and owns a wOBA of .378 and wRC+ of 141, is only set to make $8M this year. To further disparage Kemp’s current contract situation:

Kemp is simply just not worth any more than taking a flyer on him for $7.5M-$8M.

As a fielder, Matt Kemp is flat out atrocious. In fact… he’s never been a good fielder. He has two Gold Gloves, but in this day and age that doesn’t really mean much. Brendan Ryan hasn’t won one, for Christ’s sake. Kemp has recently been moved out of center field on a Dodgers team that doesn’t really have any good options in center field, which speaks volumes to his abilities in center. Over 8631.0 innings in the outfield, Matt Kemp has accumulated a UZR of -86.1, which is mind-blowingly bad. Just for perspective, Yuniesky Betancourt accumulated a UZR of -50.6 in 8239.1 innings at shortstop. Yes, you read that correctly. Just so we’re clear, I’ll lay it out for you in all caps. MATT KEMP HAS A WORSE UZR (which is a counting stat like home runs and RBIs) THAN YUNIESKY BETANCOURT. YUNI IS ONE OF THE WORST SHORTSTOPS OF THIS DECADE. Yuniesky Betancourt is a worse fielder than he was a batter, and believe me, he was bad. Defensive metrics are still somewhat in their infancy, and they have their flaws just like many stats have. However, virtually any defensive metric agrees that Matt Kemp is god awful in the outfield. On FanGraph’s scale, a DRS of -15 is deemed “awful.” Well in 2010, Matt Kemp had a DRS of -37. Matt Kemp was off the charts bad. Over his career, his accumulated DRS is -82. If you don’t believe me, then check out his bad reads and routes here and here.

“But but but why is Matt Kemp so bad? He has two Gold Gloves!” Well first of all, injuries haven’t made things better. Speed is hardly the best attribute of a good fielder, but it sure helps and he’s lost enough to matter. Kemp’s first step is rated 10 below average, according to the Fan Scouting Report. His arm strength and arm accuracy is actually really solid, but he gets dinged for his instincts and first step. These are subjective rankings, but it gives you a small glimpse of what kind of fielder a player is.

At this point in his career, Kemp is not a bad hitter at all. He’s almost certainly never going to hit  39 dingers again in his career, but he can be a serviceable bat for someone as a DH. There’s a chance someone is dumb enough to take him on as an outfielder, but it really zaps his value. Unfortunately, no one is going to want to take on Kemp due to his contract. He’s a prisoner of his own contract. I would have sympathy for Kemp if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s making $160 million from 2012 to 2019. Injuries, money, reluctance to position change, and defense are several red flags concerning Kemp. They’re not minor issues. Purportedly, the Mariners’ plan (if they were to acquire him) would be to move him to DH eventually. Kemp has other plans — he wants to return to center field.

The market isn’t the best it’s ever been but it could be much much worse. If I’m the Mariners, I’m making aggressive moves. Marlon Byrd wants us to guarantee his 2016 to waive his no-trade clause? Guarantee it. Ian Kennedy hasn’t been linked to the Mariners, but the Padres are selling and he should be relatively inexpensive especially compared to a Jon Lester, David Price, or another elite pitcher of the sort. As much fun as another 1B/ace pitcher would, the Mariners are sorely in need of bats and back of the rotation type starters. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Roenis Elias is going to be shut down and we cannot rely on James Paxton and Taijuan Walker. The biggest problem in the outfield is neither left field nor right field. It’s in center field where James Jones has been a dud. And no, that doesn’t mean go out and get Chris Denorfia, Mariners. Due to the scarcity of center fielders, our options are limited. The Mariners may or may not replace Jones in center, but they really should. Ackley and Saunders should be fine in the corners and Jones would be better suited as our fourth outfielder and pinch runner.

Remember: The Mariners biggest trades have seemingly come out of nowhere. Just going off the top of my head, the Montero trade, Lee trade, Ichiro trade, and Lee trade (again) weren’t being reported. Again, that’s going off the top of my head. The point is the Mariners are a tight-lipped organization and typically things that they don’t want to get out don’t get out. Oof! Maybe not all the time.  All I ask of Jack Zduriencik is to not do anything dumb. Easier said than done, I suppose, but really all I’m asking is for the love of God don’t sign Denorfia or Kemp. Please. I don’t hate Matt Kemp the hitter, heck, I don’t even hate Matt Kemp the person. What I do hate is Matt Kemp’s defense and contract and so should you. And that’s an order!

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