Saturday, February 15, 2014
Hey, Matt Kemp did have one great season
By David Schoenfield
"I'm not a fourth outfielder," Matt Kemp said Friday. "We can cut that off right there. I won't accept that role. I can't accept that role."
It would be easy to poke fun at Kemp since he can't even run right now as he recovers from ankle surgery (he also had a second surgery on his shoulder), but you can't blame the guy for being a little upset. There's the four-outfielders-for-three-positions situation facing the Los Angeles Dodgers. There were the offseason trade rumors. There's Yasiel Puig, appearing on the magazine covers Kemp once graced, and really making it a three-for-two proposition since Puig needs to play every day.
In Kemp's mind, he probably thinks everyone has forgotten he went .324-39-126 in 2011 (with 40 steals to boot). He deserves to be treated like a superstar, not just another Skip Schumaker.
But that's the root of the question: Is Kemp really a superstar?
Here are Kemp's season-by-season WAR totals, via Baseball-Reference, since he became a regular in 2008 and where he ranked among all major league outfielders (minimum 275 plate appearances):
2008: 3.9 (18th)
2009: 4.8 (9th)
2010: -1.1 (102nd)
2011: 8.1 (1st)
2012: 2.4 (41st)
2013: 0.5 (79th)
Is that the résumé of a superstar? No, not even close. Kemp was awesome in 2011, maybe the best player in baseball. But that's one year of awesomeness. He was very good in 2008 and 2009, not so good in 2010 when his average fell to .249 and his defense was disastrous according to the metrics (-37 Defensive Runs Saved). After his big 2011, the Dodgers bet big, signing him to an eight-year, $160 million extension.
In April 2012, it looked like he was on his way to another MVP-level season, hitting .417 with 12 home runs. He was the fourth player to hit at least .400 with 10 home runs in April and the first to do it in any month since Joe Mauer in May 2009. But then came the injuries: first hamstring and shoulder issues and then the ankle injury suffered on July 21 on an awkward slide into home plate.
Maybe it's not fair, but part of being a superstar is remaining healthy. It was a major aspect of Derek Jeter's value, for example -- from 1996 through 2012 he averaged 151 games per year. Right now, the idea of Kemp as a superstar is predicated on one outlier of a season.
Kemp is now 29, and considering the two years of injuries you also have to wonder if he'll be a viable center fielder when he returns. He's won two Gold Gloves, but the defensive metrics have never liked his defense; while he makes the occasional terrific play, he also gets a lot of bad jumps and doesn't get to many routine balls. Defensive Runs Saved rates him at minus-60 runs in his career in center (Ultimate Zone Rating has him at minus-60.5 runs). If Kemp's ankle issues result in a loss of speed, Andre Ethier is likely the better defensive option. With Puig entrenched in right field, that pushes Kemp to left -- where the Dodgers already have another guy with a $100 million contract in Carl Crawford.
Right now, it may seem like a luxury that the Dodgers have four outfielders. But Kemp's words allude to this situation being one huge headache for manager Don Mattingly.