Is Matt Kemp Worth Trading For?
There was a time when Matt Kemp was widely seen as the best player in baseball.
That time was 2011, when the Dodgers' outfielder hit .324/.399/.586 with a league-leading 39 home runs, 115 runs scored, 126 runs batted in and 40 stolen bases. He finished one homer shy of the 40/40 club, led all National Leaguers in total bases, finished second in the NL MVP voting, won a Silver Slugger and also won his second Gold Glove. That year, his nERD - our metric that measures how many more runs a lineup full of that player was worth over a 27-out game - was 3.92, with an fWAR of 8.4 and rWAR of 8.2.
He was insane.
Since then, however, injuries have derailed his career.
Kemp missed 145 games in 2012 and 2013, and is just now getting regular playing time, albeit in left field and not center field, for the Dodgers. As noted by Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Kemp is still just 29 years old, and since May 2nd, has raised his batting average from .205 to .269 and his OPS from .736 to .760, while starting 40 of L.A.'s last 42 games in left.
With a glut of outfielders and Triple-A prospect Joc Pederson just about ready to join the Majors, the possibly of Kemp being traded are growing ever louder. But should a team take on Kemp? What are the risks, and is he a likely bounce-back candidate?
Part of the problem is that, when he's traded, Kemp wants to play center field for his new team. And while he is still recovering from an ankle injury that has hindered him in the field this year, the truth is he wasn't a very good defensive center fielder even when he was fully healthy.
The above table lists all of Kemp's important defensive statistics playing center field since 2008, and they all show a below average defender. His Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), which calculates the number of runs a defender saves versus an average player at the position, Range Runs Above Average (RngR), which is tallies the number of runs better a defender is than a league average player in terms of the ground they can cover, and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), which factors in all defensive metrics including arm strength, range, and errors made, were almost all in the negative territory and far below league average for center fielders.
His defensive numbers as a left fielder aren't much better this year, with -8 Defensive Runs Saved, a RngR of -7.2 and a UZR of -7.8 in 352 innings, also below the league average. So, any team acquiring Kemp should understand they're getting a below average defender and should keep him away from center field.
However, therein lies the problem. Kemp's agent, former player Dave Stewart, says Kemp wants to go back to playing center at some point. And it seems clear that any team that puts Kemp in center field on anything other than a temporary basis would be hurting themselves far more than helping.
But with Carl Crawford coming back and Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig already on the roster, there aren't enough at-bats to keep all the Dodgers outfielders happy, hence the trade speculation surrounding Kemp. Is there enough of a bat left for a team to take on part of the remaining $116 million left on his contract from 2015 to 2019? Surely the Dodgers would have to eat a lot of it, but even if they did, are there any signs Kemp is a decent bounce-back candidate at the plate?
|League LF Avg||8.1||20.8||0.317||0.147|
The above table looks at Kemp's numbers this year and compares them to his career numbers and the league average for left fielders this season. His walk rate and strikeout rate are slightly higher than both, with his weighted on base average (wOBA) and isolated power (ISO) below his career averages but above the league average numbers for all left fielders.
To be perfectly honest, these aren't overly promising numbers, and Kemp has not played above replacement level since 2012. His ankle injury, defense and contract would all seem to indicate he is a player teams should stay away from.
However, at just 29 and three seasons removed from a nearly 40-40 season, there is the possibility a team could land themselves a bounce-back candidate. He'll probably never reach 2011 levels again, but teams would probably be happy with his 2012 numbers, provided he wasn't a complete albatross defensively.
The only way trading for Matt Kemp makes sense is if L.A. picks up a huge portion of his contract, and even then, it's a big gamble. It's hard to imagine anyone willing to take a flier on him until this winter at least, after they've seen him get a full, healthy season under his belt.
As of right now though, any team acquiring Kemp would be doing so on the blind hope that he rediscovers his former glory.