The Benching Of Kemp Is Confounding
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Player A: .276 .300 .418, .718 OPS, mediocre defense, can not play Center Field
Player B: ..264 .327 .453 .780 OPS, mediocre defense, can not play Center Field
Player C: .272 .338 .376, .714 OPS, average defense, can play Center Field
These are players on the Dodgers. These are outfielders on the Dodgers. These are outfielders on the Dodgers who are fighting for 2 slots, Yasiel Puig certainly isn’t getting benched, so these are the outfielders that have a reasonable chance of being regular starters (sorry Scott Van Slyke) on the Dodgers. You could probably guess who player C is. No power, can play CF? Must be Andre Ethier. I don’t think it’s a secret that i’m not a huge fan of Andre Ethier. He is what he is, a guy with no power who brings a decent OBP to the table. That’s all fine. Do I think he’s overpaid? Yes. (Not unlike another one of his battery mates, or many other guys on the team) Regardless, the moment Andre Ethier learned how to play a competent CF is the day that he should have been starting in center over Matt Kemp.
It’s been stated numerous times that Matt Kemp can’t play CF. He can’t. As he has aged, we come to out that he’s (even more of) a liability in center field. His speed has diminished, and now he can’t cover up the mistakes that he has been making for years. Carl Crawford vehemently states that he doesn’t want to play center field, so unless you’re getting rid of 2 outfielders (Kemp, Ethier, or Crawford), then Ethier is forced to stay, especially with Mattingly’s newfound propensity to bench Kemp for defense.
So in this scenario, we take the fact that Ethier has to stay in Los Angeles (at least until Joc Pederson comes up), because he’s the only viable center fielder the Dodgers have in the major leagues. This leaves 1 spot for 2 outfielders. We know what Crawford brings. He doesn’t get on base much, 3.6 BB% this season. He can’t play defense all that well (Friday’s play notwithstanding), his speed has decreased exponentially (46 stolen bases the past 4 years). He’s a declining former superstar.
Matt Kemp on the other hand, is on the upswing. We were worried about his injury problems, and his speed is diminished , but I know Kemp plays defense equivalent to Crawford. Kemp is clearly a better hitter right now than Crawford ever was. His wRC+ of 122 this season is a mark that Crawford has topped once in his career ( 2010). Kemp’s speed has declined massively, but so has Crawford, Crawford has more injuries that are likely to reoccur, chronic back problems, leg issues,muscle injuries,the only recurring injuries Kemp has had were hamstring problems, his ankle and shoulder woes are something he can overcome, and were just the product of bad luck.
So if you’re going to play a LF with minimized speed, but above average power power, wouldn’t you want to play the one who gets on base far more and has a greater chance to regain his MVP form?
I like looking at Kemp’s post-labrum recovery like this:
Adrian Gonzalez‘s 2nd season following the shoulder surgery- .299/.344/.463
Hanley Ramirez 2nd season following the shoulder surgery- .257/.322/.437
Matt Kemp’s 2nd season following the shoulder surgery- .264/.327/.453
He’s better than Hanley Ramirez, not quite as good as Adrian Gonzalez, but pretty close (lets keep in mind that Kemp’s ISO is the highest out of all these players, and in only his second season back). I personally like Kemp’s chances of being a consistently productive major league player, and trading him would be a mistake. I think he should be moved into left field in order to hide the defensive deficiencies he has.
There’s no way you’ll convince me Crawford is a better left fielder than Kemp (I haven’t even mentioned his noodle arm). And if the organization has put Ethier in CF until Pederson is ready (which is probably the right decision), then the decision is pretty clear: use an alignment of Kemp-Ethier-Puig, anything less will severely hurt the team’s chances of making the playoffs. This unbelievable benching of Kemp is awful. Whether the team is trying to send a point to Kemp, or are genuinely sacrificing defense for offense, it’s hurting the team.