Defending Matt Kemp


Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I think it’s time that someone writes one of these. Defending Matt Kemp. What he meant when he was “open to being traded”. Whether it’s not “hustling” (whatever that means) in Washington that day he shredded his ankle, whether it’s “foolishly and selfishly” tearing his labrum running into that coors wall, whether it’s being very adamant about his future as an everyday player, the Kemp saga has been a lightning rod for criticism.

He’s not a team player. He’s not humbled. He’s too selfish. He strikes out too much. He can’t play defense. He…

Lots and lots of negativity surrounding him this season. And that was augmented when Dave Stewart spoke to the media, but it doesn’t end there, Kemp spoke with Dylan Hernandez about his situation, and a quick skim through could potentially support the narratives given before us.

"I’m a center fielderI want to play every day, if it’s with the Dodgers, if it’s with somebody else…"

Strong words from someone who was the face of the Dodgers through the Frank McCourt years. Especially when he manned Centerfield during all those years. But before we go any further, I’d like to pull out some quotes from that article. What he actually said.

"“I want to be here as long as they want me here. It’s not my decision.”"

He’s talking about the Dodgers. Why is this so controversial?

"“I probably haven’t played defense as good as I’ve wanted to”Of course not. We all see that. I’ve made a lot of errors this year, stupid errors I probably could have cut down on and maybe flagged some balls I probably could have flagged.”"

In reference to his defense, he’s right.

Then he talks about what I am most interested in, his training program.

"That was one of the things that helped me be successful,” he said. “Baseball’s easy. It’s the training, getting your body ready for that 162 games, is what’s hard."

It’s difficult to believe, but the last time that Matt Kemp had the time to train at a major league level, was the winter after 2011. That was the last time he was really healthy. So maybe there’s something to this. Take away the training regimen from an elite athlete for nearly 3 years, only being able to strengthen parts of your body (2012 it was his shoulder, 2013 it was his ankle), and you can see why it would be tough to perform at a truly elite level.

Remember that? That was dated March 16th 2012. When he was at the top of his game, and thus, the top of his physical well being. He, presumably, given his injuries, hasn’t been able to do something along those lines since. Freak injuries have cost him months and months of getting prepared for a 162 game slate, and he’s stated that he’s continuing to build himself back up, still.

Even so, he’s performed admirably, whether or not we choose to believe it. I’m not throwing out the (mostly volatile) defensive metrics, he hasn’t been a great defender this year, but could he have expected to be? Coming off of ankle surgery, not being in top physical shape, being slotted in centerfield on a contenting team, isn’t that being set up to fail? Not allocating the resources best on your team? So no, he hasn’t been a great defender, but really, the front office should have seen this coming, but that’s another post for another time. Mitigating the damage in left field has been the correct decision.

The point here is how valuable he’s been with how often he’s been in the lineup, as well as his bat. His .333 wOBA ranks 3rd on the team among qualified batters. He has a higher OPS than all of the outfielders minus Yasiel Puig, his OPS is 13 points above Adrian Gonzalez (who has escaped almost all grief this season remarkably).

If one wants to complain about strikeouts, then go for it. It’s not worth arguing about anymore, really, he’s never been a high contact player, go ahead, look at the K%’s. He’s been plenty productive with his strikeout “problems” in years past. Also, it’s easy to forget that Matt Kemp came into this season and was just thrown into action, he didn’t see major league pitching at the top of their game since September 2013, so if he was fooled by major league pithing initially, it was to be expected. And that’s what happened, from April 4th to May 4th he struck out 28.4% of the time, since then, he’s striking out at a reduced 24.4% of the time.

If we’re operating under the assumption that Hanley Ramirez is very injury prone, Yasiel is a bit volatile, and Andre Ethier can’t hit or play defense, then dealing Matt Kemp is just about the worst decision to make in order to resolve this OF mess. I know the Joc Pederson exists, but if you have to keep expectations in check, can he come up an post a 115 wRC+ immediately? Also should they trade Matt Kemp to house Joc Pederson, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford on the same roster? That seems very counter productive from a handedness point of view, leaving only Puig and Hanley (who’s future past this year is very much in doubt with the club).

So however frustrated you get from seeing Matt Kemp, however irrationally bitter you are from his injuries, however sad you get from realizing that he isn’t the same player he was, remember that relative to the team right now, and relative to his health right now, please realize that he is an asset to have, and one that shouldn’t be discarded so easily.