Matt Kemp is one of the biggest enigmas in MLB. Just three years ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder was on top of the world as he put together a 2011 season in which he hit .324/.399/.596 with a 158 wRC+ and an 8.4 fWAR. At that point, there were few more valuable players baseball, and Kemp was doing it at the premium position of center field.
Since then, however, Kemp has fallen off the table. In 2012, he still hit a solid .303/.367/.538 with a 145 wRC+. However, he played just 106 games that seasons, and that combined with below-average defense meant he was worth a solid but unspectacular 3.2 fWAR.
In 2013, Kemp reached a low. He once again struggled with injuries and played just 73 games. Even when he was healthy, he was nothing special as he hit .270/.328/.395 with a 104 wRC+. Horrendous defensive marks (-16.2 UZR and -15.3 Def) actually led to Kemp only being around a replacement level player, as evidenced by his -0.4 fWAR and 0.5 bWAR.
In 2014, though, Kemp had a rebound season, at least seemingly. He hit a solid .287/.346/.506, and his 140 wRC+ tied him for 15th in all of baseball. Many Dodgers fans have been excited about Kemp’s 2014 season (and what it would mean going forward) thanks to that. However, despite the solid hitting, his value to the Dodgers did not even come close to where it used to be.
Kemp’s defense, which has never been anything special, reached an all-time low in 2014. His -22.4 UZR and -26.5 Def show his defense was almost unbearable. Even more shocking about those numbers is that Kemp spent more time in right field (500.1 innings) than center field (326.0 innings), which helped mask range issues that have plagued him since he suffered knee and ankle injuries in the past couple years.
Though it remains an underrated part of baseball, albeit still a somewhat insignificant one, Kemp also hurt the Dodgers on the basepaths in 2014. According to Fangraphs’ BSR stat, he was worth two runs below average on the basepaths, a decline from the 1.7 runs he was worth in 2013. That made him the 42nd-worst baserunner in baseball behind guys like Chris Carter, Matt Adams and Brandon Moss, none of whom are exactly Olympic track runners.
Put his poor defense and baserunning together, and Kemp was worth a measly 1.8 fWAR, which ranked him 102nd in baseball behind the likes of Jordy Mercer, Dustin Ackley and Nori Aoki. Clearly, that number does not indicate Kemp is an MVP-caliber player, or even an All-Star caliber player at this point.
Many times, defensive marks as low as Kemp’s would be taken with a grain of salt given the small sample size of defensive statistics, but given his continually declining defense (his Def has fallen each year since 2011) and injury struggles, he may never be able to significantly improve off of his 2014 season. The Steamer projection system estimates that Kemp will post a -14.5 Def in 2015, which will continue to significantly hurt his value. Steamer favors Kemp’s bat — it projects him to post a 28 percent above-average 128 wRC+ next season — but it still only estimates that he will be worth just 2.1 fWAR given his poor defense.
Kemp’s solid 2014 season with the bat has led many to believe the Dodgers could/should take advantage and get out of at least some of his contract while they still can. After all, teams can often overvalue guys who play center field and hit. Despite that, it is still likely that the Dodgers will have to eat at least some of his remaining $107 million (over five years) to deal him because of a combination of his past injury struggles and rough defense.
Over the past three years, Kemp has produced an average of $7.3 million of value per season according to Fangraphs. These three years are a fairly overall representation of Kemp; the $14.3 million of value that he created in 2012 is realistically his ceiling as a player at this point, the $2.2 million of value that he cost the Dodgers in 2013 is likely his floor, and the $9.8 million from 2014 is a good middle ground.
Using Steamer’s 2.1 projected fWAR for Kemp in 2014, plus the assumption that one win above replacement will be worth the same amount of money in 2015 as it was in 2014 (it won’t, but there’s no way to guess what it will be at this point), Kemp figures to be worth around $11.4 million in 2015. That number is fine in and of itself, but when you put it against his $21 million salary, Kemp figures to produce $9.6 million of value less than his salary.
Let’s say that Kemp were to post that 2.1 fWAR and subsequent $11.4 million of value each year over the final five years of his career, which might even be generous to say given his injury history and the fact that he is on the wrong side of 30. Given his $107 million remaining salary, this would cost the Dodgers $50 million of value over the life of his contract.
Essentially, this means that the Dodgers could eat $50 million of Kemp’s contract in a trade and not be any worse off than they will be if they hold onto him. Plus, that does not even count any potential value coming back to the club in a trade.
If they’re willing to be eating money at that level, or even somewhere in the range of $30 to $40 million, the Dodgers would likely be able to find a trade partner for Kemp, and they would probably be able to even get a useful piece of value in return. An old-school-thinking front office desperate for a bat could see an opportunity to acquire Kemp and jump at it, especially if there is one which thinks he can still pass in center field.
Kemp’s value to the Dodgers is clearly limited, and the Dodgers will need to figure out what that means to them at this point. It could lead to a trade, and Kemp has been the subject of plenty of rumors this offseason, or it could simply show them that the need to upgrade their lineup at other positions might be more dire than most would think.
Regardless of what the Dodgers will do, Kemp is overrated and he cannot be trusted to be more than an average player.
Drew Jenkins is an MLB writer and Sabermetrics Columnist for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @DrewJenkins77, “Like” him on Facebook, add him to your network on Google, or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.