No offense, Matt Kemp, but your defense stinks

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Matt KempThe Los Angeles Dodgers have the best record in the National League and appear to be the favorites to get to the World Series this year. They’re also in a position to compete for years to come with some pretty impressive prospects in the minors and almost unlimited financial resources.

However, they still have significant problems that have seriously impeded their performance as a team and as an organization – problems that persist no matter how much they out-spend every other team in baseball.

One of their most significant problems is that they have four highly paid players to play three outfield positions and not one of them is a center fielder. They have a prospect in Joc Pederson who could play center field better than any of them, but with over $70 million committed to those four, the prospect will have to wait.

Among those four is Matt Kemp – who is the highest paid of them all and just happens to be the worst fielder in the game today. He has always been an offense-first player who struggled a bit on defense – kind of like a really hot girl who also has uncontrollable flatulence. With his defense, he winds up being just about the statistical equivalent of a replacement player.

General manager Ned Colletti’s brilliance is mostly to blame for the Dodgers outfield problem. Ned should have been fired years ago for incompetence or at least swept out as Frank McCourt’s accomplice in his attempt to bleed the Dodgers out. Yet Ned remains and his policy of spend first, ask questions later has resulted in some of the dumbest contracts in the sport.

Adding to the problem is manager Don Mattingly – who isn’t very good at managing and really just seems to be doing an impression of what he thinks a manager should be doing. He’s the wrong guy at the right time – the opposite of his playing career where he excelled at first base for the New York Yankees, but was the right guy at the wrong time and never won a championship.

Sure, they’re probably nice guys, but let’s not pretend that you and I couldn’t step right in there and throw around an enormous amount of money and make random “gut” decisions that go against all modern baseball intelligence and wind up with the same result as this Dodgers team.

Something needs to be done about the outfield logjam. Players who make millions of dollars a year don’t like to sit on the bench and with four guys fitting into three positions, no one is going to play as much as they want. Matt Kemp’s defense makes him the logical choice to get moved out.

When Matt Kemp first came up to the big leagues, he was explosive at the plate and he ran the bases like an out-of-control freight train. He seemed to have trouble judging fly balls to the outfield and sometimes his paths to those balls were … um … inefficient.

He had all the “raw talent” you want in a young guy, and he just seemed to be getting better. He was quickly an All-Star, and he started dating Rihanna and he even came in second in the MVP voting to Ryan Braun and his steroids.

They sky was the limit.

Then the injuries started happening, and in addition to his inability to lay off that gosh darn slider away, the once suspect defense started deteriorating faster than Justin Bieber’s career. And of course Ned Colletti had already signed him to a monster contract – because that’s what Ned Colletti does!

For the past couple years there have been rumors of Kemp being traded out of town to a team hoping a change of environment would help him get sorted out – assuming the Dodgers ate a bunch of that contract. And it looked like it becoming an actuality at this year’s trade deadline.

However, Kemp started hitting well the month before the deadline and the rumored trade of Kemp to the Red Sox for Jon Lester disappeared into the air, even though the Dodgers needed a starting pitcher. And they certainly don’t need Matt Kemp.

The Dodgers are pretty solid on defense all around. With the exception of Hanley Ramirez being one of the worst defensive shortstops in the modern era. And the only thing worse than Matt Kemp playing center field has been Matt Kemp playing left field.

This in itself doesn’t make any sense at all because you’re supposed to be able stick the poor defender in left field to hide his shortcomings. The center fielder is the best defensive outfielder, the right fielder is the guy with the great arm and the left fielder whose best defense is his offense.

Chicks dig the long ball. But defense is important also. Stopping the other team from scoring runs is a big deal. Objectively, one could say it’s equally important – though not nearly as sexy. ESPN only shows highlights of the most spectacular defensive plays and the All-Star Game doesn’t have a Defensive Range Derby.

Bad defense is much harder to staticize than bad offense. If a player isn’t getting on base it’s easy to track. But it’s much more difficult to say someone has bad defense based on basic numbers because it’s not just errors, but the balls you get to, and more importantly the ones you don’t get to. Derek Jeter was like this – a great offensive weapon and a swell guy who was bad at defense, but he won a few gold gloves because his fielding percentage was good. Fielding percentage fails to take into account balls that the player should have gotten to as a Major League Baseball player.

Miguel Cabrera stole two MVP Awards from Mike Trout because voters only looked at the runs each player scored on offense and refused to look at the runs allowed on defense.

Part of the problem with Matt Kemp as a defender is he looks like he should be a good defender. He doesn’t look anything like terrible defenders like Miguel Cabrera or David Ortiz or Prince Fielder. These players’ bodies are defensively inhibited. Horizontally challenged. Big boned. You know … fat.

Matt Kemp is an exciting player – on offense. And baseball needs players like him – on offense. I hope that Ned Colletti (or his replacement – fingers crossed) can find a team in the American League that can have Matt Kemp come in and be their designated hitter and just focus on hitting the hell out the ball and running the bases like a house on fire.

Yes, it’s a problem that he’s owed a bit over $21 million for each of the next five years. Trade him. You’re going to be eating most of that money anyway with his terrible defense.

The only other course of action the Dodgers have is to contact Major League Baseball and request they add a designated hitter position to the National League. It sounds improbable, but Ned Colletti could just pay them a bunch of money.

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