Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Evaluating the Kemp-less Dodgers outfield
By Eric Karabell
The Los Angeles Dodgers' crowded outfield problem was solved Monday, but not in a good way; Matt Kemp was placed on the disabled list because of a sore left shoulder. Fantasy owners are probably cursing Kemp for this setback, but honestly, the way he had played this season, now you don't have to debate whether to play him over any number of available options. A few weeks off is a good thing in this case, so embrace this roster move. Sure, Kemp hit a few home runs at Coors Field last week to raise hopes that he was back, but he wasn't. Now we don't know precisely when he'll be back, but this was already looking like a lost season, and even if he returns later in July, I'm going to be skeptical he'll hit for average and power.
[+]Enlarge Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports Matt Kemp has hit just .231 at home this season, with no homers in 117 at-bats.
As such, even though we're barely halfway through the season, it's certainly reasonable to label Kemp as fantasy's biggest bust. After all, the other nine players that were first-round choices in ESPN average live drafts are all worth relying on; even the disappointing Albert Pujols is on pace for 24 home runs and 94 RBIs. Justin Verlander isn't exactly hurting his fantasy owners. Kemp, though, is hitting .254 and is on pace for seven home runs, 45 RBIs and 17 stolen bases, and he was the sixth overall pick. Among the 149 hitters you'll find ranked ahead of him on the ESPN Player Rater are, incredibly, Vernon Wells, Jose Iglesias and John Buck.
We have plenty of time to debate the other nominees for biggest disappointment of the season, but as of now, Kemp, based mainly on draft position and gaudy expectations, would top the list, with Josh Hamilton, Jason Heyward, Cole Hamels, Starlin Castro and others being in the conversation. I want to be positive and say that Kemp will return later this month and turn his season around, but I just don't believe it. But let's turn this negative into a potential positive, shall we? The awesome Yasiel Puig, who I am absolutely a believer in, wasn't going to lose playing time, but now Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier also don't have to worry. Oh, perhaps one of them will sit on occasion for Scott Van Slyke versus a left-hander, but let's look at Crawford and Ethier more closely, because they are established veterans and the Kemp injury aids them, in theory.
On Monday night, Crawford led off while playing left field, Puig again hit second and handled right field, and Ethier was the center fielder and No. 5 hitter. Crawford, who missed a month with a hamstring injury, was activated from the disabled list Friday, a few hours before Kemp reinjured his shoulder. Crawford didn't have the most productive weekend, going hitless in 11 at-bats while striking out four times, and he looked tentative at the plate. On Monday, he struck out three times in five hitless at-bats. Perhaps his hamstring is giving him pause, or he just needs to recapture his swing. While I was pessimistic about Crawford staying healthy this season and being productive, there was nothing wrong with his numbers through 50 games; a month ago, he was on a nice pace for roughly 15 home runs and 30 stolen bases. It was a small sample, but Crawford was back to drawing a reasonable numbers of walks -- he rarely walked while with the Boston Red Sox -- and his speed looked fine. However, my main issue with Crawford is his health. I just don't trust him to stay injury-free. It's unrealistic to expect Crawford to participate in 80 percent of the team's remaining games, but he should be a top-50 outfielder when healthy, still capable of approaching the mid-teens in power and at least 25 stolen bases, but I wouldn't count on it.
Ethier is the player many people don't seem to view correctly. Is he having a good season? Of course not, but the 14th-round pick in ESPN ADP is a career .288 hitter who provided 20 home runs, 89 RBIs and 79 runs scored a season ago. While Crawford is owned in all leagues, Ethier is available in more ESPN leagues than he's owned in, making him the buy-low option. The Kemp injury guarantees him playing time -- it was unlikely the Dodgers would be able to trade him -- and Ethier can still do damage to right-handed pitching, where he has more walks than strikeouts. Ethier is also off to a nice start in July, entering Monday hitting .391 with a few doubles, and on Monday, his sweet swing yielded three more hits and an RBI. Last season, Ethier hit .325 with power against right-handed pitching. He also hit six home runs in September. Among the outfielders owned in more ESPN leagues than Ethier, those I would drop for him include Daniel Nava, Gerardo Parra, Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus and Brandon Moss, and I admit I've given up on B.J. Upton turning his ridiculous season around.