Eric Nusbaum has a great piece up at Pitchers and Poets about the dichotomy between style and sin in relation to the person of Matt Kemp. Matt Kemp is a polarizing figure. His essence, and the knowledge of his existence, stretches back to the time of the hotly debated Paul Lo Duca trade (which seems insanely bizarre in retrospect). His current play seems to be erasing some of the past stigma (not all, but some).
“Matt Kemp deserves to be watched. He’s big and fast. He’s handsome. His home runs all seem to go to center and right center field. And when he crouches in his stance and his bat points out over his head toward the shortstop and he steps into a pitch you can’t help but be awed by the quickness of his swing, by how light the bat looks during his one-handed finish, and especially by the inherent and surprisingly understated balance of the entire motion. When Matt Kemp plays baseball, he’s an aesthetic pleasure — even when he’s getting bad jumps on fly balls in center field.”
“Of course style is what a certain kind of sports columnist can’t stand about Matt Kemp. He spoke poorly of Jeff Kent at too young an age (speaking poorly of assholes is only okay for white veterans who hustle, obviously). He took at-bats away from a sadly washed up and frustrated Luis Gonzalez. He dated a pop singer. He made a handful of overly aggressive base-running mistakes. These are Matt Kemp’s sins.”
Beautiful writing, to be sure (and assertions I can get behind), but stereotype and style be damned, the problem isn't the gracefully poetic lilt of his swing, but rather his incredibly shitty play in the outfield
As a writer, I wish there was a better, more elegant term than the sophomoric shitty, but discrepancies in the varying metrics aside, it is almost universally agreed upon that Matt Kemp is a really shitty outfielder. His UZR for the year is already at a shittily nifty -6.9. Last year? -25.7. For his career? -44.5. Matt Kemp is a fantastic talent. His defensive deficiencies don't erase his offensive contributions, but they really do put a damper on their significance.
Because of his grace, because of his athletic prowess, he looks like he should be a good defender. I imagine he will improve, but logic dictates that he is going to begin slowing down. It would seem a shame to relegate him to first base (a spot that might be better served, once the James Loney era has run its course, by the equally defensively inept Andre Ethier), but all signs sadly point to the fact that Matt Kemp, poetic as they come, might not be the man the Dodgers want patrolling center field for the next several years.