Kemp building case as baseball's most underrated player

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Matt Kemp went 3-for-3 with a walk and the go-ahead homer in the eighth
inning yesterday afternoon, scoring all four times he reached base as
the Dodgers won 4-3. In performing his one-man show Kemp became the first player since Dick McAuliffe in 1968 to score at least four times while accounting for all of his team’s runs.

What makes Kemp’s feat particularly noteworthy is that he scored four
times despite batting seventh in the Dodgers’ lineup, so he had Brad
Ausmus and the pitcher’s spot behind him. Only five players in the history of baseball
have batted more times than Ausmus while posting a lower adjusted OPS+,
but last night he twice drove in Kemp with doubles before Kemp later
scored on back-to-back errors and his own homer.

Kemp is now batting .321/.385/.500 with 30 extra-base hits and 20 steals in 90 games, rates as the third-best defensive outfielder in the NL according to Ultimate Zone Rating, and ranks third in the league
in runs above replacement level behind only Albert Pujols and Chase
Utley. Oh, and Kemp is just 24 years old and hit .299/.342/.474 in 305
games prior to this season after batting .311/.359/.519 in the minors.

Despite all of that, Kemp wasn’t picked for the All-Star game while
eight outfielders and a grand total of 21 position players made the NL
squad and has inexplicably batted higher than sixth in the Dodgers’
lineup just 13 times. Meanwhile, he’s batted seventh 40 times and
either eighth or ninth 18 times. Has a 24-year-old career
.305/.352/.482 hitter and Gold Glove-caliber center fielder ever
received less credit?

As a wise man once said: “I’m speechless. Speechless. I have no speech.”

No one pounds the zone anymore

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“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.

Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:

Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?

There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.

As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.