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Matt Kemp and His Two Gold Gloves

John Dewan

Excerpted from The Fielding Bible - Volume III

Matt Kemp has won two Gold Gloves in the last three years. This article analyzes why Matt Kemp maybe shouldnít have won those Gold Gloves.

The Good

As we said, Matt Kemp has won two Gold Gloves in the last three years. There are certainly some good things about his game. He wasnít the National League MVP, but you can sure make a case that he should have been. I wonít dwell on this, but our Total Runs system, which measures all spects of a playerís game as best we can, including defense, shows Kemp with the most Total Runs in the NL with 158. Ryan Braun was second with 148 and Justin Upton third with 143. Braun won the award.

What was good about Kempís defense in 2011? Weíll compare him to the other National League center fielders.

  • He led all NL center fielders in games (159)
  • He led all NL center fielders in innings (1,380)
  • He led in assists (11)
  • He started the most double plays, tied with the Piratesí Andrew McCutchen
  • He had the most Good Fielding Plays (28), also tied with McCutchen
  • He had the most Good Fielding Plays on throws (8), tied with the Nationalsí Rick Ankiel and the Redsí Drew Stubbs
  • He was fifth in putouts (345). McCutchen led with 414.

Looking at all these things, Kemp doesnít seem like a bad choice for the NL Gold Glove in 2011.

The Bad

Here are some other things about Kempís defense in 2011

  • Kemp was 10th in fielding percentage .986) among the 15 NL center fielders with 600 or more innings. The Philliesí Shane Victorino was first with 1.000
  • His Revised Zone Rating was .932, 9th out of the 15. He caught 72 balls out of the zone, tied for 8th with this group. But among the nine of those players who played at least 1,000 innings, he was tied for last. San Franciscoí Andres Torres had the highest zone rating (.950) and Chris Young had the most catches outside the zone (114).
  • His UZR was -4.6, 11th out of the 15. Chris Young was first with 14.1
  • Kemp was tied for the third highest total of Defensive Misplays and Errors among NL center fielders (29) with McCutchen and Stubbs. The Metsí Angel Pagan had the most with 36 and Coloradoís Dexter Fowler was second with 30.
  • According to Defensive Run Saved, he cost his team five runs defensively overall. Out of the 15 NL center fielders only Pagan (-8 DRS) and Jordan Schafer (-7) were worse. Chris Young saved the most runs, 20.

The Ugly

The most important aspect of center field defense is covering ground. Matt Kempís range, as measured by Plus/Minus Runs Saved, cost his team 11 runs. That was last out of the 15 NL center fielders with 600 innings. The Marlinsí Chris Coghlan lost 12 runs with his lack of range in 568 innings in center field, tied with Baltimoreís Adam Jones for the worst CF runs saved total in MLB.

Is it possible that somehow the Plus/Minus System is not measuring Matt Kempís range correctly? Letís see if we can go into further detail. Letís take three different approaches to measure Kempís range against major league averages. The first approach will be based on the hang time of the balls hit to center field. The second approach will look at the location of the batted ball and how far center fielders have to range to make the catch. The third approach weíll divide plays into four categories of difficulty.

In the chapter called ďTiming Batted BallsĒ we showed how we measure hang time for outfield flyballs. The longer the ball stays in the air, the easier it is to catch. Letís use those same six groupings, the same ones we use for the new Plus/Minus system and compare Kemp to all other MLB center fielders. We will look at what percentage of flyballs and line drives that are caught (Out Ratio) by the average center fielder and see what Matt Kemp did on those same types of balls. Hereís a chart that summarizes the information for hang time.

Hang Time Analysis Ė CF Out Ratios (2011)

Hang Time All CF Kemp
Over 5.0 seconds 95% 92%
4.2 to 5.0 seconds 77% 80%
3.5 to 4.2 seconds 64% 64%
3.0 to 3.5 seconds 54% 45%
2.7 to 3.0 seconds 45% 44%
Under 3.0 seconds 14% 14%

Thereís one grouping that Matt Kemp was a bit better than the average center fielder in 2011, balls in the air between 4.2 and 5.0 seconds. He caught 80 percent of balls in the air between 4.2 and 5.0 seconds, while the average MLB center fielder caught 77 percent. If he had caught balls at the major league average, he would have had three fewer catches. But there are two groupings where Kemp is significantly worse than the average center fielder. On balls that hang in the air more than 5.0 seconds, he was at 92 percent while the average was 95 percent. Between 3.0 and 3.5 seconds, he was 9 percent below the average of 54 percent. If Kemp caught balls at the MLB average, he would have caught 12 more in these two zones.

Summary #1: Based on batted ball hang time analysis, Kemp caught nine fewer balls than the average center fielder in 2011.

Letís look at range another way. Letís look at the location of the batted ball. How far does the center fielder have to range to get the ball. We donít have their starting points, but we can pick the middle point of where all balls are caught in center field and look at distances from that point. Hereís a chart that summarizes the out ratios in center field in four different increments from the midpoint.

Distance From Midpoint Analysis Ė Center Field Out Ratios (2011)

Distance From Midpoint All CF Kemp
0 to 50 feet 95% 95%
50 to 75 feet 78% 78%
75 to 100 feet 56% 47%
More than 100 feet 50% 38%

This is very telling. On flyballs between 0 and 50 feet from the midpoint, Kemp catches the exact same percentage as the average center fielder. On flyballs between 50 and 75 feet, same thing Ė Kemp is exactly average. However, as you get further away from the midpoint, Kemp has a harder time making catches. Between 75 and 100 feet, Kemp catches only 47 percent, while the average center fielder catches 56 percent. Over 100 feet itís worse: Kemp catches only 38 percent compared to the 50 percent average. If Kemp were at the major league average in each category, he would have caught 17 more balls.

Summary #2: Based on the distance a center fielder had to range to catch a ball, Kemp caught 17 fewer balls than the average center fielder.

Letís look at range one last way. Itís a combination of our first two methods. We look at hang time and location together. This is our Timer Plus/Minus System. We look at the difficulty based on both hang time and location. These are grouped into what we call ďbuckets.Ē For example, one bucket might be a hang time between 2.7 and 3.0 seconds at a distance of 320 feet at vector 175.

Vector 175 is about 25 feet to the right field side of straightaway center field. The out ratio in this bucket might be 73 percent. What weíll do is combine buckets into four groups based on their difficulty. Weíll call it a Hard catch if the out ratio is between 0 and 25 percent. For this grouping, the bucket must have an out ratio greater than zero to be included. Letís call a bucket Medium-Hard if the out ratio Is between 25 and 50 percent. Medium-Easy are out ratios between 50 and 75 percent. East catches are out ratios between 75 and 100 percent (but must be under 100 percent). Here is the summary chart.

Difficulty of Catch Analysis Ė CF Out Ratios (2011)

Difficulty of Catch All CF Kemp
Easy 96% 95%
Medium-Easy 61% 62%
Medium-Hard 36% 27%
Hard 13% 2%

This one is even more telling. Kemp is making the easy catches like any other center fielder. Both categories of easy: Easy and Medium-Easy. But as the balls get more difficult to catch, he has a harder time making the catch. The balls that are more difficult to catch are not hanging in the air as long and/or they are farther away from him. If Kemp performed at the average level of all other center fielders in each of these difficulty categories, he would have made 14 more catches.

Summary #3: Based on both the hang time of the batted ball and the distance a center fielder had to range to catch a ball, Kemp caught 14 fewer balls than the average center fielder.

Looking at our three summaries, Kemp caught 9, 17, or 14 fewer balls than an average center fielder, depending on how you look at it. The third one is the Timer Plus/Minus System. Kemp caught 14 fewer balls than an average center fielder. Digging deeper into those missed catches, the number of bases that were lost as a result of those 14 fewer catches was 20. The extra bases result from missed catches that turn into doubles and triples. This is Kempís Enhanced Plus/Minus number, 20. He lost 20 bases on 14 fewer plays made in center field than the average center fielder. Those 20 lost bases translate into 11 runs. Kempís Plus/Minus Runs Saved is -11. Or put another way, based on his range, Kemp lost about 11 runs for the Dodgers last year compared to the average center fielder.

To get Kempís overall performance in center field, we add his Plus/Minus Run Saved to his OF Arm Runs Saved to his Good Play/Misplay Runs Saved. Kemp has a good arm and saved the Dodgers four runs throwing in 2011. Those Good Fielding Plays also count. He gets another two runs based on his Good Play and Misplays. In total, Kemp lost five runs for the Dodgers in center field in 2011.

And that, my friends, is not Gold Glove performance.

Itís not even an average defensive performance. Average is 0. Kemp is -5. It is an MVP performance when taking his defense together with his offense and baserunning, but it is not a Gold Glove performance. And it is not a Fielding Bible Award performance. Matt Kemp did not receive a single vote in the voting for The Fielding Bible Awards in 2011.


So why do managers and coaches vote for Kemp for the Gold Glove? Because they only see The Good. They see very little of The Bad. And they donít try to understand The Ugly. The Good showed them:

  • Kemp had a tremendous season
  • He played the most games, had the most assists, had a lot of putouts
  • He makes a lot of good to great plays. They donít know about the Good Fielding Plays that we track, but they see them happen on the field. Our tracking confirms that he makes more than his fair share of good plays; he led the league.

Coaches and managers see these things and vote for Kemp in the Gold Glove voting.

Interestingly enough, coaches and managers are the last frontier. The public and the media have begun to accept our advanced defensive analytics. Major league front offices buy into them for the most part. The coaches and managers are not fully on board. Some of them are, but most arenít.