Padres Editorial: Thoughts on Moving Matt Kemp to First Base

 (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)

Most (if not all) San Diego Padres fans are more than well aware by now that Matt Kemp has been downright atrocious this season. He was acquired in the off-season from the Los Angeles Dodgers (in return for Yasmani Grandal, who is now an all-star) to be the offensive punch the Padres have lacked in years past and the team leader the Padres wanted.

Matt Kemp has so far provided negative value in almost every aspect of the game and has actually been a detriment to the Padres as a team. While it may be too late for the Padres to get themselves out of that deal, they could soften the blow by moving Kemp to a different position. How about moving Matt Kemp to first base long-term?

In the off-season, AJ Preller made a flurry of moves that completely remade the Padres outfield. With the acquisitions of Wil Myers, Justin Upton, and Matt Kemp, Preller acquired three players, one with average defense and two with suspect defense, to man the three outfield positions. One of the three had to play center field so it was decided that it would have to be Wil Myers to play in center. This made the most sense given he was the youngest and most athletic of all three players. This left the below average defender Matt Kemp in right field with the average Justin Upton in left. In hindsight, this was clearly a failed experiment from the start.

To better understand what went wrong with this outfield setup, it helps to look more in depth at the defensive numbers for all three guys. Let’s start with Upton. According to Ultimate zone rating, Upton is a below average defensive player with a score of -0.8 this season in 736.2 innings in left field. Not too terrible but certainly not good. Moving on to Myers, you see a UZR score of -9.7 in only 261.2 innings in center field. This was far and away the worst number in all of baseball and may have set a record for the worst defensive season in baseball history had Myers played all year in center.

In contrast Myers had a 1.3 UZR in 674.1 innings in right field in his last season with the Rays. For further comparison he had a positive UZR of 0.7 in only 45 innings at first base with the Padres this season. Finally Matt Kemp has a UZR score of -9.6 in 731.2 innings in right field this season. This number has nearly surpassed the score of Myers, albeit in nearly 500 more innings.

These numbers show that it is clear the Padres were asking for trouble with an outfield setup the way they had it. But could they have known it was going to be this bad? At this point going forward it doesn’t really matter too much about what happened because the outfield as it is currently aligned will most likely be no more in the coming weeks. Justin Upton will likely be traded at the deadline, with Will Venable as another likely candidate. This leaves Wil Myers to move to a more natural position in left field, where he will most likely be either average or maybe even slightly above average.

Mandatory Credit: UT San Diego
Mandatory Credit: UT San Diego

It also allows Melvin Upton to perhaps move to center field full time where he is not as good as he once was but still has provided a UZR score of 2.2 in just over 200 innings in center this year. This leaves Matt Kemp still in right field, where he has been really, really bad. But what if the Padres could move Kemp to first base?

It would make sense to move Kemp to first base, and it was a topic that was discussed extensively in the off-season. Despite this, the Padres may run into a few different problems if they were to move Kemp to first base. First and foremost, it has been well noted that Matt Kemp enjoys playing right field and would spurn a positional change to first base, as he spurned his original switch from center field to right field. Despite this the Padres need to make the move if it helps the team. Beyond that, the Padres already have quite a few candidates to play first base that could interfere with Kemp moving there permanently.

Yonder Alonso, at least for now, is still the Padres first baseman. It is possible that he could be traded but he is an important part of the lineup because he is one of the Padres only left-handed batters. One thing that has been tried this year, and could be further used in the future, is Yonder Alonso returning to his natural position of third base.  Beyond Alonso, the Padres have flirted with Wil Myers at first base and it has seemed that he has enjoyed his time there and has been pretty good at it.

This could be a better fit for him long-term but he provides much more positive value (or at least less negative value) at one of the corner outfield positions than does Matt Kemp. Finally, Derek Norris is a logical fit as a first baseman, and has been used there a few times this season, should Austin Hedges start hitting more consistently and lay his claim for the starting catching position.

Beyond all these possibilities at first base, moving Matt Kemp there would be the most beneficial move for the Padres defense as a whole. If Matt Kemp could be an average, or even slightly below average, option at first base the Padres would be a whole lot better off as a defensive unit than they are now. This move could also free up a position in right field for either Wil Myers to move back to his natural position or could allow Rymer Liriano, Hunter Renfroe, or one of the Padres other outfield prospects a chance of starting next year.

Kemp may not like the idea of a move to first base but it is in the best interest of the Padres defense going forward. Depending on what the roster looks like following this year’s trade deadline, the Padres front office and AJ Preller should give real consideration to moving Matt Kemp to first base long-term.

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Patrick Brewer
Editorial and Prospect Writer for East Village Times. Twenty-five years young, Patrick has lived in San Diego for his entire life and has been a Padres fan nearly as long. Patrick lives for baseball and is always looking to learn new things about the game he loves through advanced stats.
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CG
CG
6 years ago

Did you happen to read the article about Preller’s off season moves in Grantland? Gut wrenching.

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