Tony Kemp: Great Pretender or Undervalued Asset?
This has been an on-going debate here at the Crawfish Boxes since he became a fixture in the outfield last season. Is he really a legit major leaguer, or just an unacceptable weak link on an otherwise strong team.
Now that he is going to be leaving the Astros, let’s assess the impact of Tony Kemp.
Just for full disclosure, last June 18th, 2018, about three weeks into his call-up to the Astros last year, I wrote an article praising Kemp called Tony Kemp: Too Legit to Quit. The basic gist was that Kemp had enough basic skills “to find a niche on most major league teams.”
Do his numbers in the last two years bear out that he has played on a major league level?
Let’s look at batting first.
This chart shows the basic stats for Kemp in the last two years. It compares him to other utility outfielders who were once part of the Astros’ system and are deemed good enough by their current teams to warrant more playing time than Kemp has gotten in those two years.
Tony Kemp hitting statistics, 2018-2019, and other ex-Astros outfielders for comparison.
The only player among these four regular or semi-regular major league outfielders who comes close to Kemp’s performance is Robbie Grossman, whose 104 wRC+ equals Kemp’s and whose WAR is slightly more, but in almost one-third more playing time. Keep in mind that 100 wRC+ is average MLB production. Kemp produces more wins above replacement per PA than any player on this list.
What’s the point?
Tony Kemp is a player that can improve many teams in MLB. His main problem with the Astros is that the Astros have nine major league outfielders, most of whom are also left-handed. He is blocking better, younger players on a team that has realistic World Series aspirations. By fWAR, Kemp ranks 88th in MLB among outfielders. Almost all of these players have had at least 100 to 200 more PAs in which to accumulate their WAR totals. Since there are 30 teams and three starting outfielders on each team, Kemp is clearly good enough to start on many Major League teams, and is a steady fourth outfielder on all but a few. One of those happens to be the Astros.
Add to that Kemp’s versatility as a back-up second baseman, hell, he’s a fringe starter on some teams just as a straight up two-bagger. Really? Just think how much the Rangers stink at second base.
One tired old argument that needs to be disposed of once and for all is that Kemp can’t play defense. Neither traditional nor advanced statistics support this. Since 2017 Kemp has not made one error at three different positions.
For his career, in 763.1 innings, his DRS rating in left field is +2, including 2016 when he was negative rated but was still converting as a second baseman. His DRS in 256 innings at second base is also 2. His UZR/150 as a career outfielder is 0.6, again, brought down by a negative rating in his first year as an outfielder in 2016; ancient history.
His Fangraph Def rating this year is 1.8, which is 22nd in MLB among outfielders, just ahead of Mike Trout (had to get Trout in there) and Ramon Laureano. Yes he has a relatively weak arm. These defensive metrics include that in the overall rating.
Here’s Kemp saving Keuchel’s ass in the 2018 ALCS.
I remember when Kemp made this catch and somehow critics said he made an easy catch look hard. I believe I joined in. NO, it was a great catch, like many others he’s made, although there were times Tony did make routine plays look like adventures.
Lest we forget, Tony Kemp has made numerous clutch hits for the Astros these last two years. He hit 1.045 OPS in last year’s post-season, including this home run in the 2018 ALCS that gave the Astros a lead in game four.
This year he seemed to sacrifice some of his on-base proclivities in favor of more power. In 186 PAs he has seven home runs this season which, if extended to a 500 PA season, would be about 19 home runs. Remember this pinch-hit, walk-off last April.
But I think all but the most hard-hearted among us would acknowledge that Tony’s contributions to the Astros go far beyond statistics and game-time performance. I have long maintained that the success of the Astros has had more to do with character than talent. The talent of the Astros core comes from deep determination of a group of life’s underdogs, who overcame uncommon adversities to achieve greatness, while maintaining a spirit of love and joy for each other and the game.
The Astros still look like a bunch of boys playing in the Little League World Series, except they are big boys now. (well except for a few ) And no one has contributed more to that spirit of pure joy, exuberance, and child-like enthusiasm than Tony Kemp.
I will not include yet another hugs for homer gif, we’ve seen enough by now. Just let me conclude by saying that whoever ends up with Tony Kemp is getting someone very special. His spirit of great goodness has touched me and millions of others in Houston and beyond. He will be missed by the Astros, I sense more by the players than even by his adoring fans, and let us hope he doesn’t end up pulling off one of those clutch hits against his former teammates in the playoffs.
We all wish you the best, which means you are NOT second base in the Hot House in Arlington.