There typically hasn’t been a consensus when it comes to the middle of the first round this year, with many fantasy owners choosing between Andrew McCutchen and Matt Kemp. Both are five-category outfielders with big upside yet also possess some question marks. Scott Pianowski and Dalton Del Don have a difference of opinion. Let’s get to the debate.
Pianow to open: When I'm making first-round picks or handling the blue chips in an auction, I usually take a floor-driven approach. Every player worth considering in the first round certainly has a major upside; I tend to focus on what the downside is, and how confident I feel in the given player giving me a solid return. There's plenty of time to shoot for the moon and stars later.
With that in mind, I'm an Andrew McCutchen man for 2013. Matt Kemp, not so much.
I know Kemp's ridiculous 2011 season is hard to ignore, but I'm more worried about the player we saw in 2010 and 2012. Kemp had all sorts of issues in that 2010 season (batting .249 and compiling a 19-for-34 stolen base record); some blamed his relationship with Joe Torre, while others pointed the blame at Rihanna, Kemp's squeeze at the time.
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Injuries (hamstring, shoulder) kept Kemp at bay for a chunk of last year, flushing 56 games down the drain. His power and run production remained excellent, but he only stole nine bases for the year. The shoulder problem eventually forced surgery after the season, and the Dodgers have been handling Kemp with kid gloves this spring.
Is it time for Kemp to scale back the running game for good? We're talking about a 6-foot-4, 225-pound athlete who plays a demanding defensive position as well (granted, the same spot McCutchen plays). At some point in Kemp's career, it won't be worth his while to accept the wear-and-tear that comes with regular stolen-base attempts. There's no shame in being a four-category overlord, but it might be wise to ignore that magical 2011 haul. Outlier seasons can trip you up.
Although McCutchen's .327 average last year doesn't completely pass the sniff test under the hood, we're nonetheless talking about a .291 career batter (just four points less than Kemp). That category is a wash. McCutchen is two years younger than Kemp (and 40 pounds lighter), which means I'm more comfortable paying for McCutchen's likely 20-30 steals (despite his mediocre success rate). Although McCutchen's K/BB rate moved in the wrong direction last year, I'll accept that in return for the jump in homers. And I'm not going to worry about the HR/FB clip jumping as well - there's no eureka moment there. Every home run spike comes with this accessory, it's part of the game.
At the end of the day, I'm less worried about McCutchen breaking my heart, something Kemp did (on some level) to fantasy owners in 2010 and 2012. I'll be a hero in the later rounds. Early on, I want the surest things I can find.
Dalton counters: After finishing as easily the No. 1 fantasy player in 2011, Kemp was drafted extremely early last season. He finished April batting .417 with 12 homers, 24 runs scored and 25 RBI, and while his two steals may have felt disappointing, it’s tough to swipe second base with an .893 slugging percentage. A truly special fantasy season looked to be in store. However, a subsequent hamstring injury resulted (or at minimum can be partially blamed) in him having zero homers in May and then him missing the next six weeks after he later aggravated it, and when Kemp returned, he hit just five home runs over the next seven weeks before crashing into an outfield wall August 28, injuring his left shoulder in the process. He was hampered over the rest of the year, and the shoulder required surgery that was more extensive than originally anticipated during the offseason.
Kemp had four straight seasons in which he surpassed 600 at-bats before last year’s injury-riddled campaign, so durability had never been a problem. But there’s no question the current situation with his shoulder is of some concern. Will it affect his power? How quickly can he return to 100 percent?
It’s hard to build a case against McCutchen, who’s 26 years old and coming off a season in which he hit .327/.400/.553. But his stolen base success rate has declined during each year he’s been in the league, including when he went just 6-for-14 after the All-Star break last season. Maybe last year’s 31 homers was a sign of a new baseline, but considering McCutchen’s size, his typical batted ball profile and history, I’d consider him more of a 20-25 HR guy than a consistent 30+ homer hitter. Moreover, playing for the Pirates hurts his counting stats (he’s never had a 100-RBI campaign).
Kemp is entering his age-28 season, is one year removed from a monstrous .324-39-115-126-40 campaign and will be hitting in the middle of a lineup that could be highly productive. I don’t see any of the five categories in which Kemp shouldn’t be considered the favorite to beat McCutchen this season. Of course, I’m banking on Kemp’s shoulder being a non-issue.