You guys, I’m starting to get the sense that this new front office operates SLIGHTLY differently from the old one, huh?
After a few years of trying to build a fantasy baseball team in real life, the new Dodgers front office has continued their deconstruction Thursday morning, sending Matt Kemp to the Padres for catcher Yasmani Grandal and a pair of pitching prospects (one of whom is rumored to be the guy headed to Philadelphia for Jimmy Rollins).
In reality, I think this move further illustrates two shifts in thought from the previous regime…
First, as I mentioned above, it’s clear that Andrew Friedman isn’t a fan of fantasy sports played out at the major-league level. As a fan, it’s obviously more fun to root for one of the best hitting outfielders in the game while ignoring the fact that he’s an atrocious fielder, but as someone who wants to build a team to win, things are different.
Fans love stars, but this front office love a deep roster full of complete players — if nothing else, this move is proof of how the Genius Squad thinks a winner is built.
Yes, it would have been nice to have Matt Kemp in the middle of the lineup this year — no one is denying that — but, no, it wouldn’t have been fun to see A.J. Ellis and his .254 SLG getting 400 at-bats (not to mention his inability to frame pitches or be an above-average defender).
Losing Matt Kemp sucks, but upgrading at catcher is the exact opposite.
Here’s another way to think of it: would you rather have an elite-hitting, horrible fielding outfielder and a horrible hitting, horrible fielding catcher OR an above average hitting, average fielding outfielder and an above average hitting, above average fielding catcher?
While the second option is far from sexy, it’s very clear that the Genius Squad is pretty convinced option no. 2 is a runaway winner.
The drop from Kemp to Joc Pederson or Andre Ethier compared to the improvement in moving from Ellis to Grandal isn’t really comparable. The Dodgers had depth in the outfield and a massive hole behind the plate — using one to fix the other was a no-brainer.
That leads to the second shift with the new regime:
That stats that these guys care about go beyond the ones you probably care about.
Matt Kemp hit almost .290 last season with 25 HR and 89 RBI, good for an offensive WAR of 3.8 — which was the 48th best mark in the majors. In the same amount of time, however, Kemp accumulated a defensive WAR of -3.1 — which, well, was one of the worst marks in the entire league.
Now that we finally have statistics to judge someone’s defensive value (although they’re not perfect), it’s hard to ignore the elephant in the room with Kemp: his offensive value is almost cancelled out by his defensive woes — something Andrew Friedman was obviously aware of.
Last night at his midnight press conference, Friedman constantly referenced Howie Kendrick’s ability to “contribute on both sides of the ball” as a reason for his acquisition Wednesday. Safe to say the move for Grandal (in what was a massively depleted catching market) fits into the same mold.
In Grandal, the Dodgers are hoping they’ve acquired their catcher of the future (and present). At just 26, Grandal has played in just 216 games in the majors, but he hasn’t failed to impress — posting a career OPS of .763 (almost 100 points higher than what AJ Ellis posted last year) with 24 home runs.
Now, Grandal is far from an “elite” catcher right now, but some believe he could be headed in that direction — partly because of his defense. In 2014, Grandal was ranked as the No. 8 pitch framer in the majors. Ellis was No. 109 (who knew there were even that many catchers last season?).
What we need to realize with Grandal is that, while he isn’t the best in the world, the transition from “one of the worst in the league” to “league average” is a massive one. (In fact, with a WAR of 0, Ellis was the definition of “replacement-level” last season!).
Of course, all of this is ignoring two other major facts, namely that the Dodgers saved a boatload of money in this deal and that they’re probably not done. In fact, I better stop this article right here before Friedman goes and makes another move…