Baseball-Reference is a continuing source of higher education, and one of the neatest pages on this voluminous site is "2017 MLB Team Position Performance By Wins Above Replacement." It will come as no towering surprise that the Atlanta Braves, who are tied with Pittsburgh with the 22nd-best (or eighth-worst) record in the majors, fare well at only a few positions.
They're No. 4 at first base, which is down from last season's No. 1. (Blame Freddie Freeman for getting hurt.) They're -- pause for giddy effect -- No. 1 at catcher. (That's correct: The unassuming two-headed monster of Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki has been baseball's best at the most difficult position. The Braves were 29th here a year ago.) They're 14th in center field. (Ender Inciart has had a slightly worse season, WAR-wise, than in 2016.)
Everywhere else they're below mid-table, and in many spots -- 23rd in starting pitching and right field, 24th at third base and in relief pitching, 28th at shortstop -- they're near the bottom. And there's one place at which they're the worst. Can you guess?
Left field. And it's not even close.
The Braves have a minus-1.5 WAR in LF; San Francisco is second-worst at -minus-0.3. Indeed, if you gaze across the positional groupings of all the big-league teams, only two -- Cincinnati's starting pitching and the Giants in center field -- are worse than minus-1.5.
On June 1, these fingers typed a little something bearing the headline, "Why the Braves Won't Trade Matt Kemp." Part of my rationale, such as it was, had to do with Freddie Freeman being out and the Braves needing Kemp, who was essentially their only source of power. Part of it was the balance the right-handed Kemp afforded the Braves' lineup. (Both Freeman and Matt Adams bat lefty.) Most of it was due to Kemp having had a pretty good April and May.
His WAR value as of June 1 -- 1.3. His WAR value today -- minus-1.2. He has gone from pretty good to beyond bad. Using B-Ref WAR as the measure, he has been the fifth-worst non-pitcher in the majors . The four who've been worse: Jose Bautista, who's 36; Albert Pujols, who's 37 and doesn't play the field; Denard Span, who's the reason the Giants have been so awful in center field, and Tommy Joseph, who plays for the Phillies.
If there's a silver lining, it's that the Braves don't owe Kemp ($36.5 million over the next two years, not counting the $3.5 per annum still being paid by the Dodgers) anywhere near as much money as the Angels owe Pujols ($114 million over four). There are bad contracts, and then there are Bad Contracts. But here's the kick in the pants: As it stands, the Braves are set to pay $29.25 million next season to Kemp and Nick Markakis, corner outfielders whose combined age is 66 and whose combined WAR is minus-0.6.
It's clear one has to go. Ronald Acuna has to play somewhere. The trick is in getting some other team to cooperate. Most every team has a right fielder better than Markakis. Going by WAR, every team has a better left fielder than Kemp. The Braves would surely have to eat some the $11 million owed Markakis to make him go away. (That, or sweetening a deal with a mid-level prospect, which would hurt worse.) I'm not sure they'll find any interest in Kemp.
Watching him work, if that's the proper word, in left field has called to mind the exploits of Greg Luzinski. (Put it this way: Alongside Kemp, Ryan Klesko was Carl Yastrzemski.) In Luiz Gohara's first big-league start, the Rangers had five extra-base hits -- two off Gohara, three more off Matt Wisler -- to left field. Will Middlebrooks, who had hit two triples in his MLB life, managed a stand-up triple. Had Elvis Andrus been running, it would have been a stand-up inside-the-park homer.
Kemp did so much running that day in left field that he appeared to be panting. (To be fair, he also hit a home run.) Not to put too fine a point on it, but those stories people wrote about him reporting to Lake Buena Vista in something approximating good shape? Nobody would write such a thing today.
(He's also starting to get hurt. That's another bad sign.)
Long story not so short: The Kemp Experiment has run its course. It worked for a little while -- the Braves hit like crazy after he arrived last season, Freeman especially seeming to benefit, and his acquisition did get Hector Olivera off the books -- but his defense is such that he's giving away anything he provides with the bat. He's a ponderous guy who doesn't walk and who leads the league at grounding into double plays. If he has a future (and it's unclear that he does), it's as a DH. The Braves play in the National League.
Contrary to what some believe, the Braves are no fools. They'd love to trade Kemp and Markakis. They'll be lucky to find a buyer for either. But a team that figures to be much younger next season has no further use for substandard 33-year-old outfielders. Matt Kemp has become as substandard as it gets.