Matt Kemp recently voiced his distaste for being a potential fourth outfielder. He’s presently dealing with ankle issues, but I think most would agree that when he’s healthy he has the talent of one of the best outfielders in the league. He’s certainly wasted as a bench player, or a late-game defensive specialist, or a guy you put in when the other guy has a hangover. But Los Angeles is paying four outfielders something like a quarter of a billion dollars, so someone has to stomach this demeaning role.
OR DOES SOMEONE?!
In short, no. A study of all the outfielders to make a plate appearance in the last decade demonstrates that teams get 2389 PA for their outfielders, on average. The player with the fourth-most plate appearances got on average 304 of those PA, a mere 12.7 percent. That would indeed be a pitiful use of Matt Kemp, but again that’s just the average. A few teams have demonstrated a better balance of playing time, none more so than the 2007 Yankees. Let’s take a look at their example.
First, it helps that those Yankees got 2668 PA from their outfielders, well above the average, leaving more pie for everyone. That’s no problem; the 2014 Dodgers should have a powerful offense that generates more batting chances than the average offense does. In fact, last year’s Dodgers got 2524 PA from their outfielders, and they were a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of run scoring. We should expect at least that many PA from this year’s outfielders, given that injuries last year gave insane playing time to inferior players. Take a look: 10 Dodgers suited up in the outfield last year. That’s a sign something went wrong.
This year, health permitting, the Dodgers can mimic the 2007 Yankees and give 95 percent of their PA to their top four guys. Those Yankees were not only healthy and top-heavy, they were incredibly even.
Their top four guys each got at least 23 percent of total outfield PAs, leaving just 4 percent for the scrubs and replacement players at the very end of the bench. If you apply those ratios to last year’s Dodgers (2524 PA), then the consensus top four guys each get at least 580 PA, which is plenty, just shy of a typical starters’ amount.
That is of course just one possibility for 2014, one that treats the four Dodgers outfielders equally. If you subscribe to the idea that Andre Ethier is just a platoon player at this point, you could subtract say 150 PA from his total and spread those around among Kemp, Puig and Crawford. At that point Ethier becomes a $15 million part-time player, but he’s still getting a sizable part, and that’s the luxury of having the highest payroll.