Blog Entry

Would You Rather Have: Upton or Kemp?

Posted on: January 14, 2012 2:37 pm
Edited on: January 14, 2012 3:17 pm

By C. Trent Rosecrans

We love interaction here at Eye On Baseball, comments can make us think and we like reading what you think. Sometimes you bring up a point we hadn't thought about and make us re-think our positions or reinforce our views. Often, you help copy edit and fact check, those contributions are equally appreciated. We love good, intelligent comments. Really, one of the reasons for the Would You Rather Have series was to get more involved with our readers and encourage disussion. So far, it's succeeded and we hope it continues.

That said, the one criticism of yesterday's comparison of Troy Tulowitzki and Evan Longoria made no sense to me -- some commenters said we couldn't compare a third baseman and a shortstop. Really? Just hours after posting that, the Yankees and Mariners played their own game of Would You Rather Have, comparing a catcher/DH and a pitcher -- and nobody told them they couldn't do it.

Sometimes the pairings we come up with will be players of the same position, other days they may have other things in common. Yesterday we had college teammates and today we're looking at two of the best talents in the game, and two of the top four finishers in last year's National League MVP vote -- Justin Upton and Matt Kemp. The pairjust happen to play in the same division, but different outfield positions.

The case for Upton

Sometimes it's hard to believe Upton is just turned 24 at the end of August, it seems like he's been around for a long time now. And really, he has been talked about in baseball circles for quite a while. The younger brother of the Rays' B.J. Upton, the younger Upton has been on the radar since high school because of his own play, but also because his older brother went second overall in the 2002 draft. In 2005, Upton topped his brother by going first overall.

It didn't take long for Upton to show up on the big stage, arriving in the big leagues before his 20th birthday. In the four subsequent seasons, he's improved and blossomed into one of the game's best players, As a 23-year-old in 2011, Upton hit .289/.369/.529 while setting career-highs in hits (171), doubles (39), homers (31), RBI (88) and stolen bases (21), in addition to the best on-base percentage of his career. He's also turned out to be one of the best defensive right fielders in the game, winning the Fielding Bible Award for 2011.

What the numbers don't show is just how much room there is for Upton to improve. Putting up those kinds of results could be a career-year for many fine players, but Upton can be even better, which is scary.

The case for Kemp

Kemp, like Upton, appears to have all the talent in the world. And 2011 was when he put it all together, showing that he can not just be a very good player, but an MVP-level player. As much as anything, his teammates kept him from winning an MVP in 2011, as he put up a 10 WAR according to on the strength of his .324/.399/.586 season. In addition to leading the National League in homers (39), runs (115) total bases (353) and OPS+ (171), he led the majors with 126 RBI. Kemp missed out on the MVP, but did win the Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove (although advanced numbers don't like his defense as much as the voting bloc of managers and coaches do, apparently).

The Dodgers signed Kemp to an eight-year, $160 million extension after the 2011 season -- but if he continues to put up the numbers he did in 2011, the 27-year-old will be well worth the cost. Upton signed an extension before the 2010 season that will keep him in Arizona for the next four years at a total of $45.25 million, with a $2 million bump in 2012 over 2011, a $3 million raise in 2013 and a $4.5 million increase in 2014, before maxing out at $14.5 million in 2015. That's the thing with supreme talent, if you want to keep it, you must pay, and neither of these players will be living paycheck to paycheck anytime soon.

Our call

It's pretty much a coinflip. On one hand, you have the production and cost certainty of Kemp, knowing you'll have him through the 2019 season. On the other hand, there's the dream of just how good Upton can be, but then risk losing him right after his 28th birthday following the 2015 season and seeing him star elsewhere. If I were in a gambling mood, I'd take Upton. But as it is, I'm feeling conservative (or as conservative as you can feel when doling out $160 million) and take Kemp, hoping that 2011 was the start of a trend. Ask me again in 15 minutes and I could change my tune.

Fan Vote: Would you rather have Upton or Kemp on your favorite team?

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Since: Jan 7, 2012
Posted on: January 21, 2012 5:51 pm

Would You Rather Have: Upton or Kemp?

Depends on what you mean by take.  If you mean for the next 1-5 years, I'd take Kemp.  If it was sign one of these guys for 10 years..I'd take Upton, especially hitting half his games in AZ and Kemp hitting half in LA.  But they are both great young players.

Since: Mar 28, 2007
Posted on: January 20, 2012 1:43 pm

Would You Rather Have: Upton or Kemp?

 If you're talking about next year, I'd take Kemp, hands down. But if you're talking about long term, especially if you're ignoring contract and just discussing talent and production, this is a much tougher choice than most of you seem to think. 
  Remember Kemps total let down in 2010? Some players have focus problems and Kemp might just be one of them. He had something to prove last year, and went out and did it. What if the Dodgers fail to compete again this year..and maybe the following year? With the sale of the team under issue, it's not beyond possible. How will Kemp respond?
  Also, the almost 3 years age difference between the two players just happens to the period in a players career when he's most likely to make significant improvements as he grows into his body and talent. The historical records for players of extreme talent that enter the league as young as Upton did is pretty impressive. Even a small improvement in Upton's abilities would bring him into the world class range that Kemp enjoyed last year.  

Since: Dec 10, 2010
Posted on: January 17, 2012 12:30 am

Would You Rather Have: Upton or Kemp?

Are we going to answer the question of Robinson Cano or Adam Kennedy next?

Since: Aug 2, 2011
Posted on: January 17, 2012 12:13 am

Would You Rather Have: Upton or Kemp?

Kemp because he plays across town at the Dodgers so for Angels he wouldn't need to move

Since: Mar 30, 2008
Posted on: January 16, 2012 4:42 pm

Would You Rather Have: Upton or Kemp?

The only flaw I can see in Matt's game is his decision making on the base paths. Other than that, the guy is a complete player, and is hitting his prime. I am taking him each and every time, but then what else would you expect from a life long Dodger fan? :-)

Since: Jan 31, 2009
Posted on: January 16, 2012 11:20 am

Would You Rather Have: Upton or Kemp?

Why is this even a debate? Did Matt Kemp lose a limb? Because that's only way we should even be talking about the choice between Matt Kemp and Justin Upton. 

Since: Mar 11, 2008
Posted on: January 16, 2012 9:50 am

Would You Rather Have: Upton or Kemp?

I am a huge Dback fan and I have to tell this writer to watch footage of Upton playing the wall in right field.  Worst ever when approaching the warning track.  I spoke to a security guy who stands above right center field at every home game and he agreed that Upton is a fielding liability.  Arm strength good but wild too.....  I cringe when a fly ball is hit out there.  He gives minimal effort on some balls that should be flagged down.  Not a complete player...

Since: Sep 6, 2006
Posted on: January 16, 2012 9:18 am

Would You Rather Have: Upton or Kemp?

Kemp was the MVP. He did all his damage with NO protection unlike Braun who had Fielder and some pharmaceuticals. Hopefully this season Ethier will come back, keep his attitude in check and will also get a hit or two against a lefty. a life long Dodgers hater, I agree.  Kemp should have been the MVP.  He was the best player in the league in 2011.

Since: Sep 6, 2006
Posted on: January 16, 2012 9:17 am

Would You Rather Have: Upton or Kemp?

Lincecum Matty hit for about 30 better in batting average, stole around 20 more bases and Upton batted under .300
But if you look at their careers when Kemp was 24 and Upton now (24), you have to see that Upton was more productive.  Kemp is just hitting his prime...Upton is 3 years away.  This story is a LONG way away from being written.  I would take Upton for the long haul, but either of them would look beautiful in a Phillies uniform (not happening, but I can dream).

Since: Dec 29, 2011
Posted on: January 16, 2012 12:14 am

Would You Rather Have: Upton or Kemp?

Matt Kemp is very capable of winning a triple crown, especially now that Pujols is in the American League. The man hits homeruns, hits for average, gets on base and scores runs, and steals bases. Yes, he strikes out a lot (which is quite typical for baseball today not to mention typical for a homerun hitter), but is very, very productive. At this point, there is absolutely no comparison.

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