Four's a crowd

When everyone is healthy, who should be the odd man out in the Dodgers outfield?

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    79%
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    21%

(Total votes: 892)

SIT ETHIER
SIT KEMP

Kemp too talented to leave on bench

Saxon By Mark Saxon
ESPNLosAngeles,com
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Matt Kemp, ultimately, will answer this question himself or, rather, via his medical test results. If his left ankle is fully healed sometime in April and he's able to run and do the things that made him one of the best all-around players in the game just two years ago, he will be in center field for the Dodgers.

Even if it takes him a while to get comfortable, he will be left in the lineup to work his way back into that zone. Every day. No questions asked. He's that talented and the Dodgers have that much invested in him.

On the other hand, even if Kemp were to stumble into another injury-wrecked season, Andre Ethier wouldn't be on the field every day. A lifetime .235 hitter against left-handed pitching, Ethier likely would have sat out many of the Dodgers' games against left-handed pitchers anyway, in favor of Scott Van Slyke or somebody else who doesn't struggle to make contact against lefties.

Some people will argue that Carl Crawford should be the odd man out if the four-outfielder logjam ever actually materializes. Leaving Crawford out is harder to do than it sounds, however, as Crawford is among the two or three fastest Dodgers and will be asked to fill a specialized niche in the lineup as the No. 2 hitter behind Yasiel Puig.

Ethier, at this stage of his career, is a middle-of-the-order bat with roughly average speed. He's a good, solid outfielder and an important member of the team. But if you're looking for one of the four outfielders who profiles best as a part-time player, he's your man.

Dodgers should go with defense

Schoenfield By David Schoenfield
ESPNLosAngeles,com
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There's an old saying in sports that you don't lose a job because of an injury. Do they still say that? That's essentially the argument for handing Matt Kemp -- when he gets completely healthy -- the center-field job for the Dodgers. Hey, he was awesome in 2011 and even more awesome in April of 2012. You can't take the job away from him. Factor in his big salary and it will be difficult for Don Mattingly to keep him out of the lineup.

Mattingly and the Dodgers, however, don't owe Kemp anything. Mattingly's job is to play his best team and the best team for the Dodgers may not include Kemp in center field.

The biggest issue is on defense. Andre Ethier wasn't great in center field, but at least he wasn't as bad as expected after moving over from right field. He graded out minus-3 defensive runs saved in his 645 innings out there, or minus-6 prorated over a season's worth of 1,200 innings. But Kemp has generally been worse. The defensive metrics have never liked his defense. While he makes the occasional spectacular play, he often has bad reads and lets catchable balls drop in. Over his career, he's averaged minus-10 defensive runs saved per 1,200 innings, including a disastrous minus-37 in 2010. Over the past two seasons he's averaged minus-14 runs per 1,200 innings in center. With two years of various injuries on his resume, you simply wonder if Kemp's days as a center fielder have passed.

Offensively, we focus on Kemp's 2011 season, when he hit .324/.399/.586. But that pretty clearly seems to have been a peak season. He's slugged .500 in only one other season, in 2012, and those numbers were driven by his huge April when he hit .417 with 12 home runs. His career line of .293/.350/.493 isn't all that different from Ethier's .288/.362/.470. Frankly, there just isn't a lot of evidence that Kemp is clearly the superior player.

Look, of course if Kemp proves he can hit close to what he did in 2011, he should be in the lineup every day. My prediction is that we won't see that Matt Kemp again. It's not an easy decision for Mattingly, and in the end he probably ends up rotating Kemp, Ethier and Carl Crawford between center field and left field, but the Dodgers' best team likely includes Ethier getting most of the playing time in center.

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