Matt Kemp, Where Art Thou?

The Padres lost to the Giants 1-0 on Monday night, the lone run scoring on a routine pop fly to semi-shallow right field. That ball’s caught most of the time, but the Padres had second baseman Alexi Amarista shading up the middle and right fielder Matt Kemp playing deep, so they both had trouble getting there and more trouble deciding who should catch the ball. It feel in between them, got kicked around, and scored Brandon Belt from first base to break the scoreless tie.

Here’s where Kemp was positioned at contact:

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Kemp is standing near the warning track, with a right-handed hitter with moderate power at the plate. He’s also standing on a big yellow tack (which might help explain his slow start):

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That’s something like 340 feet away from home plate, 198 feet away from Amarista, Kemp’s closest infielder, and 110 feet away from McCovey Cove. In other words, there’s alotta green space to cover for a 31-year-old outfielder with troubled hips, particularly when there’s a decent chance that Pence finds that green space.

Pencespraychart

That’s Pence’s spray chart against left-handed pitchers since 2012. Note that Pence, like many hitters, uses all fields when he puts the ball in the air. Note, too, that most of his batted balls to right field are hit to shallow-to-medium depth—there’s a cluster of them circled above in Microsoft Paint yellow.

The Padres played Pence in a “no-doubles” defense, which isn’t necessarily uncommon in situations like Monday night’s, where a ball in the gap all but ends the game. They didn’t want anything to get over Kemp’s head, to clank off that high right field wall or to get into the alley, either of which would finished things. In a sense the Padres got almost too conservative, though, and they opened up a large portion of the field that Pence was always more likely to use. Plus, if he hits a ball hard enough to reach the warning track or the alley, there’s a good chance Kemp isn’t catching it anyway. In that case you tip your cap.

In the end, Pence got a 200-foot bloop hit—ultimately (and cruelly) ruled a double—and the Padres got a lesson in over(or under)thinking late-game defensive alignments.

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