Matt Kemp, Wherefore Art Thou?

Okay, I’m still a game behind. I realize this is a strange way to cover a ballclub, but it’s sort of my thing.

So this is about Tuesday night’s game, the one where the Padres hung around for a while until a man named Keith Hessler gave up five runs in the eighth inning. Actually, this isn’t really about Tuesday night’s game, this is about Matt Kemp . . . again. No wait, this isn’t even really about Matt Kemp—it’s not about his leadership, or his batting line (don’t look), or his defensive positioning, or his contract, or his future outlook, or his rare chalkware baseball figurine collection from the 1940s. This is about bad base running.

In the first inning, Kemp hit an almost-home run down the left field line, ended up trying for two, and ultimately didn’t make it. The whole thing looked something like this:

We see Kemp running,


then we see a ball, mid flight, above a sea of well-manicured Bermuda grass,

2016-05-26 (1)

then we see second base, sans Matt Kemp.

2016-05-26 (2)

This is bad base running, but it’s the kind of bad base running you file away into the bad base running bin and soon forget about. It’s generic bad base running that happened in the first inning of the game, before there was any kind of expectations set. Kemp was probably slow out of the box, he’s slow in general (it took him nearly nine seconds to make it to second), the Giants played everything close to perfectly, and Kemp was still almost safe. With two outs, it’s possibly a risk worth taking. Bad base running, sure, but not egregiously bad. Filed and forgotten.

By the eighth inning, we had turned the page on Kemp’s blunder. Then, this happened:

There are familiar scenes: Kemp running, a ball flying, and Kemp out (after replay), this time at third.

He tried to stretch a double into a triple, down by two runs with no outs in the top of the eighth inning. I’m sure there have been worse base running mistakes in the history of the game—sorry, Fred Merkle—but this one at least warrants honorable mention consideration.

Kemp had already accomplished his goal once the ball left his bat—he got on base, and he did even better, getting to second and effectively eliminating the double play. There has to be a point rounding first and heading to second when Kemp, an 11-year major-league veteran, takes in the situation:

  • I’m slow (it took him over 12.5 seconds to reach third).
  • The Giants are a damn good team and this relay is probably going to be on target.
  • We’re down by two, and there’s a diminishing return for me reaching third here. I can probably make it, but it’s going to be close. Just ain’t worth the risk, so I better just stop here.

A generic win probability calculator says the Padres chances of winning the game had Kemp anchored to second would have been 18.9 percent. What if he reached third safely? 15.5 percent. Wait . . . what? The win probability actually goes down. Okay, that’s just some small sample size funkiness, but with one out and nobody on—the game state left after Kemp was ruled out—it falls all the way to 7.4 percent.

This is the kind of bad base running that gets filed into a separate folder which gets filed into a separate cabinet. You pull it out every few months just to ponder its silliness.

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  • ballybunion

    I kind of have to ask the question: What were the first base and third base coaches signaling? At first, the coach had to see the perfect carom off the wall that made going for second risky. Did he have a chance to stop Kemp from making the turn?

    Then there’s the third base coach, who was in position to signal Kemp to hold at second or try for third. Close play, perfect relay, and it took a replay to get him out. My big question is, was Kemp ignoring the coaches, or did they really think he could still run?

    • I think on the first play, that’s pretty much Kemp’s call. It’s right in front of him.

      On the second one, he definitely should have picked up his third base coach at some point, and I think I saw on Twitter that he either didn’t do that or ran through a stop sign. Not sure.

      Unless you’re like 99 percent sure you’re going to make it there, I just can’t see a reason to go for it.