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Jay Bruce and Matt Kemp Prove Once Again That Perception Is Greater than Reality

On Sunday, the Atlanta Braves swapped their woman-beating bad baseball player, Hector Olivera, for nice-guy outfielder Matt Kemp. The deal was largely panned within the industry, and many felt the Padres benefited most by ridding themselves of Kemp while he still had value. Olivera’s involvement in the deal was a purely financial exchange, as he was immediately Designated for Assignment, and he may never play in the Majors again amid the stink of mediocrity and domestic violence. But the complex financials of the deal effectively mean that to land Kemp, the Braves bank account will be light just $25.5M over the next three years. Forgetting for a moment the enormous misstep the Braves made in acquiring Olivera in the first place, this Kemp acquisition is unbelievably impressive considering the price other teams are paying for defensively challenged power-hitting outfielders.

Take Jay Bruce. One of the hottest names on the hot stove this July, he got moved on Monday for Dilson Herrera and Max Wotell. The interesting thing here is that Bruce is due $13M and signed only through next season, and the Mets had to give up real talent to acquire him. Herrera, the headliner going back to the Reds for Bruce, is a 22 year old second baseman with a .790 OPS in AAA. But the kicker here is that Bruce isn’t good. He’s been worth 6 wins below average over the last three years.

Consider:

  • Matt Kemp’s stats

Bruce Stats

  • Jay Bruce’s stats

Bruce Stats

Undoubtedly, Bruce has been the better player this year. His OPS+ is 20 points higher than Kemp’s, meaning he’s been about 20% better than Kemp. But let’s consider what that means for a moment. Purely in terms of slugging, it’s about 25 total bases over the course of 400 at bats. That’s an extra base every 4 games, or twice a week. I realize that baseball is made up of all those little differences– and that those differences are what separate the contenders and the pretenders– but we’re talking about a whole lot of luck when we’re talking about two extra bases a week.

So why does “the industry” value one of these guys so much more highly than the other? Perception. The Reds have spent the greater part of the last year building up Jay Bruce as a potential difference-maker for a playoff team desperate for power. They’ve subtly leaked rumors of his availability to the press. They’ve reminded everyone that he’s clocked 233 homers in his career, and they had to smile as Yoenis Cespedes proved last year that flawed players can bring teams over the hump.

But is Kemp really all that different than Bruce? Was Kemp available for 3/$25.5M to everyone? Do you realize what 3/$25.5 means in today’s baseball? Last offseason, Joakim Soria signed for 3/$25M while Gerrardo Parra got 3/$27.5M. That type of money goes to 7th inning relievers and 4th outfielders. Kemp doesn’t even have to be good to be worth that type of money; merely average.

But Sean, the Defense!

Eh. They’re both pretty bad at defense. Whether one guy is worth -20 runs while the other is worth -15 really doesn’t matter to me. Maybe it should, but it really doesn’t. That type of difference is similar to the white noise to which one can ascribe that one extra base per week.

So really, it comes down to a simple proposition: You’ve got two guys. Both are power hitters and play bad defense. One might be better than the other this season, but he was way worse last year. That one costs a solid prospect, and is signed for one year at $13M. The other costs zero prospects, is signed through 2017 at ~$8.3M per.

Who do take?

-Sean Morash

 

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