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: Oct 30, 2011
Posted on: January 14, 2012 9:59 pm

Would You Rather Have: Upton or Kemp?

Both of these guys are very good, but Kemp is the better of the two. He can out play Upton even in a down year. Kemp is the total package. Upton's package isn't as big as Kemp's.

Since: Aug 24, 2010
Posted on: January 14, 2012 9:47 pm

Would You Rather Have: Upton or Kemp?

Holy cow!  This writer forgetS about all the stolen bases and Matt Kemps gold glove.
It's no contest...Matt Kemp in a landslide!  And he too is young and going to improve. 
He beat Upton in every category in 2011. This was a no brainer and 1/2 of you must be
relatives to the scare crow in the wizard of Oz.  (i.e. "I wish I had a brain!") Upton played
on the better team and still fell way way short of Kemps MVP season. 
I want all of you guys in my fantasy league.

Since: Nov 22, 2011
Posted on: January 14, 2012 9:34 pm

Would You Rather Have: Upton or Kemp?

If it is a choice between the two I take Kemp, because he is a phenomenal defender. But if I was starting a team and was choosing an outfield neither  of these two is who I would start one around. Ryan Braun and Cargo would be ahead of both of these guys.

Since: Mar 7, 2009
Posted on: January 14, 2012 9:05 pm

Would You Rather Have: Upton or Kemp?

Justin by a long shot

Since: Oct 22, 2006
Posted on: January 14, 2012 8:33 pm

Would You Rather Have: Upton or Kemp?


Would rather have Andrew McCutchen.  

Since: Nov 8, 2006
Posted on: January 14, 2012 7:30 pm

Would You Rather Have: Upton or Kemp?

Kemp. I would rather have results than potential.

Since: Mar 30, 2009
Posted on: January 14, 2012 7:25 pm

Would You Rather Have: Upton or Kemp?

So lumpoco, I am just trying to figure out exactly how you have the knowledge Kemp has not only reached his peak, but won't stay there too long?  I mean, surely, from your comments, you are someone who knows something about the game, right?  You're a scout?  A GM?  A manager?  A hitting coach?  No, you're just a moron fan who either is a D-back lover, or a Dodger hater; either way, you're wrong.  

Since: Aug 7, 2008
Posted on: January 14, 2012 6:42 pm

Would You Rather Have: Upton or Kemp?

I would take Justin Upton without hesitation. Upton has not reached his peakas a hitter...while Matt Kemp has already reached it and he won't stay their for long. Plus Upton is not a defnesive detriment like Kemp is. Yes, Kemp plays outfielder so it is tougher than infielder...but you know what...for $160 million I would think that the Dodgers would have asked Kemp to improve his defense....I'm just saying.

Since: Jun 21, 2010
Posted on: January 14, 2012 6:34 pm

Would You Rather Have: Upton or Kemp?

I am really enjoying the  player comparisons, and like seeing the different comments everyone makes.  What I do not care about in the comparisons are the stadiums the player plays in or their contract status.  I look at stats, and can they continue to produce at a high level.  That said, I would much rather have Upton than Kemp.  I do not believe we have seen the best of Upton yet.  He has room to grow and put up even better numbers than he has.  Personally, I believe Kemp had his " career year " last season.  Anyone who thinks Kemp will come  close to hitting 39 hr's, 126 rbi's, bat .324, and steal 40 bases AGAIN, is kidding themselves.  Both are excellent players, but based on potential and growth, I want Upton.

Since: Apr 13, 2011
Posted on: January 14, 2012 6:27 pm

Would You Rather Have: Upton or Kemp?

Upton has better intangibles. Great clubhouse prescence, hard worker, not a showboat.

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