By Eriq Gardner
At the end of the 2008 season, Alex Rios and Matt Kemp looked to be statistical clones, at least with respect to surface stats in 5×5 leagues that year:
- Alex Rios: 15 HR, 91 R, 79 RBI, 32 SB, and a .291 BA
- Matt Kemp: 18 HR, 93 R, 76 RBI, 35 SB, and a .290 BA
The similarity, though, was put on hiatus last season.
Kemp increased his power to 26 HR, maintained his speed, and slightly boosted his batting average to .297. He became a consensus first-round pick for the potential to make big contributions in all five categories.
Rios, on the other hand, was miserable last season. He finished the year with 17 HR and also fell sharply in the other categories. His SB total dropped to 24. His average sank to .247. He only produced 63 R and 71 RBIs — the result of a woeful average and hitting further down in the lineup. The Blue Jays gave up on Rios, shipping him to the White Sox for virtually nothing. He lasted until the 11th round in many fantasy drafts this spring, and hardly anyone targeted him as a “sleeper.”
Wow, how things have changed.
Right now, Rios is arguably the most valuable batter in fantasy leagues. He’s on a pace for an amazing 35 HRs and 50 SBs and he’s doing it with a .318 batting average.
We can’t say that Rios is getting lucky either. His peripheral stats show some tremendous improvement from a year ago. Most noticeably, his strikeout rate is down to a meager 11.8%, which is about Albert Pujols‘ career rate. Rios’ walk rate is up too — from 5.8% to 7.9% — and his ISO (Isolated Power, which is slugging percentage minus batting average) is up from .148 to .272.
Talk about elite…
Meanwhile, Kemp has been a slight disappointment. His power (11 HRs) is fine, but his average (.279) and speed (8 steals and 8 times caught stealing) are both unworthy of first-round pick status, especially as an outfielder. Kemp’s strikeout rate is up to 27% and there doesn’t seem to be anything below the surface that points to bad luck. He’s doing about what he should be doing.
I made the case last September that we were expecting a bit too much from Kemp, writing
that “with batting average regression and less speed, Kemp could easily fall back into Hunter Pence/Alex Rios/Corey Hart territory.”
That seems to have been on target, at least so far.
No doubt, Kemp is a worthy player, and there aren’t too many 25/25 candidates in baseball. But what we saw this spring in fantasy drafts across the land was a bit of an overreaction to recent trends. Clearly, today, there’s less separation between Matt Kemp and Alex Rios than once imagined. Both show power and speed. Perhaps Rios now gets slightly more credit for being able to make contact at a higher rate.
Kemp is a great young player and there’s no reason for any of his owners to sell him low right now. As for Rios, I think he deserves once again to be mentioned in the same breath. If an owner in your league thinks Rios is anything less than a Kemp quality talent, I’d say buy. The analogy between the two players is off hiatus.
Here are Bloomberg Sports’ projections for the rest of the season: