Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Earlier this season, I was planning to write an article comparing the fantasy values of Matt Kemp and Miguel Cabrera. It was one week into the season and both players came out of the gate scorching hot.
But after that first week, Kemp's bat stayed hot while Cabrera's went into hibernation. So I scrapped the idea.
At the time, I didn't think anybody in Major League Baseball could keep up with Kemp.
And how could you blame me? Kemp is on pace to finish the year with 65 home runs and 146 RBIs.
After watching Josh Hamilton jolt four homers into the night sky Tuesday at Camden Yards, I think it's time to amend that statement.
You could make a case for either outfielder (Hamilton or Kemp) being the best player in fantasy right now, but to me the difference between a great fantasy player and a once-in-a-generation fantasy player lies in six very important factors: a player's ability to hit for average, their power, their effectiveness on the base paths (meaning stolen bases), the lineup that player is hitting in, their durability and, of course, the hitter friendliness of the home ballpark a hitter plays in.
Using these six areas as our basis of comparison, let's see how these two fantasy behemoths match up:
Kemp and Hamilton are neck-and-neck in this statistic right now with Hamilton holding a slight .406-to-.404 edge, mostly thanks to his absurd 5-for-5 performance on Tuesday. Last season, Kemp won the battle for average (.324 to Hamilton's .298) but for their careers, Hamilton is batting 16 points higher than Kemp (.313 to .297). Hamilton's .359 mark in 2010 led the league and is significantly higher than Kemp's career best of .324. Even Hamilton's worst year (2009, when he hit just .268) wasn't quite as bad as Kemp's shockingly futile 2010 campaign (.249 in 161 games).
We'll give the nod to Hamilton in this category.
Kemp's 39 homers in 2011 dwarf Hamilton's career-best of 32 taters set back in 2008 (and reached again during the 2010 season). Since entering the major leagues, Kemp has left the ballpark 140 times, giving him a narrow eight home run advantage over Hamilton, who has swatted 132 major league homers.
But those numbers don't tell you the whole story. Because of the time Hamilton has missed due to injury, Kemp has compiled 2,966 career at-bats to Hamilton's 2,369. That's a difference of 597 at-bats, basically an entire season more than Hamilton.
A fairer way to judge who the better power hitter is by dividing the number of at-bats each player has had by the number of home runs they've recorded. By doing this, we find that Kemp hits a home run once every 21.2 at-bats while Hamilton's average is just 18 at-bats between homers.
Hamilton's .556 lifetime slugging percentage compared to Kemp's .507 career mark is also a solid indication that he's the more-accomplished power hitter.
Hamilton's home runs on average also travel quite a bit further than Kemp's do. We all remember the show Hamilton put on at the 2008 Home Run Derby when he connected on 28 home runs in the contest's opening round. This season, Hamilton's homers have averaged 420.6 feet in distance, a little over 20 feet farther than the average Kemp home run (400.2 feet).
If you're playing in a roto league, stealing a base is just as important to your fantasy team as hitting the ball out of the stadium. Kemp and Ryan Braun are probably the only two athletes in the sport capable of producing a 40- homer/40-steal season and, in fact, Kemp was one home run shy of accomplishing that feat last season.
Hamilton's stolen base numbers (38 in six major league seasons) are modest compared to Kemp's (146 career thefts), but this season the two are actually tied in steals with two apiece.
I'll give Kemp the edge based on his history, but the fact that he is just 2- for-5 on steal attempts through 30 games should make fantasy owners begin to wonder if Kemp's improvement in power has come at the expense of his stolen base stats.
This isn't even a contest. Andre Ethier is off to a nice start for the Los Angeles Dodgers (.277, 6 HRs, 30 RBIs), but he'd probably bat sixth or seventh instead of cleanup if he was on Texas. With Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli, Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, Michael Young and Elvis Andrus all in Texas' starting nine, the Rangers boast one of the most explosive offenses we've seen in decades.
Hamilton could drive in 100 runs with his eyes closed playing alongside this stacked group of hitters. Meanwhile, Kemp is about one Ethier cold streak away from being walked every time up. Advantage, Hamilton.
Balls just seem to fly out of Rangers Ballpark, don't they? There might not be a cushier place to hit than Texas' home stadium. Last season, home runs were hit in Texas at a 26 percent higher rate than the league average.
On the other hand, playing at Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine actually reduced home runs by 6 percent and was especially cruel to right-handed hitters (which Kemp is), who hit home runs at a pace 11 percent below the league's average.
Playing in Texas also helped hitters produce a 7 percent higher batting average while hitters at Dodger Stadium saw their averages fall by 3 percent.
This is one area in which Kemp dominates Hamilton. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2008, Kemp has only been absent for 11 of the Dodgers' 678 games.
Hamilton, on the other hand, sat out 41 times in the 2011 season alone. Kemp is also a solid three years younger than Hamilton.
Kemp should be able to hit like this for many years to come. As good as he is, you can't necessarily say that about Hamilton, who has only played more than 140 games once in his six-year career.
Kemp certainly has youth on his side and the speed that he provides definitely adds an interesting wrinkle to his game. But for this season, I'm crowning Hamilton the king of fantasy baseball.
Hamilton's power upside is greater than Kemp's and there isn't an easy out in that Texas lineup, so I think Hamilton will still get plenty of good pitches to hit as the season wears on.
If we're talking keeper league, I might lean toward Kemp, but really, just be thankful you have one of them to carry your team this season.
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