Matt Kemp’s 2010

Even after last night’s 2-for-6 performance against the Arizona Diamondbacks, which included an opposite field homer hit off Rodrigo Lopez, Matt Kemp is falling short of expectations. His defensive struggles have been well documented, but he’s also having a mild season at the plate. Prior to 2010, ZiPS projected Kemp to bat .300/.354/.501 and post a .374 wOBA. CHONE predicted a .305/.358/.501 line and a .376 wOBA. Instead, L.A.’s center fielder holds a .265/.324/.473 triple-slash, with a .337 wOBA. Why has Kemp’s lumber been lacking?

Despite the downturn in his slash stats, there are some positives to be found. Before the season began, I highlighted Kemp’s offensive maturation. Kemp gradually displayed better plate discipline, upping his walk rate each season from 2007-2009. That trend has continued, as he’s walking 8.2% of the time in 2010. The 25-year-old isn’t chasing pitches out of the zone near as much as he used to:

In addition to showing better patience, Kemp is hitting for plenty of power — his ISO is a career-best .208, and his 16.5% home run per fly ball rate is his highest mark since his first brief stint in the majors back in 2006.

So, Kemp’s secondary skills are better than ever. Why, then, is his line lethargic? He is punching out 28.4% of the time, his highest figure since ’06. Kemp’s not making as much contact on in-zone pitches this season — his Z-Contact rate is 77.8%. It’s true that Kemp’s in-zone contact rate has always been below the 88% big league average, but his 2010 rate comes in below even his 81.8% career average.

Also, Kemp’s BABIP is .321 this year. For reference, his career BABIP is .355, and CHONE (.359 pre-season BABIP projection) and ZiPS (.361) thought he’d post a BABIP around that mark. Kemp’s rate of hits on balls put in play has varied wildly over the course of his career, while his underlying skill set hasn’t changed much. Here are his BABIP figures from 2006-2010, compared to his expected BABIP totals. xBABIP is based on a hitter’s rate of home runs, K’s, stolen bases, line drives, fly balls, pop ups and ground balls.

Kemp’s actual BABIP is 13 points lower than his xBABIP this season. It’s worth noting again that the simple xBABIP tool linked to above uses stolen bases as a measure of a player’s speed. Speed has a positive correlation with BABIP. That could work against Kemp this season — after being an adept base thief in 2008 and 2009, his SB performance has been terrible so far.

The two previous seasons, Kemp was an asset to fantasy owners in the stolen base department. In 2008, Kemp swiped 35 bases and got caught stealing 11 times, a 76.1% success rate. He then stole 34 bases in 42 tries last year (81% success rate). In 2010, he has 10 steals and 10 CS apiece.

Baseball Prospectus’ base running stats tell the story. Here are Kemp’s Equivalent Stolen Base Run totals over the years, showing how many runs he has added on SB attempts compared to the average player. I also included his overall Equivalent Base Running Runs figure — in addition to SB tries, this all-encompassing number includes base running advances on ground and fly ball outs, hits and other advancements on things such as passed balls and wild pitches. Kemp has cost the Dodgers on steals this year, while faring quite well in the other facets of base running:

It’s highly unlikely that Kemp has suddenly become a lousy base stealer. But the SB downturn, coupled with his defensive issues, is peculiar.

Matt Kemp has frustrated plenty of people this season, but there are plenty of reasons to expect improvement during the second half. He’s abstaining from junk pitches thrown out of the zone and displaying excellent power. His BABIP will likely climb, too. If he can put the bat on the ball more often on in-zone pitches and start sealing bases like he did in ’08 and ’09, Kemp should resume being a fantasy stalwart.

A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on and, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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Weston Taylor
13 years ago

Dave, coming from an avid Dodger fan that religiously watches the Dodgers every single night, I feel like I can add a little bit of information to your post. Granted, I’m not a scout or anything, but the 2010 version of Matt Kemp is not the 2009 version of Matt Kemp, it’s actually not even close.

You’ve highlighted all of the statistics this year, but the one thing that the statistics don’t reveal is Kemp’s amount of focus on the game. Most of the base running issues and defensive lapses (in my opinion) have come from a severe lack of focus; I blame Rihanna.

A couple occasions off the top of my head that exemplifies the lack of focus:

1) I don’t remember who they were playing, but there was a fly ball about 10 feet left of Left-Center field. Manny Ramirez clearly had a beat on it, but there was Kemp, running in from center field to not only call Manny off, but also miss the catch. This is more an example of him pressing, but still, he should have let the left fielder make the catch.

2) Again, a fly ball was hit (I want to say against Arizona) to right-center field this time, and once again, Kemp was coming over and was calling off Andre Ethier. Well, at the last second Kemp decides to stop running and look at Ethier. This resulted in the ball dropping between the two outfielders.

3) I cannot count the amount of times he has also missed routine (for a player of his caliber and judging by what we saw last year) fly balls. He constantly over-runs the ball, or sometimes the ball will just go under his glove.

On the basepaths:

1) Against Cincinnati, he was thrown out because he decided to stop running midway through the steal and watch the pitch instead.

2) Another time he was thrown out because he slid way over the bag.

3) In their 2-1 loss to the Angels, he got picked off of second base in the top of the ninth inning by Brian Fuentes, who even had time to stumble before he threw back to second to get Kemp! This one, combined with Russell Martin’s bonehead play at second to end the game, ultimately cost the Dodgers the game.

4) On June 19th against the Red Sox, he was thrown out by Victor Martinez and Tim Wakefield, the same duo that allowed NINE stolen bases in one game, not to mention two by speedburner Vladimir Guerrero!

At the plate it seems as though he’s pressing to get the ball to right field even on inside pitches. His front foot kind of opens up, his hips start coming open,which sounds like he’s trying to pull the ball, but the bat angle and position is that of someone who is trying to slice the ball towards the right field line. I could be wrong about that, but I’m just going with what my eyes tell me.

As a Dodger fan, I hope you’re right about Kemp returning to his 2009 form; our playoff hopes depend on it.

Weston Taylor
13 years ago
Reply to  Weston Taylor

I also forgot to mention the blank stare that’s on his face after every miscue that he creates. I’ve never seen him show frustration or any kind of emotion after a stupid play, it’s always the same blank stare. I’m pretty sure he’s thinking about Rihanna and what she’s wearing at that moment instead of the situation in the ball game.

13 years ago
Reply to  Weston Taylor

You would feel better if he threw a hissy fit after every mistake?

Scouts actually watch to see how players handle failure.

Hint: throwing a hissy fit isn’t thought of as a positive trait.

13 years ago
Reply to  Weston Taylor

“I hide my emotions. If something is bothering me, I’m not going to let [the media] or anybody see that I’m mad. That is just how I have always been. I get mad all the time. I’m just not one of those show-emotions type of guys. But I do care, and what is going on right now, I feel like if I had played better, we definitely would have more ground on where we’re at right now. And we’re still in it, still close. But I think we’d be an even better team if I was hitting the way I’m capable of hitting.”

– Matt Kemp

And surely I’m not the only one who reads people blaming Rihanna for Matt Kemp’s in-game mistakes and has to chuckle. Do you sit at your job all day daydreaming about your girlfriend to the point where you can’t function. “Sorry, boss, I was going to follow up with that customer, but I just couldn’t bring myself to be productive and focused. It’s my girlfriend’s fault, you see.” Get a clue.

13 years ago
Reply to  Weston Taylor

Hmm, perhaps he deserves a stint on the DL with a case of Celebrity Girlfriend Groinpull?

13 years ago
Reply to  Weston Taylor

I stopped reading this when you blamed Rhianna. Honestly.

Weston Taylor
13 years ago
Reply to  ChadMOKM

Well, maybe you haven’t had the fortune of talking to the same people I have. So believe what you will, I know what I’ve been told.