Projecting Matt Kemp in 2012

With Matt Kemp’s $160 million extension in the news today, it’s time to take a closer look at what his 2012 will look like. After all, the near 40/40 man went sixth overall in last week’s RotoWire industry mock draft (which I will write up on Wednesday), so it’s highly relevant in more ways than one.

Thankfully, we roto-heads don’t have to worry about his defense. Or at least, most of us don’t. Some of us play in leagues with separated outfield positions, so his defense will be relevant. But, considering his value is highest to the team if he can remain a center fielder, let’s assume that he will be CF-eligible for the next three years or so.

His 2010 season, so prevalent in the analysis of whether or not the contract would be any good, is also very important for reasons of projection. But that season informed the projections for this season, so we can use his 2011 projections in tandem with this year’s numbers to produce a quick and easy projection. Let’s do that, category-by-category.

Batting Average
Kemp was projected for a .271 average coming off of his poor 2010. Weight that 1.6 times and add in his 2011 .324, divide by 2.6, and you get .291. That’s still pretty good. His .380 BABIP last year led all of baseball, but his .352 BABIP since 2000 leads all players with more than 2000 plate appearances since that time, too. So walk his BABIP back a little, and you get a batting average in the .290s maybe. His xBABIP for last year (.363) agrees that there’s going to be some walk-back, but not a ton.

But batting average is not all BABIP. You have to make contact. Kemp struck out in more than a quarter of his at-bats in 2010, and if he returns to that level from the 23.1% he put up in 2011, he’ll have a hard time even managing a .291 batting average. Given that his swinging strike rate was virtually identical in both years, where else can we look for clues about his strikeout rate next year?

Hard to say. His first-strike percentage was identical both years. He reached about the same amount both years. In 2011, he made more contact on pitches outside the zone, and swung a little more in general. The first is not something you want to bank upon, but the second could mean that aggression serves him well. We’ll take a pass on saying anything definitive based on his plate discipline peripherals and just say: since he struck out almost exactly on his career rate last year, he can do that again next year.

Home Runs
Kemp was projected for 23 home runs this year, and he hit 39. That means our quick projection for this year has him at 29 home runs. Is there a bankable change in his skillset that should make us bump that number up a few?

Maybe. His home runs per fly ball have gone up every year he’s been in the league. It’s been a steady increase from 11.8% in 2007 to 21.4% last year. And his fly ball percentage has also followed the sam gradual increase, from 32% in 2008 to 40.5% last year. That declining GB/FB ratio (from 1.22 in 2007 to 0.90 in 2011) has served his power well. His ISO has also made a steady progression forward.

Since it was all so gradual and organic-seeming, let’s bump his homer projection up a point or two.

Stolen Bases
ZiPs had Kemp stealing 25 this year, and he pilfered 40 bags in the real world. Put them in the calculator and you get 31 stolen bases for 2012.

The 27-year-old only stole 19 bags in 2010, but he managed to get his speed score back to his career levels in 2011 (6.2 speed score, 5.0 is average, 6.5 career). Considering his career success rate (74%) and last year’s success rate (78%), he looks like he can steal another 30 bags next year.

His walk rate is relevant here, though. Kemp’s career walk rate (7.9%) is outstripped by his walk rate last year (10.7%). He was projected to walk at about that career rate, and our easy projection would put him at 9% next year. That’s at least enough to keep him at the top of the lineup and on base enough to steal 30 bags, so we’re still good here.

Runs and RBI
Mostly, Kemp should be fine here, but there are caveats.

For one, if the walk rate comes back down, the runs will take a hit. Our approach projects him for 98 runs in 2012, but a couple fewer walks, and a little step back in the Dodger lineup around him, and Kemp may settle in to the low-90s territory in which it used to live.

As for his gaudy 2011 RBI total (126), speculation is almost all we have. Not only do we need to decide if we think the Dodgers offense can be better, but we also need to speculate on his lineup position. Okay, the second is easier — Kemp will bat third or fourth next season because those are the only spots in the lineup in which he batted last year. So his 2011 numbers are very relevant. But if we use our easy projections, we get 103 RBI. Good but not elite.

If you think he’ll better that number, you’re guessing, perhaps, that the Dodgers offense will improve. They were literally in the middle of the pack in 2011 (8th in runs scored), but their wRC+ (94) does not suggest they were unlucky. But perhaps some improvement by Dee Gordon and a bounceback by Andre Ethier can provide the baserunners that Kemp will need to approach his gaudy 2011 RBI totals.

Put it all together and you get .291 with 30 home runs, 31 stolen bases, 90 runs and 103 RBI. That’s still a first-rounder even with all the weight on 2010. If you’re worried about his strikeout rate or the lineup around him, maybe you let him slip to the middle of the first round as he did last week, but don’t let him slip any further.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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I don’t know if it has any impact on your SB analysis but any bump in his BB rate last year is directly correlated to his career high IBB (24 vs. previous career high of 6). Not sure if you can project similar IBBs going forward.


I’ve been meaning to calculate his BB% without the IBB for awhile now, as I suspected he wasn’t really drawing allot more walks other than those.


Of course you have to expect he will continue to draw intenional walks at a high rate as long as the rest of his offense maintains….barring James Loney finally hitting for power behind him.

Nick V.
Nick V.

A guy with as consistently high a BABIP as Kemp is probably not as adversely affected by a drop in IBBs. And I don’t know if there’s any reason to think he’ll be intentionally walked less than he was last year going forward.