Matt Kemp

My enduring memory of Matt Kemp is this game, May 29, 2006. I was in the stands, I had never heard of him before, and it was literally just his second game in the majors, and he absolutely destroyed us: batting fifth and playing left field, he went 2-for-3 with a walk, a stolen base, two singles, a sacrifice fly, two RBI, and three runs. We could not get that guy out. He then proceeded to become one of the better players in the league. From 2007 to 2011, he was a fantasy monster, averaging 24 homers and 28 stolen bases a year, with a .296/.353/.499 that was especially nice when you remembered that he played half his games in Chavez Ravine.

He was 26 years old, and it was all downhill from there.

In 2012, 2013, and 2014, Kemp made six separate visits to the disabled list, three of those credited to hamstring troubles. He started stealing fewer bases, hitting fewer triples, and taking the extra base less often. XBT%, or extra bases taken percentage, is a stat on baseball-reference that tracks the percentage of times a runner takes more than one base on a single or more than two bases on a double, whenever possible. In other words, the opposite of station-to-station running. From 2006 to 2011, Kemp’s XBT% was 54%; from 2012 to 2016, it’s 44%.

Or, to put it another way, Fangraphs tracks a stat called UBR, “Ultimate Base Running,” a stat created by Mitchel Lichtman to approximate UZR for baserunning. From 2006 to 2011, Kemp had an 11.4 UBR. From 2012 to 2016, it is 0.2. The wheels have, quite literally, fallen off.

Never a terrific fielder and badly out of place in center field, where he won two inexplicable Gold Gloves in 2009 and 2011, the much slower Bison is basically a statue with a decent arm. His walk rate, still quite decent at 8.7% as recently as 2014, has fallen off a cliff in San Diego, to 6.0% last year and now just 3.9% in 2016. That, combined with the fact that his BABIP this year is nearly 60 points lower than his career mark of .341, accounts for why his OBP is a putrid .284, and why a player with 23 homers in 101 games is still barely better than replacement-level.

Of course, he’s probably pressing: he was literally signed to try to help the Padres make an improbable playoff run last year, and when that plan predictably went pear-shaped, it can’t have been easy on him. No one likes to be the goat of a strategy, particularly not someone who just a couple of years earlier was a legitimate Hollywood star.

He used to date Rihanna, but now he hardly ever looks good when he winds up pon de replay.

That said, as badly as his skills have eroded, he has one skill left: right-handed power. His career ISO is over .200. Since Chipper Jones retired, the only right-handed Braves hitters to have an ISO over .200 in a full season were Evan Gattis and Justin Upton in both 2013 and 2014. As a team, the 2016 Braves have 66 homers, 22 homers fewer than the 29th-place Marlins; Kemp has 23 homers in 101 games this year, more than a third of his new team’s total. He can’t really run, and he can’t really field, and he can’t really get on base, but he sure can poke it.

So, that’s good. Now, here’s what’s bad: Matt Kemp is signed through 2019. He is owed $21.5 million a year for the next three years, a total of $64.5 million. The Padres are sending the Braves $10.5 million, so Kemp’s contract for the next three years is $54 million, basically $18 million per year. The Braves are rationalizing the deal by saying that they still owed Hector Olivera $28.5 million, so they’re only paying Kemp $25.5 million more than they were on the hook to pay Olivera. Hence, the Braves are spinning this as a three-year contract for Matt Kemp worth $8.5 million per year.

Now… if Kemp can be a 1.5 win player, by recovering some of his walks and retaining all of his current power, that might be worth the money that they’re paying him this year. But the 2017, 2018, and 2019 seasons are worrisome, not just because any time that Kemp, Ender Inciarte, and Nick Markakis are healthy, they will block Mallex Smith from a spot in the lineup. And Kemp, a month from his 32nd birthday, isn’t getting any younger. It is almost a certainty that either or both of Kemp and Markakis will be jettisoned as salary dumps at some point in the next 18 months, and I only worry that the Braves will have to pay prospects to get someone to take them off their hands.

Still, it will be nice to have someone who can hit 30 homers. And it’s nice that he’s a Braves fan. But he’s an awfully expensive pinch-hitter.

74 thoughts on “Matt Kemp”

  1. I came to post the news about how the Braves have decided to move weekday start times to 7:30 next year, solving absolutely everything, but Z in Tempe beat me to it in the last thread.

    I will note that this solves everything until the “WON’T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!?!?!?!” crowd gets fired up again, which was the main reason the start times got changed to 7 p.m. in the first place, as I recall, so I give that a year tops.

  2. From previous thread:

    There are a lot of not-overly-toolsy righty starting pitchers in the system, akin to Kris Medlen. In AA or higher, I count 9. Why can’t one be a #3 starter and one be a #4 starter? It would seem like the odds are in our favor that someone like Rob Whalen could become an average-to-above-average starter.

    But Kolby Allard can freaking pitch.

  3. I think it is very likely that the Braves dump Markakis this offseason and play Kemp, Inciarte, and Smith (with D. Peterson in the wings).

  4. It would only make sense to dump Markakis.

    It still doesn’t make sense to have Inciarte and Mallex in the same outfield. Ender may very well have been a Chase Field creation, and what we’re seeing is what you get. I wish we could keep him around as a 4th outfielder. So much value there.

  5. If Markakis can keep hitting like he has been for the last 6 weeks or so, he will be easy to trade.

    Since June 19th: .315/.377/.478 (.856)

  6. @5
    Allard is IMO our most legitimate winning team #1/2 starter. He’s really the only one that I really believe in. I don’t have enough info on the newest crop.

    And why would Kemp be a PH?

  7. This is a good write-up on Kemp, by the way. So it is confirmed that the $10.5 mil from the Padres was just the money the Dodgers were paying for Kemp’s contract? I guess that was the tipping point for me–I thought getting another $10 mil (knocking it down to $15 mil per) would make this a positive trade for us, but without that extra scratch, it’s probably too much money for a one-dimensional player. My hope is still that he can go on a little honeymoon run here and give himself some trade value.

  8. Maybe I should give up hope, but I’m in the keep Kemp camp. I think he should be able to OPS around .800 for us and provide power and protection for Freeman. Unfortunately he is no longer an elite hitter, but if we can find an elite hitter next year, most likely via free agency, I think our hitting will at least be league average. Everything depends on our pitching coming around.

    As much as I hate to admit it, I think we will be one to two starting pitchers away from a playoff contending team next year. I just don’t see how Teheran and any four of the next guys (Folty, Newcomb, Jenkins, Wisler, Blair, Allard, Whalen, and Ellis) gives us a top tier rotation.

  9. @9 Newcomb, Sims and Fried have all shown that the possess the pure stuff to be #1 or #2 starters; Newk/Sims have accrued enough experience to get some MLB time in 2017. Gant, Wisler, Blair, Ellis, Povse and Whalen look more like mid-rotation guys but could easily turn into more. Beyond that, there’s a wealth of 2015 and 2016 draft pitchers who look excellent – check out 2015 7th rounder Patrick Weigel, for instance.

  10. We are on pace to score 555 runs. The median team in the NL, the Dodgers, is on pace to score 714 runs. That’s a gaping difference, right at 1 run per game. Kemp with a nice bounce-back may get us 25 more runs than our pastiche of LF’ers have. You’ve still got to come up with well over 100 extra runs to be average.

  11. But corner OF defense doesn’t matter, so a 0 WAR Kemp who hits 30 HR is WAY better than a 3 WAR Ender Inciarte who hits 1 HR.

  12. @19 I know your post was tongue in cheek, but that’s actually how I feel about it.

    Also, would some of you really play Mallex Smith at .260/6HR/40 RBI over someone hitting .247/30 HR/80 RBI, in theory? I just cannot see that. Ever.

  13. Braves seem to have a mixed identity. We don’t want an all glove SS nor an all bat LF’r.

    There was still no real reason as to why we couldn’t keep Gattis at catcher.

  14. That article is interesting but a little odd. If he was so high on the Yankees before some of their recent deals, why were they not ranked in the top 10 before the season? I can see the Braves falling a little based on the performance of Newcomb and a few more of their pitchers, but with picking up Maitan and Anderson and others, I don’t understand a fall from 2nd to 9th.

  15. I think moving organizations can lead to people over-valuing prospects. Hearing people talk them up makes them come to mind more quickly when making a list.

    Albies has dropped considerably despite really killing it, especially for someone his age.

  16. It’s got to be difficult to breathe when you’re making your big league debut. I’d either puke, pass out or lose bowel control.

    Z, I was going to comment about Ozzie Albies earlier. He’s a teenager for Hank Aaron’s sake, and he’s beating up the big boys. Those kids rated ahead of him must have the pictures.

  17. @29

    You’ve gotta feel very discouraged if you really follow that list. The Braves torpedoed the 2015 and 2016 seasons largely because any discretionary payroll went towards building up money for picks and international monies. To go from 2nd to 9th within that period would be pretty demoralizing, but I’m not sure he’s right on there. More likely, he’s weighing heavily the quantity of top 100 prospects in each system, especially since his list is largely based on how many top 100’s the team has. We’ve chosen to have more depth than top weight, so of course we’re not going to do well based on that criteria.

    That’s why it’s nice seeing a guy like Whalen make it to the bigs so quickly. Our strategy is based on the 20th through 30th prospects making it to the bigs with a similar amount of frequency as the top 10.

  18. Sadly, I do see some Ryan Weber, but Weber never had these numbers as a starter in the minors. Weber has been a swingman since 2012. Scouts like Rob Whalen a lot more. And he was hitting 91 to start the game.

  19. Why doesn’t Recker play more? Is he the batter equivalent of a LOOGY?

    Erick is Aygood, eh?

    Gordon Beckham, not so much.

  20. Whalen didn’t succeed in the minors throwing the ball into the batter’s box. I expect to see better results as he settles down

  21. The 2016 team: the hardest ball the player can physically hit lands off the wall. Too slow to score on a single. Can’t get him home from third with no outs because your pitcher isn’t experienced enough to suicide squeeze, then the next two hitters pop up on the first pitch.

    Fin.

  22. Matt Kemp does not look like an athlete. He looks like this dude on my softball team.

    Let’s see if he really believes what he wrote.

  23. Swing and a miss seems to have been located. Good comeback, young man. Make him a winner, offense.

  24. @49, I was about to say if Kemp is really motivated to make a difference for Altanta, he needs to hire a trainer and drop 30 lb of fat.

  25. Yeah, Kemp’s hunched over the plate stance doesn’t seem like one that will age well while packing on the pounds. I’m fine with giving him the offseason to get back into shape, but he doesn’t look athletic right now.

  26. @51 I was about to say it’s hard to lose weight when your arthritis keeps you from doing cardio.

  27. Coop, if we were paying you $18 million to touch your toes, I might be riding you to get in the gym, too.

  28. Hey, a win…

    Went to Subway Series Game #3 in The Bronx tonight. Really fun environment, despite the relatively low stakes.

    From the Yankee fans’ perspective, it kinda reminded me of a UGA/Tech game, where Tech was kinda good & the Dogs had a disappointing campaign, maybe losing to Auburn the previous week — but they still slapped the Humble Bumbles around & didn’t think twice about it. (Yanks won 9-5.)

    It wasn’t a game that should’ve been a big deal, let’s say, but they won it anyway. The Tech/Mets fans take it hard, of course, but the UGA/Yanks fans treat it like a natural order of business. Arrogant, sure, but honestly something where its only value was to shut up the little brother from yapping too much.

    And, believe me, whenever the Mets are even one game better than the Yankees at any point in the season, you’ll hear about it.

    Still, 50,000 people in a ballpark going back & forth is kinda fun, even if you don’t really care who wins.

  29. Arquimedes Caminero
    empty tub, displacement zero
    water added, yes, Eureka!
    arquitecturally a keeper.

  30. Small sample size, but Recker is hitting .357 with a .441 OBP. He needs to play more, especially over Toastzinski.

  31. You know if we had the hitters that we do now combined with the pitchers we had to start the year, I think we could be close to a .500 team. Whatever you think about Kemp, he is a huge improvement over anyone we’ve had in left. Peterson, Inciarte, and Garcia are looking like real hitters. Recker is off to a good start and Aybar and Markakis are looking pretty good at the plate. Of course, a rotation at this point that has combined to start fewer games than AJ Pierzynski stolen bases will probably still make for a long second half.

  32. @68,

    Braves OPS and MLB rank by month

    April: .590 (30)
    May: .627 (30)
    June: .700 (28)
    July: .717 (18)
    August: .962 (14)

    We have been MLB average and above the NL average in offense since July 1st, and that’s without Kemp. Hoo boy, that April…

  33. #65
    Depends on the fan, really, and the level of perspective.

    Fans who remember the crazy ’80s & the Stump Merrill Era understand that the team got good by not trading away promising minor-leaguers like Bernie Williams & Andy Pettitte (as Dumb King George nearly did more than once) for “proven veterans.” Gotta take your lumps & all that. They know this team got old. A lotta folks were surprised the team squeezed out a playoff berth last year.

    But those who grew up riding the Jeter-Era gravy train are certainly being tested. Even though that period had top system talent (Jeter, Rivera, Bernie, Posada, Cano), the club still went shopping at the boutique (Mussina, Giambi, Sheffield) or it made “good trades” that were really salary dumps (Tino Martinez, Cecil Fielder).

    You didn’t have to be a genius to be Yankee GM, because you could fail spectacularly with a signing & still win (a couple of the Japanese pitchers), you just needed thick skin.

    Overall, they don’t love it, but they get it. The rules have changed. It’s right way to go.

    What’s a little bit interesting to see is how the tide seemed to be turning between the Mets & Yanks. The Mets seemed primed to take over the town, but this year’s team has been impacted by injuries & are 3 games over .500 (just like they were last year).

    Last year, the cavalry showed up after the trade deadline. This year? Kinda hard to imagine Jay Bruce will do for the club what Cespedes did in ’15. It’s a distinct possibility that Citi Field will be dark all October.

  34. @63 – took my son to Yankee Stadium last night, youre right it was a fun game to be at.
    Also, was able to get on the field for BP through a work connection…refreshing to see how excited a 7 yr old boy gets when he’s face to face with his heros for the first time.

  35. Chipper was on mlb xm radio this morning and ruined my misconception of him. I always have thought of Mr. Jones as a stereotypical redneck good old boy without a thought in his head. He came across as a well-reasoned, perceptive and insightful visionary with a comprehensive grasp of the Braves minor league system and provided insights I thought beyond him.

    Who’s the dumbass now, coop?

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