2010 was an incredible frustrating season for Matt Kemp owners. Coming off of a .297/.352/.490 campaign with 26 home runs and 34 stolen bases, many had Kemp pegged as a first round breakout player. Instead, we sat through a season-long struggle at the plate and on the base-paths.
Kemp ended this season with a .249/.310/.450 line and 28 home runs, but only 19 stolen bases. Kemp attempted to steal as many bases as he actually stole in 2009, but was caught in a whooping 15 attempts making his stolen base success rate this season was a miserable 56 percent.
Then there was the final five games of Kemp’s season. In those five games, he hit .316 (6-for-19) with five long balls. Five home runs in five straight games. Not bad for a finale.
Where was this production all season and why did Kemp turn things on all of a sudden? The answer may lie deeper than the stats.
Seemingly from the first day Joe Torre took over as the Dodgers manager, Matt Kemp had been in the big blue dog house. Not that Kemp has ever been known for his hustle on the field, but Torre in particular has a reputation for treating players he didn’t like, well, differently. In a recent Yahoo! Sports podcast, former Yankee David Wells said of Torre, ”He wasn’t a fair manager. He didn’t treat people the same. He definitely didn’t treat me the same.” (Source: http://www.sportingnews.com/mlb/feed/2010-09/dodgers-skipper/story/david-wells-joe-torre-is-terriblemanager)
In 2009, Torre showed his distaste for Kemp early and often batting him seventh on opening day and using him in the seventh, eighth and ninth spots in 70 games that season. Kemp would only hit in the one through five spots in 61 games. Kemp managed to avoid the bottom of the order for the most part this season, but that didn’t keep him from riding the pine for days at a time while Torre attempted to teach him a lesson. Needless to say, Joe Torre didn’t get the most out of his most talented player.
That being said, problems with the manager should be no excuse for a major league baseball player. David Wells, who in that same Yahoo! Sports podcast called Torre a “terrible” manager managed to have some of his best seasons while pitching for Torre. The bottom line is that Kemp took himself out of the game mentally. That explains his regression in plate discipline. Kemp saw his strikeout rate increase from about 23 percent in 2009 to about 28 percent this season. He also managed a career worst 71.2 percent contact rate, which means he swung and missed only 1.7 percent less frequently than all-or-nothing slugger Carlos Pena. However, despite the regression in discipline and contact rate, Kemp still maintained a line drive rate of 20 percent with very similar ground ball and fly ball rates compared to 2009. Kemp still hit for power to all fields and actually had three more opposite field home runs than he did in 2009. In 2010, Kemp improved his ISO from .193 to .201 and continued his three-year progression in HR/FB rate going from 12.3 percent in 2008 to 14.4 percent in 2009 and 16.2 percent this season.
Power was not the problem, but the regression in stolen bases hurt his fantasy value big-time. Kemp had been criticized by Dodgers GM Ned Colletti early in the season for playing poor defense in center field. UZR backs that assertion up as Kemp ended with a -24.3 rating. Having had things work so easily in 2009 seemed to make Kemp take his talent for granted this season. Not only was his defense poor, but his 15 caught stealings only furthered the assumption of laziness.
There is only one person that can make or break Matt Kemp in 2011. That man is Matt Kemp himself. He has no more excuses now. Torre is gone and there looks to be a completely new coaching staff coming into next season. If Kemp wants to be great, he’ll be great. But that is what makes things extremely difficult for fantasy owners. We can look at his stats all we want, but there is greatness mixed in with the horrible, which makes his numbers almost impossible to use as accurate predictors.
This situation is not unlike the criticism of Carlos Gonzalez before this season. The numbers kept most from predicting a huge breakout, but the raw talent suggested that it was possible. Kemp has that type raw talent and the possibility for a huge 2011 season remains quite strong.
We’ll have to see where his ADP stands come February, but I have to believe that it won’t be the first two rounds. If his stock falls enough, it might just make Kemp a bargain player to target in 2011.