Today the baseball world learned that the Los Angeles Dodgers locked up their premiere outfielder Matt Kemp. The Dodgers aren’t in the greatest situation at the moment, they currently are looking for a new owner but in the midst of all that they decided to lock up Kemp.
Matt Kemp is a really good baseball player but in the past he has lost motivation and didn’t perform to the best of his abilities. 2010 is a prime example. In 602 at-bats last season Kemp managed to post a .323 wOBA and only .4 WAR. There was no reason to suspect that he was declining because his .201 ISO was actually better than the .193 ISO that he posted in 2009. What was the reason for the down year then?
A few possible reasons are his K% and his BABIP. Throughout his career Kemp has posted a higher career BABIP then most. Generally the major league average for BABIP is between .290-.300. In 2010 Kemp posted a .295 BABIP. His career BABIP is .352. That’s a .057 differential which is pretty substantial. Kemp was almost guaranteed to regress towards the mean, meaning his 2011 BABIP should return to around his career average. That low BABIP could be due to Kemp facing some tough defenses, luck or general adjustment during the season. Naturally Kemp or any baseball player for that matter can only control where they hit it to a certain extent. In Kemp’s case he could have been hitting it right at the defenders. He also could have just had bad luck last season.
Kemp also struck out 2% more than average in 2010. Kemp does get his share of strikeouts but 25.4% is quite a bit. One final thing that Kemp wasn’t doing so well with in 2010 was seeing the fastball. Kemp was only worth 6.5 runs against the fastball so there was obviously some problems regarding it.
Fast forward to the 2011 season and Kemp was an all new player. He posted 8.7 WAR and a 4.19 wOBA showing that he was right where he left off in 2009. He continued his power surge, putting up a ridiculous .262 ISO further showing that a we don’t have to worry about a decline just yet. His .380 BABIP is not something that will be sustainable but it shows that whatever the problem Kemp had he solved it. That isn’t a number you should expect to see every season but you won’t see a sub .300 BABIP with Kemp unless something goes wrong. Kemp also fixed his strikeout problem, striking out 23.1% of the time which is right at his career norm. He also had no problem adjusting to the fastball as he was worth 37.9 runs against it this season.
One thing that Kemp will never be good at during the life of the contract is playing defense. In 2010 UZR had him at -25.7 runs and UZR/150 had him at -27.5 runs. He was slightly better in 2011, UZR had him at -4.6 runs and UZR/150 had him at -4.7 runs. Matt Kemp has never been known as a defender anyway.
One player that Matt Kemp compares similarly with his Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun. They both came up around the same time, Kemp in 2006 and Braun in 2007. Both have a ton of power, have speed and aren’t known for their defense. With this link you can see a WAR graph from fangraphs, both have had surprisingly similar starts to their careers. WAR Graph.
They also both got ridiculous contracts. Braun signed an 8 year, $45 million dollar deal in 2008 locking him up until 2015 then last year he signed a 5 year, $105 million dollar extension locking him up until 2020. To sum it all up Braun has a $150 million dollar deal, only $10 million dollars less then Kemp. Braun does have the more consistent track record but both are studs.
Looking ahead to next season xBABIP says Matt Kemp should post a BABIP around .345 which is just shy of his career norm. Matt Kemp may never post a WAR over 8 again but during the contract he should post a few 5-6 WAR seasons. The Dodgers may not have wanted to give Kemp $160 million dollars over 8 years which is a huge investment but it was one they had to do. If Kemp even comes close to what he did this past season then the Dodgers did a good job.