Sometimes there are people or things that just defy conventional wisdom. (1) How does Tim Lincecum throw the ball so hard when he is so small of frame? (2) How is Albert Pujols able to post virtually identical totals every year? (3) Why is figure skating such an undeniable draw despite that fact that none of us have ever even tried it? A fourth item, the reason for this piece, is the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp who doesn’t fit into a box but continues to produce regardless.
I was on record last season saying that I felt Kemp was a bit overrated in the fantasy game. Many had him pegged as a top-10 overall option, some even higher, though I was thinking more like top-25. Turns out I was completely wrong with this one, a fact that can easily be seen in his seventh overall Player Rater ranking for his 2009 efforts.
Why did I take a position counter to what others thought? There are a couple of obvious reasons (or so I thought at the time).
(1) Kemp strikes out a ton. His career K-rate is 24.8 percent, or almost exactly once every four at-bats. It’s pretty darn difficult to hit .300 when you do that. In fact, only four men in baseball posted a K-rate of at least 25 percent and still hit .300 in 2009: David Wright (26.2, .307), Justin Upton (26.0, .300), Shin-Soo Choo (25.9, .300) and Kevin Youkilis (25.5, .305). Kemp just missed out last season hitting .297 despite the fact that he actually cut his strikeout rate down to 22.9 percent.
(2) As a result of all the strikeouts his contact rate continues to languish in the dumps. In 2008 it was 75 percent, in 2009 it was 77 percent. The major league average is about 80 percent, so as you can plainly see Kemp isn’t even average in this measure.
(3) Of course, both #1 and #2 mean his BB/K mark is poor, terrible actually, at 0.30 for his career (the major league average is about 0.50). Last year he did improve to for the third straight year — all the way up to 0.37.
All of that work, which is below average, means that Kemp relies on a hit rate of rather large proportions to attain success, and that made me nervous. The major league average for BABIP is usually in the .290-.300 range. However, players set their own baselines. By that I mean that the .300 is merely an “average” with some hitters posting a .350 mark year after year (Ichiro) while others consistently come up short. Players set their own baselines, but there just aren’t many Ichiro Suzuki’s in the world, know what I mean? Therefore, when I saw Kemp with a .374 mark in Triple-A (2007), .417 as a rookie in 2007 with the Dodgers, and .363 in his first full season in 2008, I was obviously concerned. He did dip a bit last season, all the way down to .349 (wink, wink), but that mark was still 24th in baseball.
So it’s time for me to admit what others did a year earlier – the guy does what he does, and despite some rather concerning traits, Kemp is good enough to confound what some of the traditional measures say about him. He may not go about it in the way I would like to see him do it, and he might still yet have a rough patch or two because of his approach, but overall this guy is one superior ball player. There is little reason whatsoever to think he will not produce yet another 25/25, or better, type season for the Dodgers in 2010. Plus, you gotta love the guy for always telling the press that he and Rihanna are just friends despite all the pictures of him groping her all over the place (it was just reported that they moved in together as well, so I guess they can finally drop the charade). The guy not only has “game” on the field, he clearly has it off the field as well.
By Ray Flowers