2010 Player Profile: Matt Kemp - STAR

Matt Kemp: five tool player.  When people use the term "five-tool player", they mean that the player can hit for average, hit for power, run, catch, and throw.  Each word in that first sentence links to a video clip, illustrating each of the five tools possessed by Los Angeles Dodgers centerfielder Matt Kemp.

By any standard, Matt Kemp had a breakout year in 2009 in only his second full year in the major leagues at the age of 24, posting a "triple-slash" line of .297 / .352 /. 490, an .842 OPS (125 OPS+), along with 26 home runs, that all so impressed the managers and coaches of the National League that they awarded him the Silver Slugger for being one of the three best offensive outfielders in the Senior Circuit.  Because the voters are allowed to consider their "general impressions of a player's overall offensive value", Kemp's 34 stolen bases at an 81% success rate could also have come into consideration.

It wasn't only at the plate that Kemp came of age.  After watching the Dodgers sign big-money, free-agent centerfielders in consecutive off-seasons, Kemp entered 2009 knowing that the full-time job was his and his alone after taking over the position in 2008 from the offensively woeful Andruw Jones, and he flashed his defensive prowess enough - including catches like this one - for the National League managers and coaches also to vote for him as one of the three Gold Glove outfielders in the loop.  (All the NL Gold Glove winners were primarily CFs, and fangraphs.com UZR rating had Kemp as the fifth best NL CF, still a fine finish.)

Centerfielder, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove: how rare is this combination?  So rare, that the last Dodger in this realm was Hall-of-Famer Duke Snider, one of the three fine-fielding, power-hitting centerfielders that graced the outfields of New York City in the 1950s, along with Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle.  (Willie Davis comes close. In 1969 he posted a 134 OPS+ and was a couple years away from winning his first Gold Glove.  The fielding awards for NL OFs were monopolized for most of the 1960s by Mays, Roberto Clemente, and Curt Flood.)  Only ten times in the "Integration Era" (1947 - present) has a Dodger CF exceeded Kemp's 2009 OPS+ of 125, with Snider holding seven of those marks, and only Snider's 1950 season at age 23 was performed at a younger age than Kemp.

Kemp was drafted in the sixth round of the 2003 draft, more as a raw talent than as a ballplayer, as he was a latecomer to baseball, having been a successful high school basketball player.  He showed some flashes of his promise in 2004, with 17 homers and a .499 slugging percentage in low-A, Sally League ball, then established himself as a Dodger power prospect to watch after bombing 27 homers and hitting .304 / .349 / .569, in high-A Vero Beach in 2005.  Baseball America rated Kemp as the 96th best prospect following the season.


Matt Kemp connects for a home run against Chris Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals in Game One of the 2009 National League Division Series. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

2006 must have been a whirlwind for the 21-year old Kemp as he played at three levels, AA, AAA and the major leagues, pressed into a rushed promotion when the Dodgers ran short of healthy outfielders on their roster.  Kemp crushed the baseball at every level, at least at first.  After 15 major-league games, he had already bashed seven homers, scored 13 runs, driven in 16, stolen three bases without being caught, and had a heady (and unsustainable) batting line of .378 / .420 / .867.  Inevitably he slumped after that, but he had already captured the imagination of many, and had, in some circles, already been christened "The Bison".

During the second major league game of Kemp's career, on May 29, 2006, he stole second base in the fourth inning, after which Atlanta Braves television announcer and ex-Dodger Don Sutton said Kemp looked "like a big buffalo running around the bases." The observation was appropriate due to Kemp's imposing size - at 6' 2" and 230 pounds, Kemp would be a fairly imposing strong safety on a football team - and surprisingly fast footspeed. Commenters on the popular blog Dodger Thoughts modified the "buffalo" reference to the more correct "bison" and a nickname was born.  (Here's a clip of The Bison running out a triple while wearing Jackie Robinson's #42, with a nice call by Vin Scully.  Big and fast indeed.)

Kemp made the 2007 Opening Day roster for the Dodgers, but in the team's seventh game of the season, he injured his shoulder running into the Dodger Stadium right-field wall.  Once healed, the Dodgers optioned him to AAA, where he hit the ball at a .329 / .374 / .540 clip until the Dodgers recalled him in early June.  He continued his hot hitting and finished the 2007 National League season hitting .342 / .373 / .521 (127 OPS+) in about a half-season's worth of plate appearances.

2010 Expectations

Optimism abounds with regard to the 25-year old Kemp.  He fell only four home runs short of being the Dodgers first 30 HR, 30 stolen base player since Raul Mondesi did it in 1997 at the age of 26.  He appears to be continuing to improve his game at the major league level.  Browsing his statistics at baseball-reference.com or fangraphs.com, one finds that his strikeout percentage is decreasing from season to season, his walk percentage is increasing, and the percentage of pitches outside the strike zone that he swings at is also decreasing.  Couple that with an astounding career BABIP of .361 in 1658 career ABs, and one can't help but think that maybe the sky's the limit.

Year Projection Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ wOBA
2006 21 52 166 154 30 39 7 1 7 23 6 0 9 53 .253 .289 .448 .737 85 .317
2007 22 98 311 292 47 100 12 5 10 42 10 5 16 66 .342 .373 .521 .894 127 .383
2008 23 155 657 606 93 176 38 5 18 76 35 11 46 153 .290 .340 .459 .799 110 .349
2009 24 159 667 606 97 180 25 7 26 101 34 8 52 139 .297 .352 .490 .842 125 .367
2010 Bill James 25 620 573 99 178 32 6 23 91 32 10 47 122 .311 .365 .508 .873 .381
2010 CHONE 25 579 535 90 163 33 6 20 82 27 8 41 117 .305 .358 .501 .859 .376
2010 Marcel 25 599 546 86 164 28 6 20 81 28 8 46 126 .300 .355 .484 .838 .365
2010 HQ 25 600 97 179 31 6 29 106 32 46 .299 .350 .513 .863

(AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)

What are your community projections for "The Bison", Matt Kemp?

My guess is .311 / .363 / .512 in 685 PA.

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