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Has Matt Kemp lost a step?

Matt Kemp showed up at Dodger Stadium in 2006 with a bang hitting seven home runs in his first fifteen games, and most fans salivated when thinking of his future. He has had some stutters along the way but for the most part he has fulfilled the destiny many of us expected of him. In 2009 he seemed to put every prodigious skill he had on display, and made Dodger fans think he they had their own franchise player. 

Headed into 2010 Matt Kemp was considered valuable for multiple reasons.

1. At just 25 his power was just being tapped

2. After two straight years of a stolen base % > 75% he was a potent weapon on the basepaths.

3. His ability to beat out infield hits with a infield hit % > 10% kept him from prolonged slumps

4.  He could play an adequate Center Field.

5.  His walk rate had increased every year

When you take all of that in whole, you have a center fielder, with power, with growing patience, with speed. You have a very valuable player, maybe even a franchise player.

By April 21st, 2010  Mat Kemp had hit seven towering home runs into the right center field bleachers. Everyone seemed to be a copy cat of the previous home run. He was driving the ball so effortlessly it looked like he would hit 40 home runs. Granted it was early but it was still impressive. The only thorn in Dodger fans was that Kemp was playing terrible defense but it was early so that was expected to get better as we got longer in to the season. At that point in the season Matt Kemp had a TSL of .331/.400/.750.

Since April 21st, Matt Kemp has struggled to the tune of .238/.294/.381 but what has troubled me more then the struggles was the one thing that Matt did that always stood out to me. His speed was not on display.

I posted this in the comments a few games ago but didn't have the research to back up the claim. In watching Matt Kemp in 2010 I was struck by four things.

  • His inability to beat out infield hits as he has done in the past
  • His inability to beat out DP ground balls as he has done in the past
  • His inability to run down balls in CF that I was used to him catching up to in the past
  • Being a step short on his stolen base attempts

All of those observations were subjective, so I decided to see if I could do anything to quantify what I was seeing.


Year Infield Ground Balls Infield Hits Infield Hit % BABIP SB Attempts Stolen Bases SB % DP
2006 41 3 7.32% 0.33 6 6 100.00% 1
2007 104 21 20.19% 0.411 15 10 66.67% 6
2008 205 21 10.24% 0.361 46 35 76.09% 11
2009 190 25 13.16% 0.345 42 34 80.95% 14
2010 96 6 6.25% 0.316 20 10 50.00% 9


If these trends continue, Matt will have the lowest infield hit % of his career, the lowest BABIP of his career, the lowest stolen base % of his career, and he will hit into the most double plays of his career.

Matt Kemp has had an historically high BABIP since he joined the Dodgers in 2006.  One item that is dragging down his BABIP in 2010 is the low 6.25% infield hit percentage for Matt.  That 20% infield rate is what drove his .411 BABIP in 2007. Since that high water mark in 2007, the infield rate has dropped but was still an impressive double digit number in 2008 and 2009.  As you can see in 2010 that rate is 1/2 of what it was in 2009. 

Does it mean anything, I''m not sure, but in combination, along with his inability to play an adequate CF, I'm left thinking that  Matt Kemp is not as fast as he was only one year ago.

How is that possible for a 25 year old man who does not appear to have put on any weight? He does not appear to be hiding any leg injuries.

David Young suggested that it might simply be a matter of jumps.  Maybe, but if his whole speed game is lagging because of bad jumps, what does that say about his mental preparation?

Let us say he has lost that step, how will that effect him going forward?

If Matt Kemp has lost a step, numbers 2 - 4 might be in jeopardy. He could easily make up the loss of the infield hits if he continues the trend of increasing his walk rate every year. Not so much on defense. Many excellent defensive center fielders have not had the speed of Matt Kemp, but those center fielders got excellent jumps, and took excellent routes. Matt Kemp has never done either of those particularly well. If he has indeed lost some speed, then he will either need to learn the play the position to make up for it, or switch to a corner spot. 

One effect this might have is that the Dodgers might once again be looking for a center fielder in 2011, not a left fielder.

For many fans Matt Kemp is their favorite player for good reason, hopefully this tough stretch is just a part of the growing pains for a young talent, and all these numbers are simply anomaly's.  By the end of the year Kemp might be beating out hits, stealing bases, and playing CF like he did last year, making this column moot. 

All Dodger fans hope so, because when Matt Kemp is running on all cylinders, the team is better for it.