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Can Matt Kemp Win A Batting Title This Year?

Matt Kemp has been on fire of late.
Matt Kemp has been on fire of late.

Coming into the Dodgers' series in Pittsburgh, much of the talk was focused on Andrew McCutchen as a leading candidate for National League MVP, and rightfully so. But Matt Kemp has done his best to remind folks not to forget about the other center fielder in this series.

Kemp went 2-for-5 on Tuesday, extending his hitting streak to six games. He has five multi-hit games during that stretch, hitting .481 (13-for-27). Coupled with McCutchen's 0-for-4 on Tuesday, Kemp now has a higher batting average than his fellow All-Star center fielder.

Kemp 65 277 .3592 .426 .641 1.067 190
McCutchen 112 473 .3587 .419 .601 1.020 181

But if you check the leaderboards Kemp won't show up, because he doesn't have enough plate appearances to qualify, thanks to missing 51 games in two disabled list stints earlier this season.

To qualify for the leaderboard, a player needs 3.1 plate appearances per team game, which comes out to 502 PA for a 162-game season. That means Kemp would need 225 plate appearances in the final 45 games of the season, an average of exactly five per game.

National League Batting Average Leaders
Player Team PA H AB AVG
Kemp* LA 277 88 245 .3592
McCutchen Pit 473 151 421 .3587
Cabrera SF 501 159 459 .346
Votto Cin 370 102 298 .342
Ruiz* Phi 353 105 313 .335
Posey SF 435 124 375 .331
*not enough PA

Kemp has averaged 4.26 plate appearances per game this season, but he's up to 4.58 in 29 games since returning from the disabled list. He averaged 4.28 plate appearances per game last season. In other words, getting to 502 just might be impossible for Kemp, and that's before considering any off days he might have.

But there is a provision for players who fall short of qualifying but have worthy rate statistics. They are given theoretical hitless at-bats until they have enough plate appearances to qualify.

This happened in 1996, when Tony Gwynn hit .353 but had just 498 plate appearances. Adding four at-bats to his total left him with a theoretical .349 batting average. That was still ahead of Ellis Burks at .344, so Gwynn won the seventh of his eight career batting titles. Jim Eisenreich was even better that year at .361, but with only 373 plate appearances the extra 0-for-129 lopped a full 100 points off his batting average.

Let's assume for a moment that Matt Kemp plays the remaining 45 games of the season, and in those games he totals 202 plate appearances, an average of 4.49 per game. That would still leave Kemp 23 PA shy, but what does that mean?

Kemp currently has 245 at-bats and 277 plate appearances, so if he continues to amass at-bats at roughly 88.4% of his PA, then his 202 remaining PA will yield roughly 179 at-bats. If, for instance, Kemp ends up at .358 (152-for-424) on the season, adding a theoretical 0-for-23 would put him at .340.

If Kemp ends up with a few less PA, let's say hitting .358 (149-for-416) in 470 plate appearances, an 0-for-32 would leave Kemp at .333.

In other words, Kemp keeps to keep up his current blistering pace for the rest of year and will likely need some help from McCutchen and friends.

Beyond Baseball

Kemp was a guest on Monday on Intentional Talk on MLB Network and while he talked baseball, there was another sport on his mind as well. Kemp, who played basketball in high school and maintains he would beat part-owner Magic Johnson in a game of one-on-one, said he would fit nicely on the Olympic hoops squad.

"Probably I’d be on the Dream Team or something, the basketball team. I’d win gold with them, LeBron [James] and all them guys. I probably would have won a gold medal with them," Kemp said. "They could just add an extra guy on there and it’d be me…I’d be good on the Olympic basketball team."

It might not be the iconic Sports Illustrated cover with Magic Johnson welcoming Wayne Gretzky to the Kings in 1988, but one Los Angeles superstar welcomed another in Dwight Howard on Monday.

"They signed him, that’s a big acquisition for the Lakers. They’re definitely going to be a team to be watching this year in the NBA," Kemp said. "It’s gonna be tough to beat these guys with Steve Nash, Kobe [Bryant], and still, they got to keep Pau Gasol too, so there’s some giants out there. They’ve been doing a great job out there on the court. I’m excited."