Matt Kemp came into camp in spring training after dropping weight and started out hot, looking rejuvenated in the first two months of the season.
That’s exactly what happened with the Braves in 2017. After being called out of shape by then-Braves general manager John Coppolella in the offseason, Kemp showed up to Braves camp 15 pounds lighter.
“When I saw him, I said, ‘You look like you did when you played center field for the Dodgers,’” Braves manager Brian Snitker said last spring, per MLB.com. “He’s in great shape.”
Fast forward to this spring when Kemp, after getting unespectedly traded to his original team, showed up to Dodgers camp 40 pounds lighter.
“He came into camp in amazing shape,” manager Dave Roberts said in February. “This is the Matt Kemp I remember when he was having an MVP-type year with the Dodgers.”
Kemp through May 31 last season with Atlanta was hitting .345/.381/.608 with 10 home runs and 15 doubles in 181 plate appearances.
Kemp so far this season with the Dodgers is hitting .338/.370/.536 with six home runs and 12 doubles in 162 plate appearances.
In 2017, Kemp hit just .232/.277/.371 over the final four months, a period marred by injuries including a 19-game stint on the disabled list with a hamstring injury. Is there reason for concern that history will repeat itself? Sure, which is a big reason why the Dodgers tried to trade Kemp and his contract in the offseason.
But for now Kemp is healthy and producing, which is really all the Dodgers could have hoped for at this point.
“He’s been fantastic,” Roberts said Friday night, per Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. “Every at-bat, he’s just grinding. Really, a tough out and he’s getting big hits for us, taking the walk when he needs to. Defensively, he’s considerably better than the past few years. Just a staple in the middle of the order is what he’s been for us.”
Kemp has been phenomenal with runners in scoring position, 17-for-35 (.486) with three home runs, two doubles and two walks. That included his three-run home run on Friday, the Dodgers’ first since April 16, when he hit one. Kemp’s reaction to that fact was funny.
Matt Kemp when told #Dodgers had gone over a month between 3run HRs: " “Oh, really? Wow. That’s not good. Maybe we need to hit some more. I’ll remember that. I’m going to tell the guys tomorrow.”— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) May 26, 2018
Kemp is also hitting the ball harder this season, with an average exit velocity of 91.1 mph per Statcast after failing to top 89 mph since 2015. His exit velo was 90.2 mph in the first two months of 2017, and 87.2 mph after.
Hot starts are nothing new for Kemp, whose career .934 OPS in April is the best month by far. July is next best at .847.
Kemp’s expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) this season per Statcast is .414, above his .382 actual wOBA, which suggests that based on how Kemp has been hitting the ball his results should be even better. Since leaving the Dodgers after 2014 Kemp’s best xwOBA was .353 in 2017, and his best actual wOBA .333 in 2016.
He is 7-for-19 (.368) with two doubles and a walk against pitches at least 94 mph this season. Versus all four-seam fastballs this season Kemp is hitting .404 (23-for-57) with a .702 slugging percentage, per Brooks Baseball.
Kemp has destroyed the Padres this season (.577/.566/1.077), with at least one hit in all seven games against them, and multiple hits in five of them. He had three hits on Friday night, his third straight three-hit game against San Diego.
Time: 7:10 p.m. PT
TV: SportsNet LA, MLB Network