Matt Kemp, out of Midwest City High School, was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the sixth round of the 2003 MLB draft. Upon debuting in 2006 (his age-22 season), Kemp hit the ground running as an impact fantasy baseball player. He proved to be a speed and power threat from the start, hitting seven home runs and stealing six bases in 166 plate appearances in 2006. An early season shoulder injury and a subsequent 39 game stint in Triple-A limited Kemp to 98 games played in 2007, but his potential as an impact five-category player was on full display as he roto-slashed .342/10/47/42/10 (AVG/HR/R/RBI/SB).

While Kemp’s low- to mid-20s strikeout percentage caused his AVG and OBP to swing wildly depending on his BABIP in any given season, his elite power-speed combination made him a no-doubt, first-round fantasy baseball talent from 2008-2011; the high point being his 2011 season in which he roto-slashed .324/39/115/126/40. Then the injuries came. While Kemp’s 2012 .303/23/74/69/9 line was certainly usable, it fell far below draft and auction day expectations. Those who bet on a bounce back the following season would also be burned, as Kemp only played in 76 games and produced his worst fantasy season of his career.

Lastly, as so often happens with past prime stars, just as we were all ready to count him out, Kemp bounced back, not to his peak production, but to a level that turned a nice profit for those investing in him (in fantasy baseball) in 2014 (.287/25/77/89/8) and 2015 (.265/23/80/100/12). While he had become the typical overrated slugger in real baseball—bad defense, bad base running, low walk rate, high RBI totals from hitting in the middle of the lineup—he was certainly still a very useful fantasy baseball player heading into this season.

2016 Thus Far

Some things changed and some things have stayed the same. Through 85 games, the power (16 home runs) is still there, even up, thanks to increased pull and flyball rates. His strikeout rate is flat, but the walk rate is down. Both seem to be due to pitchers’ increased willingness to attack Kemp in the zone early in the count (his first pitch strike rate is up significantly) and Kemp’s willingness to swing (his swing rate is up significantly). While the counting stats have hung on, Kemp’s BABIP (.296), AVG (.263), and OBP (.284) have been the victim of this change. His stolen bases are down as much as possible as he has not attempted to steal a base this season. Lastly, Kemp’s platoon split has been severe this year as he sports a .665 OPS versus RHP and a 1.021 mark versus LHP. Ultimately, there are some negative indicators in Kemp’s 2016 profile, but he has managed to remain productive.

What to Expect for the Rest of 2016

With 77 games remaining, below is PECOTA’s rest-of-season projection for Kemp:

















PECOTA basically expects Kemp’s production for the rest of the season to look more like it did in 2014 and 2015 (less power, more average, more stolen bases, better base running, better fielding) than it has through first 85 games of 2016. PECOTA also expects slightly fewer plate appearances per game for the rest of season (3.81) than Kemp received thus far (4.19), which is all to say that there is some injury risk as there is with all players.

Given the changes, as mentioned above, in the way pitchers are pitching Kemp and the way Kemp is responding to that change, and given the general rise in home runs and strikeouts we have seen across, I am guessing that Kemp’s second half is more likely to look like his first half than either of the previous two seasons.

The steals are a bit more of a mystery as Kemp, although seeing his defensive production decline, was an efficient base stealer in 2015, stealing 12 bases in 14 attempts. When we take a closer look, though, Kemp stole eight bases in the first half of 2015 and only four in that season’s second half. While the results weren’t bad (four for one), something (direction from management, concern for health, etc.) has gotten Kemp to stop stealing bases. I would guess that his stolen bases will be closer to zero than the PECOTA projected five, but zero to five is a fine range.

This is all to say if you need power and counting stats, and can afford some AVG or OBP risk, then Kemp will be a fine addition for a stretch run.

The Great Beyond

Over the next five years (Kemp’s age 32 through 37 seasons), PECOTA projects Kemp to maintain his 20-30 home run production, a .250-.270 AVG, and a .290-.310 OBP, while seeing his stolen base totals decline. As mentioned above, it appears we are already seeing the latter happen, but everything else we are seeing makes me agree with the rest of PECOTA’s projections.

While some may consider Kemp an injury risk as he ages, this is likely an overreaction to his two injury plagued seasons (2012 and 2013) coming off his is best season (2011), thus making them his two most disappointing seasons. In Kemp’s other six full big league seasons (2008-2011 and 2014-2015), Kemp has been remarkably durable playing in at least 150 games each of those seasons. Moreover, he has only not played in two of the Padres’ 85 games this season. The chance of injury increases for every player as they age, and that will also be the case for Kemp, but any additional fear of injury would be unwarranted.

While I would normally be concerned about a lefty mashing, right handed batter with poor defensive and base running production getting relegated to the weak-side of a platoon, but Kemp’s contract ($18.5 million per year through 2019) will seemingly preclude that outcome. Like all of us, Kemp is not who he was, but he will seemingly continue to be a productive fantasy baseball player for the next several years.

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