Words that accurately describe Matt Kemp: good, often injured.
Words that inaccurately describe Matt Kemp: bad, invincibly healthy.
Other items of note, regarding Matt Kemp:
• In 2010, he hit .249/.310/.450 with 28 home runs and 19 stolen bases, good for a .329 wOBA and 0.1 Wins Above Replacement.
• In 2011, he hit .324/.399/.586 with 39 home runs and 40 stolen bases, good for a .413 wOBA and 8.4 Wins Above Replacement.
• In 2012 and 2013, he played in only 55% of his team’s games. In 2013, he accounted for -0.4 Wins Above Replacement.
What does it all mean? Nobody knows.
A lot of people would have you believe it means Matt Kemp is a top 5 player in baseball when healthy. Because, look at that 2011!
Better yet, look at both 2010 and 2011. In ’10, Kemp was awful, and awfully unlucky. His .295 BABIP ranked 100th among 149 qualified batters. In ’11, he was incredible, and incredibly lucky. His .380 BABIP ranked 2nd among 145 qualified hitters.
While BABIP tells a lot of the story, it doesn’t tell all of it. Kemp walked in nearly 3% more of his at bats in the latter of the two years, which maybe was the result of real improvement in plate discipline. He also hit more line drives, more fly balls, and turned fly balls into home runs at a better rate in 2011. Maybe ALL of these things are the results of real improvement. Maybe. The two years since have been useless in the way of making sense of it all.
Anyway, top 5 player in baseball? Probably not. It isn’t a good idea to base a statement like that on one super lucky season, just as it would be a bad idea to call Kemp one of the worst players in baseball based on 2010. When healthy, it’s probably more realistic to expect a performance closer to his 2008 and 2009 seasons. He’ll steal less bases than in those years, but he’s likely to walk and slug more.
ZiPS projects the 2014 version of Kemp to play in 114 games, and hit .279/.339/.473, with 20 home runs and 15 steals. He’s projected as a 2.5 WAR player. The projected wins and games played totals don’t suggest a top 5 player in baseball, but they do reflect a player who is good, not bad, often injured, and not invincibly healthy.