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A Pitch f/x Look at Matt Kemp's Wild Weekend

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To say Matt Kemp had a breakout year last season would be an understatement in every sense of the word. Kemp finished 2nd in the MLB in fWAR (8.7), while hitting at a slash of .324/.399/.586 with 39 home runs, 115 runs, 126 RBI's and 40 stolen bases. Kemp turned those massive numbers into an 8-year $160 million contract extension, this off-season. Some experts were nervous about the risk that came with that extension, because Kemp had an awful 2010 season (0.4 fWAR) thus, the question was raised if his 2011 performance was sustainable. Kemp, of course, has a great deal of confidence in himself, predicting a 50-50 season for himself in 2012(the prediction was probably of the tongue-in-cheek variety). I wrote before the season about how small a chance Kemp had at reaching that incredible feat and Rob Neyer wrote something along the same lines this week. Kemp couldn't possibly play as well as he did in 2011 again? And he definitely couldn't reach his crazy goal of 50-50, right? Yet only a dozen games into this season, Kemp seems well on his way to duplicating his 2011 season with another dominant campaign (que the small sample size jokes). As of Wednesday, Kemp leads MLB in SLG, wRC+, HRs, Runs, and RBIs. He's top-3 in almost every other single category including, ISO, wOBA, fWAR, BA, OPS, and OBP. (Note just before this article went live Kemp was working on a 2 for 4 day, hitting his league leading 7th home run). Is there any way to explain Kemp's hot start? I would answer yes. Kemp has shown more plate discipline than he has through his career, as well as, the ability to hit the ball with power to the opposite field. These points shine brightly through his incredible performance this weekend at home against the San Diego Padres.

Friday the 13th: 1 for 2 1 HR 2 RBIs 3 BBs

The start of the series wasn't a pretty one for Kemp. He began it with a K on a slider outside of the zone from lefty Clayton Richard. Richard actually made a mistake to Kemp leaving the 82.3 mph slider (.7256 linear weight) up, but Kemp wasn't able to do anything with it. The Padres' staff would continue making mistakes to Kemp as the series went on, however the Dodgers' center fielder made them pay for those. Richard issued a 4-pitch walk in Kemp's next at-bat, before Kemp came up again in the 4th. Richard's first pitch of that AB was a 90.7 mph fastball up and away in the zone, and Kemp went with it, homering to right-center field. In 7th, reliever Brad Bach walked him on five pitches, throwing one 92.2 mph fastball for a called strike. In 9th, Kemp whiffed on a 88.1 mph changeup (-0.0341) from Andrew Cashner, but eventually walked again on two straight sliders low and outside of the zone.

Saturday the 14th: 3 for 4 2 HRs 4 RBIs

On Saturday, 22 year-old right-hander, Joe Wieland, made his major league debut and I'm pretty sure Kemp was the last hitter he wanted to face. Wieland walked the first batter he faced, Dee Gordon, then Tony Gwynn Jr. moved Gordon with a sacrifice bunt. Wieland then got up 0-2 on Kemp with back-to-back fastballs including one that Kemp missed on the outside corner (90.0 mph). Instead of staying away from the Dodgers' star and wasting some (off-speed or not) pitches out of the zone, the rookie threw a 91.7 mph fastball right down the middle that Kemp drove out to center field for a two-run homer. Wieland and Kemp were reunited in the second inning, the rookie decided to stay away from the fastball that had burned him in the last at-bat, throwing two curveballs (.755) to Kemp, the second an 80.4 mph one that Kemp hit out to right-center for another two-run homer. Wieland would finally beat Kemp in the 4th inducing a groundout on a 85.2 mph inside changeup (-.7078). Kemp's only other PA appearance came against Josh Spence, who allowed Kemp to single on the 7th pitch of the at-bat, an 85.5 mph sinker.

Sunday the 15th: 3 for 4 1 HR 1 RBI 1 BB

Edison Volquez got the start on Sunday for the Padres, and he had just has much trouble as his teammates did with getting Kemp out. Volquez got Kemp down 0-2 in the first, but could not put him away, allowing Kemp to single on an inside 96 mph sinker. Kemp lead off the third inning with more of the usual, hitting his fourth home run of the series, on a 94.6 mph four-seamer right down the middle. Kemp took all six pitches he saw from Volquez in the fifth, walkingon a 97.2 mph fastball way outside of the zone. Kemp reached based again in sixth, this time singling off an 80.7 mph slider from Ernesto Frieri that was well off the outside corner. In the 8th inning Kemp faced Cashner, who walked him earlier in the series, this was the only plate appearance in the series that made Kemp look human. Cashner blew a 99.7 mph fastball right by him on the first pitch and induced a double play ball on the second pitch, a 98.3 mph fastball.

The total at-bat results for Kemp's series were as follows:

7 for 10 4 HRs 7 RBIs 4 BBs

Walk: 28.57%

Home Run: 28.57%

Single: 21.43%

Strikeout: 7.14%

Groundout: 14.28%

The Padres only got Kemp out three times in the series, while he took their staff deep four times. Kemp didn't face tough pitching in the series, but it is hard to fault him for that. He capitalized on the chances given to him, and dominated San Diego with great plate discipline. Kemp walked in nearly 30% of his PA, in the series, and he swung at only 10% of the pitches he faced that were outside of the zone (missing one and singling on the other), Kemp's career O-Zone swing % is 31%. Kemp swung at 36.3% of the pitches (49.5% career swing %) he saw in the series and the results that came from those swings make it pretty clear that Kemp chose wisely with his swings:

Swing Type/Result















Home Run









Kemp had seven hits in the series to go along with the four walks rendered to him. Six of those seven hits were up the middle or to the opposite field, as shown by Kemp's Spray Chart for the series from Texas Leaguers:


While there are only 14 PA analyzed here, there's a chance that this could become a trend for Dodgers' star. The sample size of 13 games is extremely small, just 8% of the entire season, Kemp obviously isn't going to break the MLB home run record by hitting 87 home runs this season, like he's on pace to do. In fact, he probably won't even hit 50 home runs like he so boldly predicted this off-season. Kemp's current HR/FB ratio 77.7%, which is out of this world, and not even close to sustainable, over the course of the season. His career HR/FB ratio is 16.5%, and Giancarlo Stanton had the highest HR/FB percentage of any hitter last season at just 24.8%. Also Kemp's current BABIP is .481, which won't continue, especially due to a lot of the flies he's hit staying in the park. However, given Kemp's dominant 2011 campaign and the fact that none of his home runs this season have been pulled, he definitely should be a player to watch going forward.

Matt Kemp 50-50? Who knows? But one thing's for sure, he's had one heck of a start.

All statistics from Fangraphs. All Pitch f/x data from Brooks Baseball and Texas Leaguers