Can Matt Kemp Produce Post-Trade Deadline?

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Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline passed Thursday at 4pm E.T., and though reports of transactions are still trickling in through the Twitterverse — some legitimate, others not so much — one thing remains certain: Matt Kemp is still a Los Angeles Dodger.

With reported interest in the 29-year-old outfielder from Boston earlier in the week, general manager Ned Colletti has elected to retain Kemp, at least for the time being. This move (or lack thereof) should bode well with his fan-base A.) because his club is winning games with him in the lineup, and B.) due to the fact that he’s back to his normal slugging self, particularly of late.

No player in baseball coming into action Thursday night has a higher batting average (.436) since the All-Star break than Kemp, and only Carlos Santana (272 wRC+) of the Indians has managed a loftier weighted runs created-plus than the former sixth-round draft selection (258 wRC+) in 2003.

Granted, Kemp has laced up the cleats for just 11 games since the break — totaling just 46 plate appearances in that span. However, his turnaround with the lumber dates back much, much further; since the beginning of June, Kemp holds true to a slash line of .324/.396/.508 that blows away the .248/.306/.418 line he generated in the first two full months of the regular season.

But can these improvements can be sustained? Let’s take a look.

Plate Discipline Improvements

One of the key factors behind Kemp adding nearly .100 points to his on-base percentage since the beginning of June has been his improved feel for the strike zone, drawing walks approximately three percent more frequently per plate appearance while simultaneously trimming his strikeout frequency by roughly five percent.

The reason behind that hasn’t been so much patience at the plate — he’s seen 3.87 pitches per plate appearances on average since June 1, which is nearly identical to the 3.88 P/PA he maintained from April through May — so much as his ability to decipher between ball and strike, particularly on the inner portion of the plate.

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Kemp has lowered his inner-half chase rate from 45.4% in the season’s first two months to 33.3% since the onset of June (league average inner-half chase rate for righties this season is 31.6%), which is encouraging considering the fact that opposing pitchers are pounding the zone at a lower frequency against him over the past two months (45.3% zone rate) compared to prior (51.1% zone rate).

Inside stuff has enticed Kemp even at his best, posting a 40.6% inner-half chase rate during his banner 2011 season that nearly netted him a Most Valuable Player award. So it is therefore encouraging to see him making substantial in-season adjustments at this area of the plate — which leads me to believe that .396 on-base percentage he’s mustered up since June 1 could — potentially — be sustained.

‘Luck’ Factor and Lack of Quality Contact

Yet for as impressive as Kemp’s eye at the plate has been lately, there’s no bypassing the fact that he’s been a very fortunate hitter at the dish in that same span. Since the beginning of June, the 6-foot-4 outfielder has maintained a lofty .403 batting average on balls in play, which trumps the .321 mark he posted over the first two months of the season with ease. Granted, Kemp has always had a knack for finding holes in defenses (.347 career BABIP), though obviously not to the extent he has produced over these past two months.

However, that high BABIP in itself isn’t what makes me skeptical about Kemp’s ability to succeed moving forward. It’s the fact that his quality of contact has actually diminished over time. His exit velocity has decreased by more than two miles per hour on average from June-July (75.9 MPH) in comparison to April through May (78.0 MPH), which has directly affected the frequency with which he’s made ‘hard’ contact — evidenced by a hard-hit average of just .193 since June 1 (substantially lower than the .283 hard-hit average he managed prior).

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Perhaps the main reason behind Kemp’s lofty in-play average since the beginning of June has been his ability to generate ideal trajectories at a higher frequency, increasing his 25.6% line-drive rate from April-May to 29.6% from June to July (third-highest in baseball in that span). Clearly, his BABIP has followed a more similar trend to his line-drive rate over time, at least more so than his exit velocity (shown in red).

Typically, one would attribute a high BABIP to high exit velocities through simply ‘barreling up’ the ball. But in most cases — Kemp’s included — it’s not so much the force with which you hit a baseball that enables you to find infield holes and outfield gaps. Rather, it’s the trajectory off the bat that more than likely determines a player’s success in this respect.

For Kemp, whose line-drive rate has improved some despite actually hitting pitches ‘hard’ less frequently since the beginning of June, this fact bodes well for his current production moving forward if he continues to produce line drive trajectories, coupled with his ability to decipher between balls and strikes on the inner-half of the plate.

Alec Dopp is a contributor to Gammons Daily and also covers the Milwaukee Brewers prospect scene for BrewCrewBall.com. You can follow him on Twitter @alecdopp and contact him at alecdopp@outlook.com