Padres Editorial: What’s Really Wrong with Matt Kemp?

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Mandatory Credit: UT San Diego
Mandatory Credit: UT San Diego

For all intents and purposes, the acquisition of Matt Kemp from the Dodgers in the offseason has been a bit of a disaster for the San Diego Padres. Kemp has failed to produce to the level the Padres front office expected and in many ways has actually provided a negative value to the team. With the financial subsidy from the Dodgers ending next year, the Padres will be on the hook for the last 85 million of Kemp’s contract through 2019. This is quite a substantial sum for the Padres to be paying for a player who is producing a negative WAR (-1.0).

A majority of Kemp’s offensive stats have been at or near career lows. He has a career low walk percentage at only 3.9%, a career low ISO of .122, a career low slash line of .244/.279/.365, and finally a career low wRC+ of 81. While this isn’t too bad for a player who is only being paid 3 million by the Padres this year, long term the Padres will not be able to afford the 20+ million dollars a year that Kemp will be getting paid for the next four years. Producing at career lows in many offensive stats and producing negative value in terms of WAR won’t cut it for a player making that much money.

Upon further evaluation of Kemp’s statistics there are a few interesting trends that must be further illuminated. One interesting split is Kemp’s statistics during the daytime when compared to his statistics during night games. In 225 at bats at night Kemp has a slash line of .213/.237/.276. which is the worst for all full time right fielders in the entire league. In comparison, in 87 at bats during the day Kemp has a slash line of .322/.381/.598. This is a similar trend that was seen in Kemp’s day/night splits in 2014 as well (.328/.388/.577 during the day vs. .272/.331/.483 at night). Obviously Kemp’s overall numbers were better in 2014 for both splits but there is still quite a gap between his performance during the day and at night.

It really can’t be as simple as Kemp having trouble with his eyes can it? This seems like too simplistic of an explanation but this vision problem could explain some of Kemp’s problems at night when compared to his better success during the day. My sister actually has a similar vision problem while driving at night and has to wear special glasses with anti-glare in order to see more clearly. Maybe Kemp has a similar issue with his eye sight that requires some corrective lens. He does require glasses and most likely wears contacts on the field but may be having some further issues with his vision that need some evaluation.

On top of this day/night split, and his apparent vision problems, Kemp also is experiencing a few other anomalies in his stats that may explain why he is having the troubles he is having this season. Kemp is experiencing a career high ground ball percentage of 47% as well as a career low fly ball percentage of 30% which are clearly affecting both his power numbers as well as his overall offensive statistics. To go along with his failure to make strong contact and drive the ball, Kemp is also struggling with plate discipline. He has a career high O-Swing% of 37.5% which measures how often a player swings at pitches outside of the strike zone. More in general Kemp has been swinging at 5% more pitches than he has consistently over the last two or three seasons with the Dodgers.

These numbers seem to show that something is different in Kemp’s swing from years past. Kemp is swinging more in general and is swinging more at pitches that are outside of the strike zone. This likely has been the cause of his low walk rate and may also be playing a role in his career high ground ball percentage and career low fly ball percentage. Kemp may be swinging more often but he is also swinging more often at bad pitches that are being hit more weakly.

Mandatory Credit: UT San Diego
Mandatory Credit: UT San Diego

This may be a case of Kemp trying to do too much because he’s playing with a new team or it may be a sign of something being wrong with him health wise. Kemp is still only 30 years old and should not be experiencing this kind of rapid decline in his overall skill set. Kemp has had many of these ebbs and flows over his career and has suffered quite a few slumps. This seems to be too long of a sample size to still be considered a slump. It is more likely that Kemp is suffering from some injury and is in need of either some time off or some minor tweaks to his swing and plate discipline in order to compensate.

An interesting thing to consider is that since wincing following a swing on May 19th Matt Kemp has a slash line of .215/.254/.354 and a wRC+ of only 71. Up until May 19th Kemp had a slash line of .273/.305/.377 and a wRC+ of 92. Obviously there isn’t a huge gap between these numbers but there may be something to this proposed injury.

Whether it is Matt Kemp playing too hard, not playing hard enough, some sort of injury, or the Dodgers somehow knowing about Kemp’s imminent decline, the Padres may be in some real trouble going forward with Kemp’s large contract. The Padres brought on Kemp to be a team leader and provide some offensive firepower but up to this point he has really been neither. The Padres really need to get creative in deciphering Kemp’s issues and finding a way to fix them. If they cannot fix these issues and Kemp is in a precipitous decline the Padres could find themselves in some real trouble in the next few years.

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