The an old common adage ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ can be applied to a lot of things in life. Matt Kemp certainly isn’t one of them. On December 16th, 2017 the Los Angeles Dodgers traded Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, Charlie Cluberson and $4.5m of cash considerations for their right fielder 4 years removed. Viewed by many as an apparent conscious effort from the Dodgers front office to move $43.02m off of their 2018 payroll (see below) allowing them to manage their payroll in a way that wouldn’t challenge the luxury tax threshold of $197m yet still allow for any potential acquisitions at the trade deadline, Kemp wasn’t expected to make the opening day roster. 7 Months on from Kemp’s reunion in the city of angels, not only did he make the opening day 25- but he’s arguably been their MVP.
Adrian Gonzalez - $16.45m
Scott Kazmir - $16.00m
Brandon McCarthy - $10.00m
Charlie Cluberson- $575k
From looking at Matt Kemp’s splits above, its easy to see where the three time NL All-star has bounced back. Having disappointed for the Braves in 2017 with just the 19 home-runs and 64 RBI’s it would be easy to think that Kemp’s best days were behind him. However that’s evidentially not the case, both his power and his hitting for contact have returned. We can see from the table above that despite being on course to easily surpass 2017’s home run total, Kemp continues to make better contact when putting the ball in play. His average exit velocity (the measurement of the speed which the ball leaves the bat) has increased from facing both right handed pitching (88.5mph to 89.5mph) and also southpaws (87.5mph to 92.7mph).
You may be thinking so what? Does hitting the ball harder really account for such a turnaround in performance? I would personally say that its not the sole reason for Kemp’s upturn in offensive output but one of the large contributing factors. The sheer power of Kemp can often turn a base knock which would be a single for the large proportion of MLB hitters into a gapper which scurries up to the bas of the wall for either a double or triple. This evident in Kemp nearly surpassing his 2017 doubles count (23) by the all star break (18). The knock on affect of Kemp hitting for extra bases is huge and relatively obvious. His slugging pct. is up from 0.463 to 0.535 at the time of writing, whilst he is 5 runs short of his entire 2017 contribution (42).
But what mechanics has Kemp changed for the power to be up and the subsequent upturn in production?
Matt Kemp has totally revamped his batting stance. Standing at 6”3, Kemp is somewhat of a man mountain in the batters box and just like any giant, they have their susceptibilities up in the strike zone. In 2017, Kemp hit 0.167, 0.143 and .077 across the three area’s at the top of the strike zone. In attempt to combat this, Kemp attempted to reduce his height by flexing his knees more, which then subsequently lowered his centre of gravity. The thinking? By having his body 5/6 inches below his standing height, his swing would now bring his bat to come through parallel to the plate allowing the barrel of the bat to maximise its path through the strike zone. The affect? An un balanced torso being led by an over balanced head and ultimately an unbalanced swing. Kemp’s weight is beautifully exemplified in the picture below, where the red line out of his chin, demonstrates that his weight is out over his feet, causing him to been leaning out over the plate.
Ultimately 2017 Kemp was unbalanced unbalanced unbalanced and as we all know, that’s not the make up of a good baseball swing.
In the example below, we can see how Kemp has corrected this over the off season and during spring training. Gone are the days of the exaggerated knee flex, back are the days of Kemp’s height at the plate. Look closely at his chin, instead of being out over the plate causing his body weight to shift forwards, its now right over his left foot. He is like a tight coiled spring, ready to explode.
As previously mentioned in 2017, Matt Kemps head was well out over the plate. The knockoff affect exclusive of his weight being shifted out of position is huge. We can see in the diagram below that his hands get out in front and it just turns into an ugly hitting swing. The chances of making any decent contact are minimal, let alone with any power.
Reverting back to a taller, broader and more intimidating stance in 2018 fixed yet another flaw in Matt Kemps 2017 swing. We can clearly see in the diagram below that instead of his hands getting out in front causing the right fielder to reach for the pitch, we now see his hands sit under his chin, allowing the swing to be shorter and more power to transfer from torso to ball.
By elongating his body and balancing his weight, Matt Kemp has been able to resurface his natural power back into his swing and the results are quite incredible. Obviously the exit velocity is up, obviously the slugging percentage is up and obviously the home runs are up. But by simply reducing the flex in his knee, has allowed his bat to take a far smoother, flatter path through the strike-zone. The results? His batting average at the top of the strike zone jumping from 0.167, 0.143 and .077 in 2017 to 0.125, 0.308 and 0.333 in 2018.
Matt Kemp is certainly back. And in a big way.