Matt Kemp: Just How Great Was the 26-Year-Old in 2011?
Matt Kemp had a phenomenal season in 2011 to say the least. As a 26-year-old, he finished a very close second in MVP voting after being one of very few players to flirt with 40-40.
To be more specific, Kemp hit .324 with 39 home runs, 126 RBI and 40 stolen bases. That is a pretty impressive stat line. His on-base percentage was also .399, so he actually started drawing more walks than he ever had (even though he still strikes out too much).
Anyway, after seeing this type of success at the relatively young age of 26, I wanted to know what will happen next? Will Kemp continue to rise, or was last season his peak?
I am not in the business of making predictions, but what I can do is find five other players who have had similarly excellent years as a 26-year-old and see what the immediate future held for them.
Is it possible that Kemp could mirror one of these five hitters next season? Absolutely. He already mirrored their success for one season.
Is it possible that he falls short? Absolutely. Baseball is unpredictable, and success is never guaranteed.
Again, I am not in the business of making predictions. Rather, I want you to appreciate what Matt Kemp did last season, and I also wanted to see what comparable hitters have done in the past to follow up such a strong campaign. (Spoiler Alert: This is a very impressive list of peers!)
All stats are from Baseball Reference.
Matt Kemp and Andre Dawson
Andre Dawson owned all the same hardware that Matt Kemp did as a 26-year-old. They were both named All-Stars, they both won Gold Gloves, they both won Silver Sluggers and they both finished runner-up in MVP voting.
Dawson also had a similar skill set to Kemp. He was legitimately a five-tool player, and as a 26-year-old, he hit .302 with 24 home runs, 64 RBI and 26 stolen bases. Of course, he accomplished this in only 103 games. Therefore, his numbers could have been much more comparable to Kemp's had he played a full season.
As a 27-year-old, Dawson did not improve drastically, but he did hit more doubles and steal more bases. His overall stat line ended up at .301 with 23 home runs, 83 RBI and 39 stolen bases. Therefore, if Kemp continues along a parallel track to Dawson, he might not develop more power yet necessarily, but he should continue to improve next season.
Matt Kemp and Duke Snider
As a 26-year-old, Duke Snider was just beginning the best five-year stretch of his career. That season, he hit .336 with 42 home runs, 126 RBI and 16 stolen bases. Except for the difference in stolen bases, several of these stats are comparable to Matt Kemp.
Like I said before, this was just the beginning for Duke Snider. He was beginning an incredible five-year stretch where he hit 207 home runs. Even though his 27-year-old year was not necessarily more impressive than the previous one, it was definitely just as good as he hit .341 with 40 home runs, 130 RBI and only six stolen bases.
His walk total also went up in the following year. That would definitely be a welcome improvement for Matt Kemp. If he continues to develop like Snider, many of his numbers will remain constant, but he might develop more plate discipline which could in turn raise his on-base percentage.
Matt Kemp and Vladimir Guerrero
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Vladimir Guerrero is by far the most recent adequate comparison to Matt Kemp as a 26-year-old. When Guerrero was 26, he hit .307 with 34 home runs, 108 RBI and 37 stolen bases. Guerrero has been one of the most well-rounded players of the past 15 years, and Kemp has similar potential.
The following season only got better for Vladimir Guerrero. The ironic part is that that only caught him up with Kemp in terms of raw statistics. He also ended up being one home run away from a 40-40 season. Overall, he hit .336 with 39 home runs, 111 RBI and 40 stolen bases that year.
If Kemp develops in the same manner and improves all of his raw statistics for next season, who knows where he could end up? If he experiences the same type of increases that Guerrero did, he could definitely have one of the best seasons in Major League Baseball history.
Matt Kemp and Hank Aaron
The substantial difference between Matt Kemp and Hank Aaron is that Aaron had substantially more success earlier in his career than Kemp. Aaron had already hit 179 home before his 26-year-old season.
However, when taken in isolation, Hank Aaron's statistics looked very similar to Matt Kemp in many areas. He hit .292 with 40 home runs, 126 RBI and 16 stolen bases as a 26-year-old. Even though his stolen base total wasn't nearly as high, Aaron did have very good speed as he hammered 11 triples.
Matt Kemp will almost certainly not hit over 700 home runs over his career, but if he develops like Hank Aaron did for his 27-year-old season, his average should rise substantially. When Aaron turned 27, he hit .327 with 34 home runs, 120 RBI and 21 stolen bases. Kemp will never challenge Aaron's home run record, but if he turned in a comparable season as a 27-year-old, it would be pretty impressive.
Matt Kemp and Willie Mays
I know that I might be getting a little bit ambitious by comparing Matt Kemp to arguably the best center fielder of all time, Willie Mays. However, if you look at the stats that they posted as 26-year-olds, you might not think that I am sure crazy.
As a 26-year-old, Mays hit .333 with 35 home runs, 97 RBI and 38 stolen bases. A notable difference is that Mays also had an incredible 20 triples. However, as everyone knows, this was only the beginning for Mays.
If Matt Kemp continues to develop like Willie Mays, he is going to have a pretty incredible career. However, as a 27-year-old, Mays actually experienced a slight decrease across the board in almost every major statistic except for batting average. His stat line ended up at .347 with 29 home runs, 96 RBI and 31 stolen bases.
Nevertheless, if Matt Kemp continues developing like Willie Mays, I don't think that the Dodgers would complain about what the future going to hold.
What Are the Implications?
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Like I said before, it would be irresponsible of me to guarantee that Matt Kemp will turn into Willie Mays or Hank Aaron. Baseball is way too unpredictable to predict the future. However, you have to admit that the group of 26-year-old players that have put up the numbers that Kemp did is incredibly impressive.
It is also too early to plan anything about his long-term place among these aforementioned names, but he is enjoying a very similar level of success at this point in his career. That fact alone is definitely something to be incredibly proud of.