It's easy to forget now, but Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp was once considered one of the of the best players in the world. On the path to a second-place finish in the 2011 NL MVP vote, the then-26-year-old star helped make the Dodgers a relevant team.
Three years later, Los Angeles doesn't need Kemp to put it on the map, as stars such as Yasiel Puig and Clayton Kershaw have eclipsed him in the organization's hierarchy. Yet, if the team is going to reach its goals of winning a World Series championship and competing on a yearly basis, a revival from Kemp is imperative.
Entering play on June 6, the former NL All-Star owned a ghastly .238/.291/.398 slash line, making him one of the least productive outfielders in the majors. Combined with a dip in range in center field, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was alternating the $160 million man between left field and the bench.
Since that moment, Kemp has been reborn. Over his last 19 games, including Wednesday evening's one-run victory over the Kansas City Royals, Kemp has posted a .358/.429/.627 line. Those robust numbers were buoyed by a second-inning home run against Royals starter James Shields, tying the game that Los Angeles would go on to win.
Although it's hard to say that Kemp is all the way back to his 2011 form or if his athleticism will ever fully recover from leg and shoulder injuries, there's little disputing how good his bat has been over the last three weeks.
On June 13, Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times referenced the impact of the ball off Kemp's bat sounding like his best days of 2011. That sound has remained, giving credence to a hot streak that could mean much more at Chavez Ravine.
For the season, Kemp's 124 wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) now ranks just below the 20 best outfielders in baseball and ahead of fellow stars Ryan Braun and Adam Jones. With a .345 wOBA (weighted on-base average), Kemp has been a more productive hitter than Shin-Soo Choo, among others.
Of course, everything Kemp does will be compared to his magical 2011 campaign. By slugging 39 home runs, stealing 40 bases and scoring 115 runs, baseball's best all-around player posted an 8.2 WAR and earned an eight-year contract. As the following chart shows, Kemp joined a very select group of center fielders to provide that type of value before their age-27 seasons.
|Select Company: Young CFs with at Least 8.2 WAR Campaigns|
|Player||Best WAR Before Age 27|
|Ken Griffey Jr.||9.7|
Recently, Kemp was asked to compare how he felt at the plate during that magical year to this current run of hot hitting, per Robert Morales of the Long Beach Press-Telegram.
"Well, I was locked in," Kemp said. "Body-wise, I was feeling all the way 100 percent. You know, it's just a different year. Every year is different. Everybody's got stuff they've gotta deal with and mine the past years have been injuries I've had to overcome and it's getting better and better every day."
If Kemp continues to hit better every day, it will benefit the Dodgers in both the short and long term.
First and most importantly, a continued revival from Kemp can help the Dodgers catch the San Francisco Giants atop the NL West, zoom into October and get back to the World Series for the first time since the 1988 season.
Moving forward, production from Kemp can help the Dodgers alleviate an outfield logjam. With Puig entrenched as the player to build around and Andre Ethier (.304 OBP, guaranteed $56 million from 2015-2017) and Carl Crawford (.293 OBP, guaranteed $62.25 million from 2015-2017) both sporting unmovable contracts, a future trade involving Kemp could commence if general manager Ned Colletti chooses to explore that route.
While Kemp's speed and defensive ability have failed to return to pre-injury form, his power is enough to give Los Angeles' lineup an important dynamic. During the aforementioned hot streak, Kemp has powered 10 extra-base hits, leading to a .627 slugging percentage since June 6.
To put that number into perspective, Kemp's recent mark is better than the season rate for any hitter not named Troy Tulowitzki. This hot streak has been better than the power surge Mike Trout and Jose Abreu have shown since Opening Day.
Much like any declaration made in mid-April, it's worth nothing that Kemp's streak is a small sample size in the grand scheme of a long season. Furthermore, the three-week-stretch highlight was cherry-picked for reference, ignoring an unproductive and confounding April and May.
That's fair, but so is putting Kemp's career in perspective. This hot streak isn't simply a blip on the radar for a fringe major league player; instead, it's a revival from a player who once profiled as the next big thing in the sport.
The potential for a 40-homer, 40-steal, Gold Glove season is long gone, but Kemp's bat looks alive. With that, there's hope in Hollywood.