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Entries in Matt Kemp (14)

Wednesday
Feb192014

Can Kemp Reclaim Inner Part of the Plate?

Matt Kemp hasn't yet been medically cleared to run this spring, but the Dodgers star owed a combined $128 million through the 2019 season is putting as much distance as possible between himself and all of the fourth outfielder talk. The 29-year-old is coming off a season wrecked by shoulder, ankle and hamstring injuries that limited him to just 73 games and a career-low .395 slugging percentage -- nearly 200 points below the mark he posted while finishing as runner-up to Ryan Braun in 2011 NL MVP voting. But he told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Mark Saxon that "Beast Mode" should return in 2014 now that his swing is no longer compromised:

I couldn't really get through the ball. If anybody knows my swing, when y'all see that go up in the air like that," Kemp said, lifting his left arm over his head, "you know something good happened. I was cutting my swing off. I couldn't get extension, man. I couldn't do a lot of things.

The impact that Kemp's ailing left shoulder -- surgically repaired in each of the past two offseasons -- had on his game last year was most apparent when pitchers tried to bust him inside. He throttled inside pitches during his halcyon 2011 season, swatting 14 home runs and slugging .698. Kemp wasn't as much of a monster against inside stuff in 2012 (seven homers, .554 slugging percentage), but he was still way above average (MLB batters slugged .416 versus inside pitches that year).

Last year, though? Kemp admitted he couldn't do a lot of things while his body betrayed him. One of those things he couldn't do was drive inside pitches: he didn't hit a single home run on an inner-third pitch while slugging .290. Among the 249 hitters seeing at least 350 inside pitches last season, Kemp ranked 225th in slugging. A couple years ago, he did more damage than Miguel Cabrera when pitches challenged him inside. Last season, he inflicted less pain than Jose Tabata and Gregor Blanco.

Back when he was healthy and competing for MVP hardware, Kemp had no problem getting extension versus inside stuff. He sprayed the ball all over the diamond, hitting nearly as many home runs to center field (six) and he did to left field (eight).

Kemp's spray chart vs. inside pitches, 2011

 

Unable to fully extend his swing in 2013, Kemp pulled more inside pitches to left field (57.7% of balls put in play, compared to 42.9% in 2011) but did little more than roll over the ball, leading to lots of 5-to-3 outs scribbled on the score card.

Kemp's spray chart vs. inside pitches, 2013

Kemp's clearly no fourth outfielder when healthy, but he did hit like one last year when pitchers came inside. Perhaps opponents are starting to catch on, as he has seen more inner-third pitches three years running (29.3% in 2011, 30.9% in 2012, and 33.4% in 2013). Plenty of scouts will scrutinize Kemp's swing during spring training. If he looks vulnerable against pitches on the inner third, expect pitchers to make him prove that his mended shoulder will finally let him get extended in 2014.

Tuesday
Aug132013

The Dodgers Turnaround Part 1: Offense

On June 21st, the Dodgers lost to the Padres dropping their record to 30-42 and leaving them 9.5 games behind the NL West leading Diamondbacks. Their team record $223 million payroll was buying the team nothing but a spot at the bottom of their weak division. And it wasn't just one part of the team that was performing below expectations, this was a team effort.

Since that date, the Dodgers have gone 39-8. Good enough for a winning percentage of .826 during that span. 

It took the entire team to fail. And it has taken the entire team to push itself back into contention.

Offense first

After play concluded on 6/21, the Dodgers offense was among the worst in the National League. The team's .696 OPS (11th in the NL at the time), was dragged sown by a team slugging percentage of .375. Which was good for 13th in the NL. Right ahead of the Mets and the Marlins.

Although the entire offense was offensive, none drew more ire than three-hole hitter, Matt Kemp.

Through 51 games, Kemp had two, TWO home runs.

This was the same player who two seasons ago was nearly a 40-40 player. And here he was struggling through 51 games with a slash line of .251/.305/.335. That .335 SLG percentage was only 11 points better than his 2011 batting average. And if the pitch wasn't right down the middle, Matt Kemp was getting weak contact.

Kemp wasn't the only offender. His target was just the biggest.

Andre Ethier was disappointing as well through the third week in June. His slash line of .254/.335/.377 was well below his career numbers: .288/.361/.468.

The Dodgers tried to inject some life into the lineup with a June 3rd callup of Yasiel Puig (you may have heard of him) who got off to a kind of OK start with a .455/.478/.773 slash line in the 17 games he played in leading up to 6/21. 

So, how have the Dodgers performed since getting hot?

What's the opposite of terrible?

First things first, the Dodgers brought back the thunder to the lineup.

Since 6/21, their team slugging percentage has been .427. That's the best in the NL for that time period.

Ditto for batting average (.287) and OPS (.773). They may be getting a smidge lucky with a team BABIP of .336 (NL average is .296), but with a team-wide line drive rate of 23.8% since 6/21, the higher BABIP should be expected.

Remember how terrible Matt Kemp was earlier?

Yeah, he's been almost a non-factor since then. But in the 37 at bats he has had since 6/21 (AKA, a super-duper small sample size), he is hitting a robust .324/.390/.622. I give credit where it is due, but Kemp hasn't been the one pulling this train.

That would be Hanley Ramirez.

Although currently dealing with a sore shoulder after crashing into the wall while playing in Wrigley Field last week, Hanley has been crushing pitchers to the tune of a .356/.415/.651 slash line since late June. And with runners in scoring position, Ramirez is literally the last Dodger an opposing pitcher wants to see at the plate with a .412/.524/.824 slash line with RISP during this run of success for the Dodgers. 

But it takes more than one man to win in baseball.

Just ask the Angels and Mike Trout.

Other offensive stars during that time frame include Puig (.341/.421/.518) and Adrian Gonzalez (.289/.325/.463). Even Zack Grienke has gotten into the act of hitting with a .450/.542/.550 slash line in 28 PA. Which was good enough for manager, Don Mattingly, to name him as an option to pinch hit.

The Dodgers are averaging 4.85 runs per game during this stretch of dominance, which, well, with the pitching staff that they have, that should be plenty.

We'll talk about the Dodgers pitching next.

Sunday
May262013

Peter Gammons: On the shoulders of Ellsbury, Kemp and Gonzalez

Don Mattingly this weekend came out and stated what teammates, opposing players and managers understood—that Matt Kemp has not yet fully recovered from off-season reconstructive surgery. Two home runs and 17 on the morning of May 25 says it all about the 2011. 

Kemp hasn't whined or complained, but Mattingly told Kevin Baxter of the Los Angeles Times. “He’s frustrated. The biggest thing we want to do with Matt is to try to keep the bat in the strike zone longer…when he’s going good he’s driving the ball to center, to right-center…I notice he’s cutting his swing off…if he’s top-spinning in left and left-center field, it tells me he’s getting extension to a certain point and he’s coming off just a little bit.”

Mattingly is not an orthopedic surgeon, but he is a PhD when it comes to hitting. Kemp has the finest in orthopedic care from Dr. Neal ElAttrache of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Center. While Dr. ElAttrache cannot discuss the specifics of Kemp’s recovery, he fully understands the complex significance of the shoulder in hitters.

“The importance of the shoulder in hitting is underestimated,” says Dr. ElAttrache. “What is particularly important is the lead shoulder.” Kemp missed nearly two months of the 2012 season with hamstring pulls and other issues, but on August 28 he suffered his most significant injury when he crashed into a fence in Colorado, He continued to play the rest of the season, but after the Dodgers were eliminated he underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum and some minor damage to the rotator cuff.

The labrum tear was in the front of his left shoulder, the lead shoulder as a righthanded hitter. Mattingly adds that Kemp will return to his star level once he’s healthy; Kemp loves the limelight, but he is one of the rare players who accepts every thing that goes along with stardom. But “health” is far more complex than weeks of rehab and training following labrum surgery.

“Trying to re-establish ones mechanics after surgery is a complex process,” says Dr. ElAttrache, speaking generally. “It’s extremely delicate. It involves rebuilding strength, and all that goes into the swing from the front shoulder. It takes perfect mechanics to regain bat speed and the swing path. Sometimes it takes a year, sometimes more.

“A player may think he is fully recovered, especially after all the work that rehab entails, but regaining the mechanics doesn’t come easily,” says the doctor. “Sometimes we can see a hitter opening up too quickly. He may step out with his front foot to catch up to pitches, and also so he doesn’t have to finish off his swing, which puts a great deal of pressure on the shoulder, especially the front of the lead shoulder.

“Sometimes those mechanics can be just a tick off, and they are hard to re-establish. I’m certain there are cases where the should is never exactly the same as before an injury or the gradual wearing down process. It is mechanical. It can be mental. For the hitter, a shoulder injury isn’t really any different that a shoulder injury can be for a pitcher.”

Adrian Gonzalez

Kemp’s rehab is obvious, and well-explained by Mattingly. But there are other cases that at least are worth a look.

One is Adrian Gonzalez. He had three remarkable seasons his last three years at Petco Park, averaging 32 homers. In 2009, he hit 40 homers with a .958 OPS. His lead shoulder had bothered him in 2010, and he had labrum surgery prior to being traded to the Red Sox, and after continuing his rehab process in spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., his numbers leading up to the All Star Break (.354, 17 HR, 1.006 OPS, .591 slug) not only got him to the game, but into the Home Run Derby.

However, after the break, Gonzalez was not the same power hitter. He batted .317 with 10 homers, but more significant, his slugging fell to .489, his OPS to .893. Some suggested that he had worked so hard to be ready for the season—and, yes, get a new contract deal struck during spring training—that he wore down and the shoulder lost some of its strength. He denied it, continually saying that he simply got mechanically out of whack. Because of that, he sometimes tried to look for pitches and got himself out of sorts.

Look at AGon's numbers through May 25, before and after:

Gonzalez has never offered physical excuses, only opined that he gets mechanically unturned. However, is that related to the lead shoulder never being the same? We may never know, and playing 81 games in Dodger Stadium and another 18 in Petco and Pac Bell parks do not help any power numbers. And Dr. ElAtracche points out that the aging process historically impacts power, save for a ten-year window from the mid-nineties until the imposition of mandatory drug-testing in 2005. In addition, with the schedule as erratic as it is now with few getaway day games, the banning of amphetamines has led to a lot of grumbling about the maintence of energy levels that players in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties never had to worry about.

Jacoby Ellsbury

In Boston, there is the concern about the power numbers of Jacoby Ellsbury. Anyone who watched him take batting practice when he came up in 2007 saw some eye-opening power displays. Hitting coach Dave Magadan, when asked in 2007 if Ellsbury might someday turn into a (healthy) Grady Sizemore, always said that his timing took a lot of work and that there was just a tick’s difference between getting jammed by fastballs and hitting infield grounders and launching balls as he often did in BP.

It all came together for Ellsbury in 2011, when he arguably was the American League’s most valuable player:  32 homers; he’d never hit as many as 10 in a pro season. 83 extra base hits.

But on April 12, 2012, he suffered a separated right shoulder—the lead shoulder-- when Rays shortstop Reid Brignac landed atop of him as he slid into second base. Ellsbury played in only 74 games, he had 22 extra base hits, his slugging dropped from .552 to .370.

At no time since he reported for spring training has Ellsbury made excuses about any residual effects from the separated shoulder. He has handled his impending free agency with the ultimate professionalism and tried to stay away from any first person pronoun material.

The decline in on base percentage and slugging could well be mechanical, which has eroded confidence in his ability to hit deep in counts and stay back and drive pitches. On this past road trip, the Red Sox staff felt he was starting to once again launch in batting practice, a sign they felt was encouraging, especially since his best months historically have come after 

Still, one wonders about the mechanical, physical and psychological aspects of Ellsbury’s swing, based on these numbers:

Never underestimate the complexities of the mechanics of hitting,” says Dr. ElAttrache. “Especially when dealing with the lead shoulder.”