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Matt Kemp: Mid-Season Fantasy MVP

The Bison!!!
The Bison!!!

I don't think everyone knows that I am a huge Matt Kemp fan. It is due to the fact that I am a Dodgers fan as well. But I do watch him play most every night, unless there are cold Amstel Lights and cuban cigars to be had.

Kemp had his breakout season in 2009, where he hit .297-.352-.490 with 26 HRs, 101 RBIs, 97 runs scored and 34 SBs. After his breakout season, I ranked him as the #1 pick in 2010 fantasy drafts. Most readers questions my thinking or lack thereof. Few agreed. Which was all expected really. We are all here to let you air out your opinions about your fantasy teams and fantasy players whenever you want.

But Kemp had other plans. His new-found stardom landed him a Hollywood singing star named Rihanna, RiRi for short. He decided it was better to spend his offseason not working out, or hitting baseballs, but spending time with RiRi. That decision lead to a down season for Kemp at the plate, and in the field for that matter. But for us fantasy baseball nuts, we care what he does at the plate, and he didn't meet expectations, mine or most anyone else. He was called out by Dodgers GM Ned Colletti last April, might have been May, for his lackluster play on the basepaths and in the field. He was scorned by manager Joe Torre and his coaches for lackadaisical play.

So how did Kemp perform in 2010? He hit .249-.310-.450 which was well below his 2009 triple slash lines. But, he did hit 28 HRs, drive in 89, score 82 runs and steal 19 bases. Most of his numbers were down, but he improved in the power department.

More on Matt Kemp after the jump:

So what caused his numbers to drop pretty much across the board in 2010? Looking back at his 2010 season, his strikeout rate jumped from 23% to 28%, and his BABIP dropped from .345 to .295. While .295 is not terrible, consider that his BABIP in his 3 previous seasons were: .411 in 2007, .361 in 2008, and .345 in 2009. His 2007 BABIP occurred in just 311 plate appearance, so I don't think anyone can expect him to repeat that again.

His batted ball data really did not change from 2009 to 2010 so we really cannot glean anything from that data.

This offseason, Kemp got rid of RiRi, worked out like a man out to prove his critics wrong, and got a new manager and first base coach. Some will say getting rid of RiRi was the biggest change for Kemp. Maybe not. But, for me, the biggest change was his new manager Don Mattingley and the hiring of first base coach Davey Lopes. Kemp had a very good relationship with Mattingley last season, and the hiring of Lopes would obviously improve his efficiency on the basepaths.

The combination of all the changes Kemp made in the offseason has definitely shown up in his performance this year. In my pre-season rankings, I projected Kemp to have a 30-30 season this year. Again, there were many people questioning my projection based on his 2010 season. But, in fantasy baseball, you can't always look at what happened last year. I almost made him my #1 outfielder, but instead ranked him behind just Carl Crawford and Ryan Braun.

So far in 2011, Kemp has been the fantasy MVP. His stats are up across the board, and he is on pace for a career year. He is hitting .331-.411-.641 with 20 HRs, 56 RBIs, 45 runs scored and 14 SBs. He is on pace for 48 HRs, 135 RBIs and 34 SBs. Should he accomplish these stats, he will be the #1 pick in 2012 fantasy drafts.

So why has Kemp improved so much? He has improved his plate discipline as his walk rate has improved from 8% in 2010 to almost 12% this year. His strikeout rate has dropped from 28% to 25% this year, and his BABIP sits around .370 vs just .295 last year.

His batted ball data tells us his improved BABIP is for real, as he has increased his line drive rate from 20% in 2010 to 23% in 2011. His ground ball rate has dropped from 41% to 36% this year and his HR/FB rate has jumped dramatically, from 16% in 2010 to 26% in 2011. I doubt his HR/FB% is sustainable, but it remains that Kemp's power is surging. In fact, over the past 3 seasons, his ISO has seen the following growth:

2008- .168

2009- .193

2010- .201

2011- .310

ESPN provides player ratings on a daily basis, and right now he is their #1 player. ESPN also provides player ratings from 3 other sources, and an average rating, and he is #2 overall in the AVG ratings behind only Jose Bautista.

For me, Kemp is the fantasy MVP thus far, and is pace for a career year which could place him as the #1 pick in 2012 fantasy drafts.