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2 to Watch: Matt Kemp and Robbie Ray

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Each week during the season, I will profile two players that are interesting either because they are in the midst of a breakout, are performing way above their heads, are interesting for other reasons, or are widely available and useful. This week, it's Matt Kemp and Robbie Ray

This picture is fitting for Kemp's season so far. That ball is not going very far. What's going on with him?
This picture is fitting for Kemp's season so far. That ball is not going very far. What's going on with him?
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to week 11 of 2 to Watch! To read previous editions of 2 to Watch, check out this link. As usual, we'll start by checking in on last week's players to see how they've done in the past week.

Note: all stats from Fangraphs and current up to 6/16

Chad Bettis: 10 innings, 7.20 ERA, 1.7 WHIP, 23% K%, 8.5% BB%, 4.71 FIP, 3.78 xFIP, 0.367 BABIP

Bettis didn't have a great week results-wise, but he was also unlucky and his underlying skills were still pretty good. He actually did what I said he would need to do to produce a better than league average ERA: increase his strikeout rate above 22% and increase his swinging strike rate. He got 12.5% whiffs in these two starts, which is excellent and well above his previous marks. This is the rare situation where the skills actually improved and the results got worse. If he can maintain the strikeout and whiff gains and get a little more good luck, he could actually surprise a lot of people, but two starts isn't enough yet to draw any conclusions.

Joe Panik: 1 HR, 4 R, 2 RBI, 6.9% BB%, 6.9% K%, .250 BABIP, 0.259/0.310/0.444 (AVG/OBP/SLG)

Panik continued more of the same excellence he has been showing all year, despite an unlucky BABIP in the past week. The power is still hanging in there, the strikeouts are excellent, and the triple slash line is good for a middle infielder. I'm not sure the power will continue to be this good the rest of the season, but it's still there right now and the average should be better than this week going forward. My opinion hasn't really changed.

Let's jump into this week's profiles!

Matt Kemp

You might recognize this guy. He was an MVP candidate once, only 4 years ago. Our Fake Teams leader, Ray, anointed Kemp a top-10 outfielder going into this season. Kemp had a remarkable second half in 2014, making everyone remember how good he can be when he is right. So, what happened?

2014 599 25 77 89 8 0.287 0.346 0.506 24.20% 8.70% 0.345 20%
2015 278 3 34 34 7 0.246 0.288 0.346 23.40% 4.70% 0.314 4.90%

Oof. 2015 has been rough. The power has disappeared, the walks went with the power, the fly balls aren't turning into homers anymore and the steals have increased significantly. Hmm, only the steals are a good sign. Let's look at some more tables!

LD% GB% FB% Contact % SwStr%
2014 25.90% 43% 31.10% 70.20% 14%
2015 20.80% 48.20% 31% 74.20% 12.90%

HR/FB dist
2011 307
2012 313
2013 285
2014 301
2015 268

These two tables dig a little deeper. The first table adds a little confusion here. He is swinging and missing less (good) and making more contact (also good). As an aside, the contact % is up on pitches inside and outside the zone, in case you were wondering. Despite all that, his results have been bad when he does make all that contact. He exchanged line drives for groundballs, basically. Grounders are not really what you want from Kemp. He has some speed, but he's no Billy Hamilton. Kemp is best when he hits for power.

Speaking of power, look at his five year home run and flyball distance trend. Three of those five years are over 300 feet, which is near the top of the league. In fact, he led the league in 2012. Look at 2013 more closely. Go ahead, move your face closer to the screen. It's like one of those MagicEye puzzles. Do you see it yet? Ok, so I lied, there's nothing more to see in that table, but 2013 does hold some clues for us.

He hit .270/.328/.395 that season and missed 89 games. Here are the injuries he had that year: strained right hamstring, strained left shoulder, left ankle injury (season ending surgery required). Those are all difficult injuries that likely sap power and speed. Despite all those injuries, his line was still better than this year, but at least in the same area. Since I don't see any other explanations from the numbers for his poor performance, there are two possibilities.

Either he is just stuck in a massive slump and ready to break out and regress back to something like he did last year or, and this is what I believe, he is playing through an undisclosed injury (maybe the hip problem found in his Padres physical, maybe that surgically repaired ankle?). Since I believe he is playing through an injury, I would not count on him turning it around without a long DL stint to heal up. I would understand if you still believe in the skills and want to assume it's just a slump and hang onto him.

I only own him in one league and that league is so deep that dropping him is not an option, but in shallower leagues (10 team and less) I would drop him. Sorry for the bummer news. Let's move onto someone else!

Robbie Ray

User MIK57, a loyal visitor to this humble corner of the interwebs, suggested that I dig into this young Dbacks starting pitcher based on his results so far. He was once a top-100 prospect with the Tigers and was traded to Arizona last year as part of the Didi Gregorius/Shane Greene trade. He is still very young at just 23 years old and already has 52 MLB innings of experience.

So, what has he done this season to deserve a spot in this valuable real estate?

24.2 1.09 3.31 4.37 0.97 16.80% 7.40% 0.229

SwStr% GB% HR/FB% FB Velocity FB SwStr% SL SwStr% CH SwStr%
6.40% 32.40% 3.60% 93.4 4.90% 14.50% 3.70%

The results look amazing. That WHIP and ERA are spectacular! Even his FIP is still much better than average. So far, so good. Things start to unravel as we look at some of the other numbers, though. His strikeout rate is bad, his xFIP is also bad, due to his tiny HR/FB rate, which he is very fortunate to have and xFIP knows this. His BABIP is also very low, and much lower than his minor league or previous major league averages.

His swinging strike percentage tells me his mediocre to bad strikeout rate is well deserved. His tiny grounder rate shows that he is an extreme fly ball pitcher in a park that gives up lots of homers (Chase Field). His velocity is great for a lefty, but he only has that one pitch (the slider) that gets even above average whiffs. He also relies very heavily on his fastball, throwing it 76% of the time! The slider comes in at 17%, leaving only crumbs for his changeup and even less for his curve.

That basically makes him a fastball/slider lefty with very little swing-and-miss potential, a heavy flyball tendency and very lucky start to the season for BABIP and HR/FB%. Sorry to be a downer again, but I can't buy this version of Ray. I don't see him keeping this up at all. He throws hard and has a decent slider, but that's about all that I can say positively about Ray. The rest is just negative.

You know who he reminds me a lot of? Danny Duffy. Look at their stats from this season alone.

IP FIP xFIP K% BB% SwStr% GB% FB Velocity
Danny Duffy 38.1 4.54 4.79 16.90% 10.70% 6.10% 37.10% 93.70
Robbie Ray 24.2 3.31 4.37 16.80% 7.40% 6.40% 32.40% 93.40

See what I mean? The only differences for them this year have been in walk rate, home run rate, and BABIP (not shown). Duffy has been unlucky with batted balls and homers and Ray has been lucky. Other than that, they could be twins. Ray's better walk rate does matter and that is reflected in his better xFIP, but this is just an illustration to demonstrate who Ray's company is.

They both rely heavily on a left-handed fastball and one main secondary pitch (a curve for Duffy) and have a flyball heavy approach. Duffy pulled off a 2.53 ERA last season, despite these same skills and a 4.42 xFIP, so Ray's good start is not hard to believe. He could be capable of faking it for a while longer, but eventually, as is happening to Duffy this year, your skills have to improve to survive.

That's all for week 11! Enjoy Father's Day and some other holiday that I'm sure is coming up, like Juneteenth Day, which is apparently a real holiday. I did not make that up. Google says it celebrates the end of slavery in the U.S., which I think we can all agree is something worth celebrating. Happy Juneteenth everyone and Tschus!