Things could be worse for the Dodgers. They’re 7-9, which is hardly terrible for this time of year. That puts them just two games off the NL Wild Card pace. While meaningless in terms of the actual postseason, it puts into perspective how little they need to turn things around. Yet, in terms of run differential, they rank among the league’s worst. Only two teams have scored fewer runs, and only six have allowed more. In fact, if it weren’t for the superhuman performances by Matt Kemp, the Dodgers might be at medium-well, approaching well-done right now.
To get a general idea of how superb Kemp has been this season, here is a list of categories in which he currently leads the majors: batting average (along with BABIP), stolen bases (tie), on-base percentage, weighted runs created, weighted runs above average, wOBA, and WPA. He also leads in the batting component of WAR, but falls slightly behind Joey Votto and Troy Tulowitzki in total WAR on account of defense. In fact, if you were compiling a list of the three best hitters in the league right now, you’d have quite a dog fight with those three and Alex Rodriguez.
It’s not just Kemp’s individual achievements that make him so remarkable in the season’s opening weeks. It’s how much he has meant to the Dodgers’ offense. Remember, they’re getting outscored by nearly every team in the league — every team in the National League, actually, since the only two teams they’ve outscored are in the AL. Where would this team be if it weren’t for Kemp’s contributions?
To illustrate the point, let’s look at Kemp as a percentage of the Dodgers’ overall offense. He currently has 66 PA, which represents 11.1% of the team’s total. We can use that to compare how much greater his contribution has been relative to his playing time.
Total Bases: 22.3%
Stolen Bases: 53.3%
Additionally, Kemp has been responsible for 21 runs — that is, runs plus RBI, minus homers. The Dodgers have scored just 52 runs on the season. Kemp has therefore been involved in 40.4% of the Dodgers’ scoring. Not only that, but he has come through in big spots. Yesterday’s walk-off home run is just one example of him turning in a hit that turned a game. As mentioned, his +1.51 WPA leads the league, and his 0.94 WPA/LI (i.e., situational wins) is second to only Votto. So not only is the team leaning on Kemp’s overall production, but specifically his production in crucial moments. The latter is a big reason why they’ve been able to outperform their run differential.
None of this, of course, is sustainable. You don’t need me to tell you that. The other Dodgers’ hitters will pick up the pace, just as Kemp’s production will slow down. As with most aspects of baseball, timing is everything. If the other hitters pick it up around the same time that Kemp comes back to earth, the Dodgers might be able to continue outperforming their expected record. If Kemp starts to slump before the other hitters bounce back, they could see a correction in that expected record and slide down in the standings.
(Or, the third scenario, which involves Kemp regressing and the Dodgers hitters continuing to flail. But we won’t think about that possibility for this moment in time.)
We’ve seen plenty of hot starts at the outset of 2011, but we haven’t seen many who come close to Kemp. Not only is he leading the league in multiple offensive categories, but he’s absolutely carrying his team right now. It likely won’t last much longer, since no player carries a .500+ BABIP for too long. But Kemp’s hot streak might have enabled the Dodgers to steal a couple of wins and stay ahead of their expected pace. If the rest of the team starts hitting, and pitching, as expected, we could see the Dodgers rise in the standings in the not so distant future.
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