Is Matt Kemp Being Overvalued?

After establishing himself as a strong fantasy performer over his first three full seasons, Matt Kemp turned on his nitro boosters and took his play to an entirely new level in 2011. That performance, which included just a home run short of 40/40, made him a top five pick in fantasy leagues last year. Unfortunately, a left hamstring strain cost him two months, but he still had himself another fantastic season while he was on the field. Fantasy owners haven’t forgotten what a full season of Kemp could provide — our own Alan Harrison took him fifth overall in the early RotoGraphs mock draft, but he wasn’t the only one to select Kemp among the top 10 players in recent mocks. He went sixth and seventh in two other industry mocks and sports an ADP of six on Mock Draft Central. But, are fantasy owners forgetting a key issue?

The elephant in the room is the torn labrum in his left shoulder that he played with during the season. In early October, Kemp underwent surgery to repair the tear and some damage in his rotator cuff. After the surgery, it was revealed that the condition of his left shoulder was worse than expected, which raised doubts about whether he will be at full strength for the start of the season. Although the procedure figured to be just a clean-up, doctors had to actually reattach his labrum to the socket.

Adrian Gonzalez had a similar procedure in October of 2010 and ended up hitting just one home run over the first month of the season. Furthermore, despite moving out of perhaps the best pitcher’s park in baseball, his ISO actually declined by a smidge over the full season, while his HR/FB ratio didn’t budge.

Obviously, a one player sample size doesn’t constitute a study on how hitters perform after shoulder surgery. But, it would be hard to argue that a hitter won’t be affected after returning from such a serious injury. Kemp makes below average contact and his fly ball rate was relatively low for a power hitter last season. Speaking of fly ball rates, Gonzalez’ own rate declined significantly to a career low in 2011. It’s likely that his recovery caused him to compensate with his swing plane and affected his ability to lift the ball. That’s another risk that Kemp faces — a decline in his FB%.

The great thing about Kemp in past years was that he combined all those home runs with a bundle of stolen bases. But that speed dried up in 2012. No doubt his hamstring injury affected his desire for base thievery. But, hamstring injuries can reoccur and it might make him more hesitant on the base paths in the future. Nelson Cruz has battled leg issues himself, and his stolen base totals sat at 20 and 17 in 2009 and 2010, both coming in less than 500 at-bats. Then he stole just 17 bases total between 2011 and 2012, which came in more at-bats than over the previous two seasons. Likely in an effort to prevent those leg issues from plaguing him again, he decided to take it easier on the stolen base front. This too could happen to Kemp.

So, to get back to the original question, is drafting Kemp anywhere between fifth and tenth in snake drafts too early? I think it is. We all know what Kemp could produce in a healthy season. But, the shoulder surgery he endured will probably hamper his power. Add to that the risk that his 30+ stolen base total doesn’t return and it results in too many question marks to take him in the latter half of the first round.




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Mike Podhorzer produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

9 Responses to “Is Matt Kemp Being Overvalued?”

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  1. Vincent says:

    I’m not sure a Nelson Cruz comp is fair, considering Kemp was the most durable player in the game before 2012, and Nelson Cruz is, well, Nelson Cruz

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  2. mcbrown says:

    There is the rather obvious point that if Kemp’s power and speed weren’t likely to be hampered, he wouldn’t just be a reasonable pick from 6-10, he’d be a bargain…

    If not in the 5-10 range then where? And if not Kemp there then who?

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    • rotobanter says:

      With Kemp’s risk there are the following options:
      1) Position Scarcity = Robinson Cano/2b
      2) SP Ace = Kershaw or Verlander/Strasburg. They continually rank top 8 or better year after year.
      3) Sure thing 1b: I’d go with Votto due to +discipline trends (and rebound in power).

      Honestly i think i still go Kemp over all these guys b/c of 30-20 with 100-100-290+ is still top 5 production.

      *I’d like to hear what you think about Cargo then – bad home/road splits, inj. concern, etc.

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      • mcbrown says:

        Oh sure, Cano and Votto would be reasonable options over Kemp (SP in first round is a matter of taste, I suppose). But Mike is suggesting Kemp should be taken 11th or later, and I would be shocked if Cano or Votto are around in many leagues at that point.

        Re: Cargo, I wouldn’t hesitate to take him in the same range Mike is talking about with Kemp (6-10). I think this range prices in his injury risk (he’d be a perennial top 5 without it), and in most leagues extreme splits aren’t a problem but a benefit (in a daily league you can always sit him on the road against a lefty if you think you have a better option on your bench).

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  3. I think in this situation, it might be an example of it being worth taking a slightly less valuable player who is considered safer. I haven’t projected Kemp yet and am far from running my dollar values, but I I’m not sure how much I want speculation (of injuries hampering his power and speed) affecting my projected numbers. So from a straight projection, he might be worth a 5-7 pick, but given the elevated risk, I would shy away. Someone like Votto, who is certainly less valuable given full health for both, is a good example of someone to consider instead.

    Though I personally would never draft a pitcher in the first round, the elite guys do always end up earning that type of value, so the Verlanders of the world are justifiable as well.

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    • mcbrown says:

      Votto, Kershaw and Verlander are probably the only people I can see who meet your criteria, and certainly Votto is unlikely to be around past 10, and I (like you) don’t like drafting a pitcher so high, even one with a track record like Kershaw or Verlander. So again, I struggle to see who would be a better option in the late first round, unless by “late first round” you only mean 5-7.

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