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.