If it’s better to be lucky than good, it’s best to be both.
Matt Kemp has the interesting dichotomy so far this year of a .194 batting average with an .890 OPS, thanks to the fact that he has seven walks, three homers and two doubles but only one single in 38 plate appearances.
That compelled me to do some poking around, and among other things, I found that in the early going this young season, Kemp is both walking (18.4 percent of the time) and striking out (34.2 percent) at the highest rates of his career. Of his 38 plate appearances, he has only put the ball in play 15 times. (That’s 39 percent, compared with a 64 percent career rate entering this season.)
Of those 15 times, he has gotten only the aforementioned double doubles and single single, for a .200 batting average on balls in play. That’s on the unlucky side. I remembered that early in his career, Kemp had high BABIP numbers — folks who followed such things were always wondering if his BABIP would hold up as he got older — so I decided to see when the decline happened.
It never did.
Going into this season, Kemp had a career BABIP of .352. (It has since dropped to .351.) I’m no super-expert on stats, but this struck me as extraordinary. And, in fact, it’s tops in Dodger history.
Here’s a chart showing the best BABIP hitters since the team moved to Los Angeles:
Kemp is also near the top in the Majors over the past 10 years.
If Derek Jeter’s presence on this chart is any indication, BABIP is not necessarily something that declines significantly in your 30s. (Jeter was at .364 in his 20s, .345 since.) We’ll see, of course, in Kemp’s case. But I wouldn’t worry about that .194 batting average too much, or in any case, I’d be much happier about his returning power numbers than sad about the arguably temporary loss of singles.