Matt Kemp was a thoroughly league average hitter in 2010, which made it all the more surprising when he exploded the following year with a wOBA of .419. It was good for second best in the National League.
All told, he accrued 8.7 WAR according to Fangraphs’ metric, hit at a rate that was 71 percentage points above the average (by wRC+), picked up both a Hank Aaron Award and a Silver Slugger Award, and finished second in the NL MVP balloting. Not a bad bounceback year.
So what’s a preternaturally talented ballplayer to do for an encore?
How about performing at a whole new level? From the beginning of the 2012 season through April 30, Kemp has absolutely demolished the National League. His 2011 average of .324? He batted .417 this April. His OBP? It spiked up from .399 to .490. His wOBA? It’s up from .419 to .565. And if we normalize and adjust for the performance of the league as a whole? He went from 71 percentage points above the league average to 172. His 2011 season has more in common with the league average than it does with this new ridiculous level of performance that he’s exhibiting right now.
Put it this way. In 2011, Matt Kemp hit at a level that was very comparable to Albert Pujols‘ career line. But Pujols has never had a single calendar month with a wRC+ as high as Kemp’s April. Not once.
In fact, you have to go back to Barry Bonds in 2004 to find an April by a qualified batter with a higher wRC+ than Kemp’s 2012. And if you take Bonds out of the equation, you have to go back all the way to April 1983, with George Brett.
Now, obviously, putting up obscenely high numbers in a single month is far easier than keeping them there for a whole season. But if we create a franken-season consisting of the last 12 months of baseball we’ve seen from Kemp, spanning from May 1, 2011 to April 30, 2012 (a total of 666 plate appearances), we get a mark of 81 percentage points above the league. That would rank somewhere around 90th in the list of the greatest single seasons since the deadball era. It’s equal to Jose Bautista‘s 2011.
So what’s next?
Kemp could hit at a perfectly league average level for the rest of the season, and he’d still come out 25 percentage points above the league when it’s all said and done. But if I apply a simple bare bones projection method, taking Kemp’s career history and weighting the recent seasons more heavily, I get a season wOBA somewhere around .400. That seems a little low to me, but it’s likely because the poor season in 2010 is throwing the numbers off. Either way, a .400 wOBA is nothing to sneeze at.
I’m convinced reigning king Albert Pujols has a long, fruitful life in baseball still ahead of him, and there’s still a large set of top tier batters that includes guys like Jose Bautista, Ryan Braun, and Miguel Cabrera. But they all need to move aside, because Matt Kemp is the new best hitter in baseball.