At one point, after being dealt from the Los Angeles Dodgers, it looked like Matt Kemp was on the downward slope towards the end of his career. In San Diego, at times, he looked a shell of his former All-Star self, collecting his large paychecks on a losing team, seemingly going through the motions.
Baseball is a funny game sometimes.
For hitters, if you succeed three out of every ten times when up at bat, you're more than likely an All-Star. Matt Kemp was one of the more feared hitters in the game several years back, but injuries and general regression caused the Dodgers to deal their former star to the Padres. He played on several bad teams in San Diego and in turn didn't receive much fan fare.
His stats continued to dip and his range in left field also continued to decline, with scouts saying he'd put on too much weight and had not dedicated himself to baseball like he once did.
Atlanta acquired Kemp in a salary swap with the Padres last season. The Braves dealt troubled infielder Hector Olivera back to San Diego, enabling the Braves to buy low on a right-handed, power-hitting outfielder that the front office hoped they could "fix."
Atlanta has been rebuilding for the past couple of seasons, but one area of need was protection for Freddie Freeman in the middle of the order, especially from the right side. Even though Kemp declined from his All-Star form in Los Angeles, the one tool he continued to carry was his power. In 2015, he hit 23 home runs for the Padres and last season between the Padres and Braves, he hit 35 total homers.
So far this year, the Braves have managed just a 12-20 overall record, last place in the National League East as of this writing. As the rebuild continues in Atlanta, tough times are to be expected. One of the few bright spots has been Matt Kemp, who the Braves challenged this offseason to get dedicated to baseball once again and to get in better shape.
Kemp lost nearly 30 pounds and looks much more trim, noticeably increasing his range in left field. He may never win a gold glove again, but he is at least adequate in the field. In 22 games this season, Kemp has a slash line of .337/.364/.621 with six home runs and 18 runs batted in. He did spend some time on the disabled list in early April, but that appears to be behind him now. One thing is for sure, when he is in the lineup, he is producing.
After coming over from San Diego last season, Kemp played 56 games in Atlanta, slashing .280/.336/.519 with 15 doubles, 12 home runs and 39 runs batted in. Penciling him in the lineup every day in left, hitting behind Freddie Freeman has been a big boost for the Braves.
Before Kemp's arrival, teams were pitching around Freeman, making other players beat them. With Kemp in the lineup, the Braves have had a much more potent offense. Atlanta has always been built around pitching, but you must score runs to win games.
Kemp is 32 years old and will turn 33 in September, so his best days are probably behind him, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have some quality left. He is signed through 2020, so the hope is he provides power from the right side the next couple years as the Braves begin to bring their wave of talented minor leaguers to the big leagues.
While the Braves shouldn't expect him to hit .330 like he is currently, his 56 game average last year of .280 is much more reasonable. He doesn't walk much, but his ability to barrel the ball for extra-base hits and drive in runs is just what Atlanta needs if they want to climb out of the National League cellar and challenge for division titles again.