Can Matt Kemp Really Go 50/50?

I’m going to go 50-50 next year. I’m telling you, y’all created a monster. I’m about to get back in the weight room super tough so I can be as strong as I was last year…I’m going to try for 50-50, which has never been done. I’m serious.” – Matt Kemp on a conference call, just hours after losing out on the 2011 NL MVP Award to Ryan Braun

I may be a Dodger fan, but it still doesn’t explain why this statement didn’t shock me. I mean, Alex Rodriguez, one of the best all-around baseball players the game has ever seen, never even broke 45-45 in the most epic season of his prime years. So where does Matt Kemp get off saying he can pull it off in 2012?

I don’t know. I really don’t. But I’d love to see it. The real question is, CAN he do it? Is it possible, in a day and age when steroids are scarcely part of the game like they were in A-Rod’s 42-46 year in 1998, for a five-tool player to put up those numbers?

We don’t even see 50 home run seasons from guys like Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder anymore. If the guys that live to slug the ball 500 feet can’t hit one every three games, is itreally plausible that Kemp can do it?

Last season, Kemp led the National League with 39 home runs and 126 RBI. He hit for a .324 average, falling eight hits short of the NL’s first Triple Crown season in over 70 years. Kemp also won a Gold Glove in centerfield, and swiped exactly 40 bags. By the way, he did this on one of the most wacky, inconsistent teams in the league.

So, yes. It’s POSSIBLE. I wouldn’t put money on it, but he’s definitely got the skills. This is what I think has to happen for Kemp to reach the unprecedented 50/50 (staying healthy is obvious, so it’s not included):

  1. Andre Ethier and Juan Rivera must produce – Rivera just ignited the Dodger offense last year after coming over mid-season. He’s always been a home run threat, but the overlooked statistic on Rivera is he’s a career .277 hitter. If he carries over the hot streak from 2011, Kemp is going to have a very scary bat hitting behind him, allowing for more hittable pitches over the course of a season. And with Ethier, it’s more a matter of health than anything. When he’s 100 percent, he is going to rake. Having Ethier and Rivera sandwiching Kemp would force pitchers to throw to Kemp, therefore increasing the home runs he hits, therefore…well, you can do the math.
  2. Dee Gordon must get on base – The little spark plug of the Dodgers offense in 2012 is going to be none other than Dee Gordon. Skinny Swag came up last season and just went off, getting on base at a ridiculous clip and of course stealing bases with ease. Avoiding a sophomore slump will be key for Gordon getting on base and continuing to produce. The more often Gordon is on base in front of Kemp, the more times Kemp will get a distracted, nervous pitcher on the bump who has to constantly think about the speedster taking off.
  3. Kemp must have the green light – Kemp’s 40 stolen bases last year is nothing to scoff at. He’s got great speed and a good instinct on the base paths. But if 50/50 is a realistic goal, we’re talking Kemp gets on first, and doesn’t even have to look for a sign. Chances are, he’ll have that green light, but if Don Mattingly is going to play it safe in 2012, Kemp won’t get to 50 steals just based on opportunity alone.

I think Kemp has a better shot at reaching the 50-steal plateau than the 50 homers. But, for a guy who hit 39 last year with limited protection and every opposing pitcher keying on him, you never know.

Surrounded by some big bats, Kemp is going to see more pitches to hit and he’s going to be motivated by the MVP snub. I won’t put it past a player this talented in his prime, but time will tell if he actually reaches the 50/50 mark.

By the way, if he does…is that the greatest statistical individual season in baseball history? Oh, that’s a discussion for another time. I for one can’t wait to watch Kemp’s attempt at history this season.

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