What were the expectations?
After coming to the Braves via trade during the 2016 season, Matt Kemp did great work for Atlanta posting a .280 batting average in the cleanup role for the Braves. He slugged 12 home runs in 56 games after coming over from San Diego and the Braves thought they had acquired a rejuvenated version of Kemp like the All-Star he had been during his time in Los Angeles. Kemp was automatically penciled in to the cleanup role again entering 2017 and coming into Spring Training it was apparent that Kemp had lost the weight he gained during his stint in San Diego.
To open Matt Kemp’s first full season with the Braves expectations were high and he showed he was serious when he lost, reportedly, 30 pounds before the 2017 season even began. Kemp started out hotter than the surface of the sun and for a while had people thinking maybe even the old Matt Kemp was back. From Opening Day to June 14th, Kemp posted a line of .327/.364/.558 with a wRC+ of 139.
But that all changed when Matt ran into a hamstring issue. From June 14th to the end of the season Kemp posted an abysmal line of .224/.271/.364 with a wRC+ of 60(!) showing that he was in no way healthy. (Worth noting, too, was that he had already begun to cool before the hamstring injury, but there’s no doubt that his health affected his production — the only question is how much it did so, versus the usual force of regression.)
All the weight Kemp had lost in the off-season seemed to come back in force and by the end of the season Kemp was missing days at a time and pinch-hitting sporadically.
Kemp finished the season with 467 PAs and a dead-average 100 wRC+. He did not make any gains in walk rate, though he did trim his strikeout rate. He showed an incredibly worrying tendency to hit the ball on the ground in a season where hitting the ball in the air was an easy recipe for success; the tendency was present even when he was hitting well in May, but got out of control as the injuries took his toll on him over the summer, making him essentially unplayable and a double-play machine. (Kemp finished second in baseball with 25 double plays grounded into, first in the National League and just one behind Albert Pujols. He was by far the worst at baseball in hitting into double plays when adjusting for opportunity to do so.)
He was also essentially unplayable in the field once again. While his UZR was marginally better than his 2016 tally, he posted one of the worst DRS marks of his already-dreadful defensive career.
Priority number one for Matt Kemp could be getting his hamstring healthy again. A close second could be committing to re-losing the weight that he gained during his time not playing in 2017. If somehow, he can get healthy and re-lose the gained weight it is entirely possible that he can produce the way he did before the injury in 2017, though unlikely. Once he’s healthy and capable of being productive, he should strive to do something about his increasing groundball tendencies, as well as his free-swinging ways. A worrying decline in z-contact% in 2017 should also be reversed if he’s going to go back to succeeding.
The defense will never be good for Kemp and the probable best course of action is to move on from the Braves standpoint. If he is to continue in Atlanta, the Braves badly need him to recover, or else they will be throwing both money and plate appearances into a player that may not produce at all going forward.