As Justin Upton rounded the bases after hitting a home run in Wednesday night’s loss to the Chicago Cubs, the scoreboards at Petco Park honored the Padre left-fielder with their favorite Bruno Mars-inspired catchphrase. The Padres’ Twittersphere also lit up with the phrase, and the hashtag bounced between every corner of the San Diego fan base.
“Upton Funk” had struck yet again.
Meanwhile, another Padre outfielder was in the middle of his own funk. This one, however, came with no flare, no pop hook, and no celebratory dance groove.
Matt Kemp stands in the other corner of the Padres’ outfield. So far this season, the two-time All-Star and former MVP runner-up is getting a base hit in roughly a quarter of his at-bats so far this season. In his 80 at-bats in the month of May, he is batting .163 with zero home runs and 21 strikeouts. He has collected only two extra-base hits, six RBI’s, and two walks. With an on-base percentage of .200 and a slugging percentage of .188, Kemp is in an undeniable, unquestionable slump. Call it the “Kemp funk,” if you will.
A Powerless April
In April, Kemp’s .326/.357/.478 put him among the National League leaders in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Furthermore, nine of his thirty hits in the month of April were for extra bases. Baseball Info Solutions provides a more subjective April statistic for Kemp – 39.5% of Kemp’s contact could be classified as “hard-hit,” the second highest on the Padres’ roster.
Kemp’s April was one category short of perfect. His one home run in the entire month was not only sub-par production, it was also very uncharacteristic of him. Kemp, by design, is an intimidating presence at the plate, and has the reputation of a player with the ability to turn a game around with one swing of the bat. General Manager AJ Preller knew this when he traded for Kemp, and so does Bud Black whenever he pencils Kemp’s name as the third batter in the line-up.
Hence, it is disappointing when Matt Kemp hits only one home run in his first 92 at-bats of the season. In spite of his strong April average, he is not paid nor expected to hit only one home run in an entire month. The Denver Broncos do not pay Peyton Manning to throw 100 screen passes and an occasional deep ball.
The prevailing mindset was that Kemp was in the process of finding his home run swing, and it was just taking a bit longer than expected. The Oklahoma native would soon start seeing the ball better and taking better swings. There would be fewer pop-outs and more line drives into the left-field bleachers. It would not be long before Kemp started getting “locked-in.”
When May 1st rolled around, it would have seemed fallacious to suggest that something was wrong with Matt Kemp. Three weeks and a 200-point drop in batting average later, the idea is not only feasible, but a certainty.