A Hapless May
Slumps are like Yosemite’s sequoias in that they are easy to spot, but their roots are a mystery. Most slumps, Kemp’s current one included, can be attributed to causes that are physical, mechanical, mental, or any combination of the three.
Physical causes include injuries or discomforts that may be affecting a player’s ability to make effective contact with pitches. In a Sports Illustrated interview from earlier this month, Kemp himself commented that an ankle injury has rendered his running ability “not as explosive” as it has the potential to be. Furthermore, it has been speculated that Kemp aggravated an arthritic hip that bothered him in the past. The hip narrative comes full circle with Kemp’s visible discomfort after a swing-and-miss during May 19’s win over the Cubs. A hip injury would also have an effect on the speed of a batter’s swing, which is something that Kemp has experienced during his May downturn. His 37.9% pull rate in May is his lowest since 2012, and his 32.8% opposite-field rate is his highest since 2008.
Mechanically, Kemp’s slump can be attributed to a multitude of factors. One such factor would be the opening of his stance when he swings, thus giving him much less bat control and lessening his ability to hit the ball on the barrel of the bat. Additionally, it can be observed that he holds his hands higher above his head than in previous years, which may have an effect on how quickly his hands move through the strike zone, costing him bat speed in the process. Pitches that he normally drives are now fouled back or swung on and missed.
Plate discipline is another aspect of batting mechanics. For Kemp, this can be yet another explanation for his struggles. So far in 2015, he has swung at a record number of pitches, both in and out of the strike zone. His 54.4% swing rate is the highest in his career thus far, and he has swung at 38.7% pitches outside of the strike zone, also a career high.
To that end, everyone from casual Padre fans to Fox Sports Analyst Steve Finley can speculate about the causes of Kemp’s slump, but Kemp himself is the only one who knows the cause of his sub-par offensive performance thus far. Furthermore, it is up to him to make the necessary adjustments to end his struggles, and begin a streak that makes his slump seem like a distance memory.
Don’t Believe Him, Just Watch
Whenever a star player struggles offensively, there is the perpetual possibility that it is a permanent sign of a player’s decline. For that reason, slumps can be very frightening for many observers. Kemp, however, is not in the midst that type of downturn.
He has had slumps in every season since his MVP-caliber 2011 campaign, and none of these have ever lasted more than six weeks. He hit .265 in August and September of 2012. In April and May 2013, he hit a meager .251; and .248 in the first two months of last season. Currently, he is batting .250 through April and the first three-quarters of May 2015.
There is no doubt that Kemp will break out of his current funk. And if history serves as any indicator, it will happen very soon.