KempMatt Kemp hit a two-run, walk-off home run in the 12th inning Thursday as the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Atlanta Braves 5-3. Kemp’s home run came on an 0-2 count, continuing the unexpected success he’s having when hitting with two strikes this season.
Kemp has always started quickly at the plate during his five-year career. Entering 2011, Kemp was hitting .312 in March and April, his highest in any month. Through 20 games this season, he’s hitting .411, second in baseball behind Joey Votto. Kemp has been outstanding in nearly all hitting situations this season but he’s been especially effective when hitting with two strikes.
Throughout his career Kemp has been a hitter who jumps on the first pitch. Entering this season he was hitting .423 with a .740 slugging percentage on the first pitch of an at-bat. It's early, but that trend has continued so far; Kemp is hitting .500 (4-for-8) on the first pitch this season.
His performance with two strikes has greatly improved in 2011.
Matt Kemp Hitting with Two Strikes
First 20 Games, Past 2 Seasons
In Kemp’s first five seasons, he hit just .181 with two strikes, five points lower than the league average. His highest two-strike average was .202 (in 2008 and 2009), but he hit just .166 with two strikes last season.
He especially struggled to make contact, putting just 37.7 percent of two-strike pitches in play, also lower than the league average (41.0 percent). This season Kemp has reversed both of those career trends.
He ranks in the top five in baseball in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS through 20 games this season. Kemp's performance with his back against the wall will go a long way in determining if he can remain there all season.