Welcome to the 2020 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2020. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.
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No. 23, Matt Kemp: -0.1 rWAR
A lot of strange things have happened and continue to happen in 2020, but in terms of the Rockies, one thing I never expected to occur did: I cheered for Matt Kemp.
On a deal born on the 4th of July, the unthinkable happened and the Rockies inked Kemp to a minor league deal in the wake of the NL adopting the DH and Ian Desmond’s decision to opt out of the 2020 season.
The 15-year veteran was signed by Jeff Bridich to address those issues, but also because Kemp had been so successful against the Rockies by hitting .314 with a .365 on-base percentage, alongside 46 homers and 154 RBI in 663 at-bats.
“It is an opportunity for him,” Bridich said. “He does not want to see an end to his long career anytime soon. He’s very much looking for an opportunity to contribute in any way he can contribute.”
Considering his purpose — and his past-his-prime, 36-year-old status — Kemp definitely contributed. Over his first seven games (the Rockies’ first 14 games), in 20 plate appearances, he hit two homers and a double, scored four runs, and hit .353/.450/.765. Like the Rockies, this pace wasn’t kept, and Kemp finished the season hitting .239/.326/.419 with six homers, 18 runs scored, and 21 RBI. When Kemp started, the Rockies played .500 ball (15-15) and they went 20-23 when he played in the game.
Kemp took over the DH role for more than half the season (33 games). He hit .239/.308/.431 with six homers, 20 RBI, three doubles, 11 walks, and 18 runs scored in 120 plate appearances. A few of his highlights in the DH role included crushing a 457-foot homer with a 108 mph exit velocity to the right field seats in a 9-6 win over the Padres on Aug. 2. He was also a huge spark in a bright spot in the Rockies’ season — the series victory over Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium in early September. The Rockies had lost 17 of their last 18 at Chavez Ravine, but Kemp helped secure the series win when he hit the go-ahead homer in the eighth inning — a two-run shot — against L.A. The hit also happened to be the 1,800th of Kemp’s career.
Kemp also made 17 plate appearances as a pinch hitter, hitting .250 with two doubles, five RBI, and five walks. With runners in scoring position, Kemp hit .367/.472/.733 with three homers, 17 RBI, two doubles, 12 runs scored, and six walks. He also hit much better against left-handed pitching (.300 with two homers, nine RBI, and 10 runs scored in 50 at-bats) versus righties (.194 with four homers, 12 RBI, and eight runs scored in 67 at-bats). He even recorded one stolen base against the Giants on Sept. 22, and had a bleeding hand to show for it.
In a COVID-shortened season, 2020 was also noteworthy for the MLB’s response to racial justice protests around the country. Kemp became a leader in the team’s response, taking himself out of the lineup on the Aug. 27 game against Arizona with the support of his teammates and the organization, along with many athletes and sports leagues after Jacob Blake was shot by police in Wisconsin. The Rockies and Diamondbacks decided to postpone their game the next day.
Kemp’s future and that of the DH in the NL is unknown going into 2021. He did have his great moments, but his .214/.276/.400 slash line at Coors Field left some things to be desired. However, he did get four of his homers and 13 RBI at home.
Oh, and that one time he helped the Rockies beat the Dodgers instead of beating the Rockies as a Dodger.