Prior to the 2010 season, in a season preview for The Hardball Times, I examined how first base coach Davey Lopes helped improve the Phillies’ running game. Specifically, he helped in three ways: overall aggressiveness, increased aggression in stealing third base, and overall efficiency. When it became known that the Phillies weren’t bringing him back for the 2011 season, I was disappointed because he meant a lot to the team. Lopes eventually signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
While the Dodgers’ season overall has been disappointing, center fielder Matt Kemp has broken out and is a front-runner for the National League Most Valuable Player award. His numbers, both traditional and Sabermetric, speak highly to the now-27-year-old’s improvement. Last year, Kemp had a .760 OPS and barely crossed 50 percent in his stolen base success rate. This year, his OPS is a shade under 1.000 and is stealing bases with a 78 percent success rate.
On Twitter, I saw some Dodgers fans talking about Kemp’s great season. In particular, @Dingersblog noted that Kemp could not only win the Triple Crown (AVG/HR/RBI) but also join the exclusive 40/40 Club. Just out of curiosity, I tweeted to him, “Any idea what impact Davey Lopes has had on Kemp? I know Lopes was a godsend to the Phillies.” Both @MikeSciosciasTI and @truebluela joined the conversation as well. It was very enlightening, so I’ve screencapped it for your enjoyment below (read bottom to top):
@Dingersblog wanted me to add these tweets, in addendum to what you read above:
Giving Kemp an insular environment to succeed, and allowing his game to speak for itself, was for the best in a lot of ways.
I obv. don’t want it to come off like I’m saying Kemp is a hermit and a-hole for not speaking to me or something stupid
I feel like Lopes didn’t get enough credit for what he did while he was in Philadelphia. Now that he’s doing the same in Los Angeles, I think we can gain more of an appreciation for just how much of an effect a coach can have on his players. In particular, Shane Victorino seemed to benefit the most. In his age 22-24 seasons in the Minors, Victorino attempted 75 steals with a 65 percent success rate. In a full season with the Phillies in 2006, the year prior to Lopes’ arrival, Victorino attempted only seven steals in 462 plate appearances, succeeding only four times. Since 2007, he has attempted 183 steals with a success rate of 82.5 percent.
As the base running runs on FanGraphs indicates, the gap between the best and worst teams accounts for only three and a half wins over the course of a full season, but it can turn a good player into a great player. In Kemp’s case (and perhaps Victorino’s), not only did Lopes make him a better runner, but he helped him in ways that don’t show up in the statistics.