His OBP is crazy, his defense never lazy. So many walks that strikes don’t phase him.
At some point, a hot streak crosses over the line into a breakout season, and Tony Kemp has to be getting close for the Oakland A’s. We’re nearly halfway through the 2021 campaign, and the utilityman is the second-most productive hitter in the first-place team’s lineup. He’s upped his walk rate from good to absurd between his expert eye, tiny strike zone, and ability to foul off pitches, and when he swings he’s making more useful contact than in past years.
The whole package has turned him into a top-notch sparkplug, and it’s fair to wonder if he might warrant some All-Star consideration.
- Kemp: .273/.392/.453, 140 wRC+, 4 HR, 16.1% BB, 15.5% Ks
Last weekend in New York, he dialed it up another notch with some clutch power. On Friday he came to bat with the A’s trailing and delivered a three-run homer, giving Oakland the lead permanently.
It only went 353 feet, but that’s enough at Yankee Stadium’s short RF porch. More important was the Griffey pose he struck after contact, which he’s turning into a habit.
“Kempin’ ain’t easy,” exclaimed Dallas Braden on the broadcast.
(Unfortunately that punny slogan already existed from his days in Houston, but let’s ignore that asterisk.)
Kemp himself spared no excitement over his mammoth wallscraper.
Tony Kemp after his homer, loudly audible on the broadcast: "THAT BALL WAS ABSOLUTELY FUCKING BLASTED!"— Alex Hall (@AlexHallAN) June 19, 2021
Dallas Braden doesn't even break stride. "I'm trying to tell anybody that will listen ... (/Kemp yells at this exact moment) ... And I would tend to agree, ..."
And how do you top the game-winning homer? Ask the famous post-game host for a signed jersey, on air during the show.
It was a good day. But true Kempin’ is a way of life, so the next morning he hopped out of bed and hit almost exactly the same homer in his first at-bat Saturday afternoon. Once again 353 feet, to the same RF porch as the previous night. It wouldn’t have been a homer in any other park except Yankee Stadium.
Then in the bottom of the frame he made a diving play to rob a hit on defense, as the second baseman shifted into a shortstop position. Remember this all happened in the 1st inning.
And all the while, he remained the same irresistibly fun and charming player on the field.
Kemp says "Hi Mom!" after his HR pic.twitter.com/bNXpOIROWr— The Rickey Henderson of Blogs (@RickeyBlog) June 19, 2021
Even the other side couldn’t help but show respect. And that’s saying something when the other side is New York.
TONY KEMP DOES IT AGAIN OMG FREAKING SHORT PORCH!!! pic.twitter.com/YAkKHmChlv— Big Nick Turturro (@NickTurturro1) June 19, 2021
All of this, coming from the player in the right side of the photo below.
Only time will tell how much of Kemp’s breakout success will be sustained long-term, but for now he’s as refreshing as a glass of iced tea. He’s been everything the A’s have needed on offense and more than anybody ever hoped for, while competently covering two positions on defense between 2B and LF, a star playing the game as hard as he can with the joyous enthusiasm of a Little Leaguer.
Kempin’ ain’t easy, but Tony’s gotta do it.