2013 Key Players: Jason Kipnis
March 19, 2013
Jason Kipnis finds himself on this list for one big reason: the .233/.322/.328 line he posted after the All-Star break last season. Once upon a time during the 2012 season Kipnis was just off pace for a 30/30 season. That’s a feat that’s only been accomplished by 17 hitters over the last decade. On June 30th Kipnis’s line was .275/.335/.426 with 11 home runs and 19 stolen bases. At that point the Indians were still in contention for a playoff spot and there was even a bit of buzz surrounding Kipnis as a sleeper for the American League MVP award.
That would all come crashing down in the second half. Kipnis’s collapse mirrored that of the entire team. In the Indians 5-24 month of August, Kipnis only hit .180/.250/.281 with 24 strikeouts and 7 walks. While the collapse was an entire team effort, it was clear to me that Kipnis was the driving force offensively for the team in the early months of the season. Which means it’s also clear that the Indians need that player from the first-half. Kipnis’s importance as a run creator and run producer at the top of the lineup can’t be understated.
So, what caused his struggles in the second half?
It’s hard to say for certain, but a number of factors were likely the cause; rigors of his first full year in the majors, struggles of the players around him, and pitchers seeing him for a second time and keying on getting him out. My hope is that the struggles were a result of the rigors of a first full season in the majors, not to mention pressing to help a struggling offense more so than the league figuring out how to pitch to him. His home run totals diminishing as the year wore on could be another sign of fatigue. I’m optimistic that’s the case considering Kipnis was able to bounce back in September with a .273/.373/.373 line.
Those power numbers are something I’m going to have my eye on this season.
After June 30th, Kipnis hit only three home runs the rest of the way. That’s a troubling statistic for a player who posted high ISO’s (Isolated Slugging Percentage) throughout his minor league career: .153 at Mahoning Valley in 2009, .177 at Kinston in 2010, .190 at Akron in 2010, and .204 at Columbus in 2011. His ISO during his short stint with the Indians in 2011 was .235, but fell to just .122 last year. Truthfully, if Kipnis doesn’t produce power numbers similar to what he posted in the minors we’re looking at a completely different player than the one who has been so highly regarded.
That’s not to say that last year wasn’t productive for The JK Kid, not at all. We saw a Jason Kipnis that was much improved defensively and had better plate discipline than advertised. The point here is that the key for Kipnis to take the next step offensively is a rebound in his power numbers, allowing him to become the complete offensive player he’s shown flashes of being. The good news is the early months of 2012 suggest that it’s very possible for Kipnis to be a 20+ home run player from second base, and that’s the player the Indians will hope to be getting in 2013.
With some better luck in 2013 (.291 BABIP in 2012) and a full season of his pre-July power numbers and we’ll be talking about one of the special talents in all of baseball. Every lineup can use a guy with an all-around skill set, but those players are rarities. Even with the drop in power and a bit of bad luck, Kipnis was one of just a handful of major league hitters with his combination of RBI’s, runs scored, home runs, and steals. While we as Indian fans who have followed Kipnis’s progression through the minors know he is capable of more, his 3.1 WAR (second on the team) in his first full season was still extremely promising.
When Kipnis arrived in Cleveland in 2011 the biggest critique on him was his defense. Of course, Kipnis had only been playing second base for a few years at that time. He’s taken big leaps forward since then and has become a satisfactory defender at second. I would expect him to continue to get better as he gains even more experience.
Kipnis's 31 stolen bases in 2012 were the most from an Indians player since Grady Sizemore in 2008. Considering that Kipnis never had more than 12 stolen bases in a minor league season, that’s quite the impressive feat. There’s really nothing that Kipnis isn’t capable of doing, he just simply needs to put it all together in 2013.
If Spring Training lineups can be used to foreshadow an opening day lineup, it appears the third spot in the order is Kipnis’s to lose. He’ll serve as a crucial bridge from Michael Bourn and Asdrubal Cabrera to Nick Swisher andCarlos Santana. In that spot Kipnis will be able to use all of his offensive skills to produce and drive-in runs. It may very well be the most important position in the Indians lineup, and Jason Kipnis just may be the most important position player to the Cleveland Indians in 2013.
This is a balanced offense that doesn't depend on one or two guys. Last year the Indians were pretty much a six-man offense. The bottom third usually consisted of Damon or Duncan, Kotchman, and Hannahan. That put more pressure on the top six - Brantley, Droobs, Santana, Kipnis, Choo and Hafner to provide the offense. When Hafner got hurt and both Kipnis and Cabrera slumped badly in the second half the offense was toast.
This year we have nine players capable of significant offensive contributions. If one or two guys have bad years it won't be devastating as long as the rest produce to their career norms.
jwahoo, I admire your optimism, but I think "feared around the league" is a stretch. Everyone's all gung-ho about the offense but the team on paper is still really only a marginal upgrade from last year. Choo, Brantley, Duncan is a better-hitting outfield than the 2013 crew, because Bourn is not nearly the hitter Choo is, and Stubbs is pretty much the hitter Duncan/Damon were. 1b should be a massive upgrade, and a healthy Reynolds should be better than Hafner+rotating DH scrubs (Hafner has actually been a better hitter than Reynolds, but the 80+ games a year he couldn't play were a problem)
Better defense and better balance? Definitely. And the upgrade of Swisher over Kotchman and Chisenhall over Hannahan will hopefully be big. But they were one of worst offenses in the league last year, and the outfield offense-wise should be pretty weak. If they improve, it will be guys like Kipnis, Asdrubal and Santana not having a half season of suck and instead having a full year of playing well.
After him I would say......
2. Carlos Santana. The other guy who will determine the fate of the offense.
3. Asdrubal Caberera. One of the Indians best players. A break out year could single a break out year for the team.
4. Nick Swisher. He will be asked to be "the guy" in this lineup. Putting up consistent numbers in the middle of the order.
5. Michael Bourn. We know what he will bring on defense but as the leadoff guy who will set the tone for the offense. A good season could bring 50 plus stolen bases.
6. Michael Brantley. We saw last year what he is capable of. He will be asked to "stir" the offense and carry the bottom half of the lineup. A similar year to last season with 20 stolen bases would be huge for this team.
7. Mark Reynolds. He will be asked to provide power from the right side in the middle of the order. Something that was very lacking last year. I think he is due for a bounce back season. No matter what the rest of his numbers look like if he can hit 30 homers and take some walks the offense should be much much improved.
8. Drew Stubbs. As the 9th hitter not much will be asked of Stubbs. He already brings GG defense to RF. But thats what makes his potential so interesting to me and why I think he could have such a huge impact. During a really horrible year at the plate Stubbs still managed to hit 14 homers and steal 30 bases. If he can relax in Cleveland and find his way back to his rookie season 15-20 homers and 30-40 stolen bases would be realistic. Imagine having those numbers from the 9th hole in our lineup? It would be scary good if the other guys produce as well.
9. Lonnie Chisenhall. Even though I have him so low on this list his potential impact on the team is huge. At the least he needs to hold his own on defense. Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn should be able to protect him. On the other hand this guy has the tools to be a really great hitter. Hes another guy who could break out for this team at just the right time. A .275 avg and 17-20 homers from Chiz and expected production from the rest of the lineup could have us as one of the top 5 offensive teams in the AL.