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Second Thoughts Game #95: Cleveland 9, Detroit 3

Second Thoughts Game #95: Cleveland 9, Detroit 3
Jason Kipnis (Photo: USA Today)
July 19, 2014
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We Are All Re-Kipnises

Entering 2014, Jason Kipnis perhaps stood alone as the single best example of the Plexiglas Principle in action - the idea that, after a breakout season, one should expect not a second breakout but rather a regression closer to pre-breakout numbers. Coming off a 3 WAR 2012, Kipnis blew past even those expectations for a 4.4 WAR season that saw Kipnis put up an impressive batting average, on-base percentage, and altogether excellent offense from a middle-of-the-diamond position. Expectations for Jason Kipnis, entering 2014, were extremely high, under the impression that he was poised for a breakout season, with Eno Sarris predicting that Jason Kipnis would put up a 30 HR, 30 SB season.

'Breakout', was never likely for Kipnis. In January, this author noted that Kipnis's power - namely, his home run total - was unlikely to even reach its 2013 marks due to how short most of his 2013 home runs were. Kipnis's batting average, however, was a regression that the author did not expect.

Batting average is comprised of three facets: home runs, strikeouts, and everything else. The first two remain more or less stable - the former because there are too few for any realistic year-to-year shift to make a substantial difference, the latter because strikeouts are a fairly stable statistic. The rest - every ball put in play - is a far less stable category. This realm, the realm of Batting Average on Balls in Play - BABIP - is a stat that fluctuates wildly from year to year, often buoyed largely by luck or unsustainable ability. Kipnis's .356 BABIP, relative to the league average of around .300, was a rate prima facie highly unsustainable, one that, prima facie again, would descend quickly in 2014 and harm his batting average.

There were reasons, at the time, that the author believed that a massive collapse would not occur - his minor-league BABIPs were likewise sky-high, and he hit enough balls in play well to believe that a .356 BABIP wassustainable. Whatever the reason, Kipnis's 2014 BABIP - only slightly better than league average at .301 - has not lived up to expectations in the first half, nor has his batting average.

That said, Friday's game was something of a miniature breakout for Kipnis. Whereas Kipnis had only three home runs during the entire season to date, he hit two of them on Friday, one of them a sterling three-run shot in the seventh to put Cleveland decisively and permanently ahead.

Kipnis's power stroke was unlikely to replicate its 2013 numbers without a massive increase in strength or bat speed from Kipnis. That said, Kipnis's 2013 to date had fallen short of even this author's own tempered expectations about the ASU alum's power; if the season to date were an indication that Kipnis's power were slipping away, Friday's game served as a poignant rebuttal.

It's a game that makes Kipnis's 0-for-3 BABIP on the night a mere point of trivia.

Bauer Becomes Josh Tomlin for a Night

Given the mess that was Trevor Bauer's 2013, the reminder that his 2014 has been substantially more of a mixed bag comes as something of a confounding blessing. Bauer has endured several unambiguously poor outings - the May 25th loss to Baltimore, for instance - while at the same time enjoying several unequivocally stellar outings - his debut against the Padres in Cleveland or the start immediately preceding the all-star break. These were games in which Bauer's FIP and runs-allowed were entirely in agreement - it was either a poor outing all-around or an altogether dominant performance, with no qualification or ambiguity.

Friday's performance for Bauer, on the other hand, was precisely ambiguous. With a line of 6 IP, 3 R/ER, 6 H, 1 BB, 5 K, 101 pitches, 67 strikes, five swinging strikes, Bauer's performance looked far less like the putatively mercurial fireballer we traded for and, from the stat line, far more like the control-minded Josh Tomlin. Obviously, the actual events of the game put this to lie - to strikeout the incredibly K-averse Victor Martinez twice in the same game requires fiery stuff - even to catch him looking, as was the second strikeout. Bauer's primary strikeout weapon is his 12-6 in the dirt; if Bauer gets whiffs on that pitch, he becomes a threat to strikeout any hitter in any lineup. On Friday, he got only one whiff on any of his breaking pitches, that a check-swing on a curveball in the dirt to end the second inning.

To recap, Bauer had only five swinging strikes on 101 pitches - a rather poor overall rate in the most fundamental pitcher-batter interaction. However, these five swinging strikes led to five strikeouts over six innings - an approximately average strikeout rate. Coupled with only one walk and no home runs over that same stretch, Bauer's 1.97 FIP on the game was quite good. Taken in conjuction, however, with an extremely low 57.1% strand rate on the game and a rather-high .333 game BABIP, one draws the conclusion that Bauer's 4.50 ERA on the game means that he pitched poorly. On some levels, this is true. On other levels, this is false.

Bauer didn't adhere to his typical MO - that of a high-strikeout, high-walk, reasonably-high HR pitcher - and instead became the brief incarnation of a homer-free Josh Tomlin - an average strikeout rate that, while onlymiddling, still far outperforms what his Swinging Strike rate on the night suggested. Bauer's inconsistent, contradictory night was his consistent location and control. As Bauer has attempted to teach the pitching world, and as his performance on Friday clearly instructs, clean narratives are overrated.

John can be reached on Twitter at @JHGrimmHe can also be reached by e-mail at john.h.grimm@hotmail.com.

User Comments

shy
July 19, 2014 - 12:29 PM EDT
Bauer is fooling hitters, keeping them off balance. The mental part of his game is developing- this is the rite of passage from thrower to pitcher. Nice to see. Kipnis, whatever you put on your corn flakes yesterday, keep doin' it. Ian Kinsler is watching you.'
Walter
July 19, 2014 - 12:05 PM EDT
Keep Kipnis leading off. Might be the spark the Indians need at the top of the line up. Bauer pitched his butt of last night with so..so..stuff. Did we see the real Swisher last night? I hope that is the case.

1 down and 6 to go in order to be a successful trip. As I stated before, this is time of the season the Indians need to prove they can win on the road.
GSon
July 19, 2014 - 11:28 AM EDT
well.. how about that seventh inning eruption?..

Swisher.. big hit..

Asdrubal.. bigger hit.. (not a word from Morosi about Droobs)..

Kipnis... biggest hit(s)...

Anibal had put these guys to sleep most of the night.. When Manning said.. when he (Anibal) gets to a ball 2 count, he always comes back with a change up to the outside corner. Meaning.. if it's a strike two or 1 - 2 count, here comes the express.. Kipnis launced it.. twice.. Droobs made it back to back jacks.. and the rout was on..

Trevor Bauer pitched as well as you can expect against that lineup.. He struck out Victor Martinez twice.. in the same game.. He still got two hits.. but, Victor Martinez seldom strikes out.. let alone twice in the same game.. The Indians continue to pitch to Miguel Cabrera & I have no idea why.. none.. zero..

Onto today's day night separate admisstion double header.. Z-Mac toes the slab in the day game...while Kluber takes the hill with the pill in the night cap.. Should be a long day of baseball..

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