Remember how great it was during Jason Kipnis’ rookie year? You probably got him for cheap in your draft and right out of the gate, he starts producing. Sure, he hit just .256 for that first month, but he also had three home runs, 12 RBI and four stolen bases. Not bad for your low-budget, rookie second baseman. But then the calendar flipped to May and Kipnis flipped a switch…a power switch, that is. He batted .295 for the month, hit another five home runs with another 18 RBI and another seven stolen bases. Two months in and he’s already paying big dividends. With a solid month of June, he totally crushed it in the first half, batting .277 with 11 home runs, 49 RBI and 20 stolen bases; basically the line you hoped he would have by the end of the season. And just to help make you feel more comfortable about his performance, his walk rate was slightly better than league average (8.9%), he had just a 15.4% strikeout rate and posted a solid .345 on-base percentage. He was the total package.
But then the second half came and our illustrious hero vanished. The strikeouts increased, the batting average dropped, and after an ISO of .143 for the first half of the season, he served up just a .095 ISO for the second half. He hit just three home runs the rest of the way with 27 RBI. He did have 11 stolen bases which was nice, but his success rate on the base paths in the first half was a spectacular 95.2% while it was just 64.7% in the second. Public opinion as to his ability to sustain his first half production was split fairly evenly and those who didn’t believe and treated him as a sell-high candidate probably reaped some serious benefits. For those who didn’t trade him away, sure it was an aggravating second half, but his overall line of 14 home runs, 31 stolen bases and a .257 average was still beyond expectations heading into the season.
I was one of the many who held onto Kipnis and weathered the storm of the second half last year. I did it because it was a keeper league and his first half production and the lack of depth at second base already made it worth my while to hold onto him the following season. If he maintained production, well then this was better than I thought and if he didn’t, well it was his rookie season and he showed enough talent, maturity and plate discipline to believe that he would easily learn to sustain it over a full year next season. And that was the belief I held when I walked into this season happily protecting the power/speed combo at the keystone.
When this season opened a bit slower than last year did, there was definitely some trepidation. The strikeout rate was way up and he was already pressing at the plate just two weeks in. But that switch flipped again when May hit and all concern and worry was washed away with every home run hit and a double-up on the steals. But while he finished the first half with numbers that surpassed last year’s, there were a few concerns this time around. That improved walk rate continuously made me second-guess my skepticism, but the increased strikeout rate and the over-inflated BABIP had me concerned and were just too tough to overlook.
This time around, I opted to sell. My team was strong enough to compete so an extra tweak was sure to push me closer to the winner’s circle. My sales pitch revolved around the learning curve and the expectation of a full season’s worth of stats and his keeper value at second base obviously didn’t hurt either. In the end, I flipped him and the Bartender for Hisashi Iwakuma and Jedd Gyorko.
::holds for applause:::
A first place finish for me and another second half in the tank for Kipnis confirmed that the trade was indeed the right move. He finished with better overall numbers than the year before but, once again, it was all front-loaded, making him one of the 2013 season’s best sell-high candidates. But just a word of caution to those planning on drafting him in 2014 — after two years of tanking it in the second half, he’s going to be an awfully tough sell after the first half. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice and I’ve got a .250 average and just two home runs coming from my second-half second baseman.